Precarious Peace in Monland
covering burma and southeast asia
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
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COVER STORY

Precarious Peace in Monland


By