Stop the sound of gunfire first

Writer: 
Nay Htun Naing

(1)

Dictator Ne Win's Revolutionary Council government called talks for internal peace in 1963. They made it look like a peacemaking in the eyes of the public. The government also discussed with the people.

However, there was neither ceasefire nor success of the show-off political discussions.

The military government revived peace talks with ethnic armed groups with Khin Nyunt as the lead negotiator in 1989. Altogether 17 ethnic armed groups made peace with the government except Karen National Union (KNU).

Both the government and the ethnic groups gave their words for the composition of their armed forces, but the battles resumed later.

By observing the both events, it is clear that the dictators had manoeuvred peace for the longevity of their powers. There was no talk over federalism which the ethnic people have desired.

President Thein Sein has now told there is an agreement for peace and the ceasefire contract is ready.  He also approved the discussions over federalism and political dialogues.

But the question is: How long will the ceasefire contract last?

At the same time, the international organisations and NGOs especially from the US, EU, Switzerland and Japan have believed Myanmar has retained its peace. But indeed, they are just naïve about Myanmar's politics.

(2)

The final draft of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) was signed between the government's Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC) and the ethnic armed groups' Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) on March 31, in Yangon.

But it was just signing the 'draft' of NCA and there is not yet peace.

But the people close to the president have propagated exaggeratedly to appear that the NCA has been reached. But in reality, only the draft of NCA has been signed.

It could make the people witness peace process hard.

The excessive propagation is also intentional.

Even the ceasefire occurs only on the paper, the president is in urgent need of it. Moreover, the dignity of President Thein Sein and the dignity of the Myanmar Peace Centre depend mainly on the success of the NCA.

That is the reason behind why the president and his men want the NCA to be signed in no time.

(3)

The government declared its plan to negotiate with ethnic armed groups on August 10, 2011.

The both sides have held talks amidst ongoing battles.

The four-year worth efforts have brought the both sides to agree on the provisions of the NCA draft on March 31.

Only the draft of seven chapters, 86 paragraphs and 33 sub-paragraphs has been consented. The unsettled clauses are put under 'to be continued' section before the draft was sealed.

Further, there are still important factors. The first one is the differences over principles between the military and the ethnic armed groups. The military continues holding its six basic principles which the ethnic nationals say no to.

Secondly, there is still no agreement on Security Sector Reform (SSR) and Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) of the ethnic armed groups. This section is to be discussed during political dialogues.

Most importantly, there is no knowledge of how the political dialogues will be held. There are some agreements on choosing the participants of the political dialogues. But the dialogues are likely to change into the form of national convention. There is still no precaution to prevent from such situation.

In other words, the NCA draft is still a husk.

(4)

The president has hoped the NCA to be signed in April but it is impossible to realise.

The current NCA draft is agreed only by the NCCT members.

The Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), Wa, Mongla and Naga ethnic groups are not members of NCCT. Their opinion is still required.

Then again, the NCCT representatives have to present back to their relevant leaders, whose ideas are necessary for signing the NCA.

A conference among ethnic nationals should be called.

At first, the conference was to take place in Law Khee La, the capital of the southern force, or in Laiza, the stronghold of the northern group, or in Mongla or Panseng.

On April 3, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) announced that the ethnic conference will be held for three days in its headquarters, Panseng, in early May.

There was a plan to hold an ethnic conference in Panseng or Mongla last year but it did not turn out.

The leaders of Wa and Mongla are friendly with the government, and did not attend the discussions among ethnic armed groups for health reasons.

The Kachin Independence Army and Organisation (KIA/KIO) had had a cold relationship with the government until 2015.

In March, however, the KIO leaders paid a visit to Nay Pyi Taw for the first time and met with the commander-in-chief of defence services. They agreed on the conditions of the NCA draft later.

The relationship between government and the UWSA got cold over Kokang affairs since January.

The Wa representatives did not attend the meeting for the finalisation of the NCA draft.

At the same time, the UWSA then declared that the conference to decide on the NCA draft will take place in Panseng.

This is probably the conflict happened in the northern Myanmar has shifted to north-eastern part of the country.

The Wa leaders want Phone Kyar Shin's Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) to sign the NCA. The MNDAA, on the other hand, is a member of NCCT as well as United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).    

The MNDAA has received the support from Wa and Mongla groups and also indirectly from China.

However the government does not appreciate the MNDAA and it could damage the relationship between the government and the UWSA.

Similarly, the government and the KIA will not become friendly unless it recognises the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA).

The stipulation of the approved organisations is one of the unsettled clauses in NCA draft.

(5)

According to the provisions of NCA draft, the framework of political dialogues is to be finalised within 60 days after signing the agreement; the political dialogues must commence 90 days later.

For instance, if the NCA was signed in May, the political dialogues must begin in August; if in June, in September.

It will be favourable if the NCA is reached after May. But a political dialogue that will commence in 90 days is risky.

The election scheduled in November is more important than the political dialogue. The political dialogue should not be held in hurry.

If the federal union and genuine political dialogue are to be established, the opinions of Aung San Suu Kyi, the other political parties and the public should not be left out.

The ethnic armed groups need to be clear on this.

No one knows to what extent the ethnic armed groups can represent the public. Whatever it is, KIA or KNU, their degree of representation of their people is hard to speculate.

They have to asset the support of their people.

The most important thing is the view of the people. Even if they have Aung San Suu Kyi and National League for Democracy (NLD) at their side, it does not necessarily mean they have all the 70 per cent majority of Burmese at their side.

This is because the public representation of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party will be seen definitively only in the 2015 election.

But Aung San Suu Kyi is not some mediocre political leader like the government think she is. Her role in Myanmar politics is distinctive.

Surely, there will be confusion if the political dialogue and general election take place at the same time.

(6)

Aung San Suu Kyi and the Minority Leader of the United States House of Representative Nancy Pelosi discussed concerns over the delay of election due to ceasefire process when they met on April 1.

The 2015 general election is crucial for the country. It will define how the political transition will take place safely and the formation of a civilian government.

President Thein Sein said the political stability is needed before the election. The commander-in-chief of defence services said he will remain neutral during the election and seemed he did not want the election to be delayed.

But there is still no four- or six-party talk between the major political figures to promise the political stability before the election and the safe transition in post 2015 era.

The amendment of 2008 constitution is in limbo and there are only six months left before the election.

Meanwhile, President Thein Sein has talked about signing the NCA and holding political dialogues after 90 days in connection with the 2015 election.   

The connection talked last October has gained momentum now.

“Only if a nationwide ceasefire agreement could successfully be signed, could we begin political dialogue that can shape the future of our country. Then, political transition can gradually be carried out such as the successful holding of a general election in 2015,” said Thein Sein in his monthly radio address on October 1. He also talked about the same idea in the November 4, 2014 radio speech and in a public report on January 1 this year.

It is questionable as to why they are placing emphasis on political talks that will come 90 days after a ceasefire agreement by sidelining really important political dialogues.

President Thein Sein is assumed to have had his attitude that failure to hold such political talks could disrupt elections.

(7)

It is the political roadmap of Thein Sein and MPC to sign NCA and then begin political talks. This might be to save face or political game.

If it is a political game, the signing of NCA will be no more than car import permit for peace. It will not last long. It is true that the signing of NCA is necessary for peace. But the start of political talks 90 days after the NCA signing may cause a problem. The points that have not reached agreement in the NCA will burst out as problem in political talks.

What we should do after the signing of NCA is to implement the already-agreed points. Secondly, we should try to enable the war refugees to return home. It is the best thing to hand over the duty of political talks to a new government that will emerge after the 2015 election. Whether the ruling government is elected by the people is a controversial issue. Hastily holding political talks now can attract objection from the public.

To be on a friendly term with the new government elected in 2015, it is necessary to help hold elections successfully. It is required to ensure that elections are held in every ethnic region and that there is no pressure by force.

Under current circumstances, elections cannot be guaranteed in all constituencies of Chin State. No one has the right to canvass for votes in ‘Wa’ region.

For those who want to begin political dialogue promptly by excluding all those concerned including Aung San Suu Kyi and ignoring public stances, they will become the culprits in the history. Moreover, all of those who fought for equality and autonomy based on federalism will become stooges of dictatorship. And there will be no second Panglong.

In the interim period before the 2015 election, the ethnic armed groups will have to try to receive guarantees from the government and parliament.

Enticing the government to bring the points currently agreed on to the discussion table under the next government can spark few or repercussions than delaying the election. Furthermore, the draft NCA seems fragile. It is not strong enough and can be nullified at any time. And consequently, armed conflicts can resurface.

Heavy fighting is continuing even when the peace talks are in progress. We cannot give the excuse that such fighting happens as usual.

(8)

President Thein Sein himself should not use the military as a tool for his political aim. Defence Services Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has said the military will remain neutral in the 2015 election.

At the celebration of the 70th Anniversary Armed Forces Day, he said the election scheduled in early November would be a milestone in the country’s democratisation. The military, he said, would work together with the concerned organisations and the people to hold the election successfully.

“Stealing votes by force or by threatening with guns to harm state stability and community  peace and tranquility is totally unacceptable,” said the military chief.

He seems to have his ultimate aim of seeing the success of the election in 2015.

By contrast, President Thein Sein has mixed up the three things—the signing of NCA, the start of political dialogue and the 2015 election.

Under present circumstances, as soon as NCA is signed, the Kokang group led by Phone Kyar Shin must be recognised. Otherwise, Wa and Mongla will not sign the ceasefire agreement. Meanwhile, KIA allies TNLA and AA are aiding and abetting the Phone Kyar Shin group. If the government does not recognise these two armed groups, KIA might withdraw from the signing.     

If President Thein Sein and Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) accepted Phone Kyar Shin and his group by sticking to their sole political aim, the military would burst into anger for hundreds of soldiers who sacrificed their lives in Kokang clashes.

At the moment, it is not possible for the military to accept the Phone Kyar Shin group. The acceptance will pave the way for MPC to gain popularity. But trust that has recently been seen between the military and the people would be lost and the military’s image could be harmed.

The Kokang problem could spark tension between the military and the ethnic armed groups, including Wa and Mongla, thereby contributing to further conflicts.

(9)

Clashes in Kokang have not ceased yet. This problem could not be solved in a short time. The number of Kokang troops range between 3,000 and 5,000.

 According to sources available in the last week of March, the military is deploying six divisions and several battalions in the Kokang region based in Laukkaing. The military operation is reportedly involved by 20 infantry battalions and 39 light infantry regiments.

Moreover, about 45 battalions are standing by on the western bank of Thanlwin River while 140 other battalions are spreading across the northern Shan State. Some experts say a quarter the whole military is being used in the operation in Kokang region which has an area of 2,200  square kilometers.

When fighting was escalating in Kachin State in 2013, the military used only about 100 battalions. At the time, the number of KIA troops was around 20,000.

In the battle against Kokang rebels, the military use much more soldiers. While more troops are being deployed, the military has also suffered heavy casualties. On March 30, a tactical operation commander from Division 33 reportedly died in action. It shows that the military has achieved no success in such guerrilla warfare. It could take control of around Laukkaing region but failed to put the hilly areas under complete control. The situation could worsen after the Myanmar’s water festival (in mid-April). After the festival, monsoon will set in and the military will find it more difficult to handle the operation.

It is not easy to put the whole Kokang region under control. If a victory over the 3,000-strong Kokang group could not be achieved, it is not easy to launch fighting with the ‘Wa’ armed group, which is equipped with sophisticated weapons and has more than 30,000 members.

 Taking opportunity of this, the Wa and Mongla groups will try to persuade the government to recognise Phone Kyar Shin’s Kokang group. Then NCA and subsequent issues will be in vain.

(10)

These facts are already known to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing who is trying to change Tatmadaw (armed forces). At present in the expansion of military strength, officers exceed private soldiers. Those who want to be military officers have increased. The military officers are not possible to fight the battle. The number of the private soldiers well-equipped with fighting skills has become gradually less.      

There are two parts to change Tatmadaw. The first thing is the fighting skill that is called hardware and the second, behavior and moral that is called the software. In the change in the moral and behaviors of the private soldiers, allowance is the important factor. In the last week of March, the government raised the salary of the civil servants including defence services.

When studying the pay rise, there is a big gap between the officer and the private soldier. In this state, it can have effect on the morale of the private soldiers who have good fighting skills.  The change of officers can also affect on the private soldiers. For example, three commanders of battalion were removed from their positions in the early March and so subordinate officers didn’t feel like that.

Brig-Gen Hla Myint Soe is the commander of No 11 Regiment, Brig-Gen Khin Maung Than, the commander of No 44 Regiment and Brig-Gen Aung Thein Oo, the commander of No 77 Regiment. They were transferred to fighting training school as the principals. The commanders of No 44 and No 77 Regiments except the No 11 Regiment are nothing to do with Kokant military operation. Tatmadaw is facing guerrilla warfare in the ethnic areas at the present time. Kokang operation is showing the weakness of Tatmadaw.

Now is the best time to restore good reputation and dignity with political aims. The government will have to organize the ethnics to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). Whenever political discussions see disagreements and armed conflicts appear, Tatmadaw should not be used as a scapegoat in these situations. There should not be loss in ethnic armed groups any longer.

(11)

Armed conflicts are appearing in the northern and north-eastern parts of the country, especially the places bordering China. The ethnic armed groups are receiving assistance from China either directly or indirectly. The UWSA, Monglar, KIA, TNLA, AA and MNDAA are all connected with China. Now, China seems to put pressure on both sides. This point can be seen in the recorded video file on internal insurgency in Myanmar that the CCTV-4 channel broadcast for 42 minutes on March 27.

The number of refugees in Kokang operation has become more. More than 60,000 out of 150,000 residents in Kokang region are Chinese refugees. More than 40,000 are living on the hills where clashes are still breaking out. The refugee population numbers at least more than 500,000 in the northern and eastern parts of the country, according to the official figure.

The less unity the country sees, the more pressure the powerful countries put. It can encroach on the territory of the country. For example, Myanmar bombing dropped China in the Kokang military operation. Looking back into history, Myanmar’s bombing dropped Thailand in the past. Myanmar apologised for that. The way Myanmar apoligises to China is not the same as to Thailand.  The ministers of the two countries can settle this matter. Myanmar apologized to China to meet satisfaction of the latter. Taking the advantage of this, China made insulting manners in Namkham in Muse District, the northern part of Shan State.

Chinese border guards came to the conflicted territory between the two countries and planted Chinese flag there. The local people did not accept the insulting manner of Chinese. This matter is still being negotiated.

Internal insurgency took more than 60 years. Ceasefire has yet to be carried out. For this, it is required to agree on the ceasefire. This ceasefire should not be used in the game of politics. The final draft of NCA has appeared. We need to analysis how long the NCA will last. It can break down in any time. If the government holds political dialogues in parallel with the 2015 election, it will cause conflicts.

Myanmar now needs genuine peace not ethnic-controlled one. Try to silence the sounds of guns first.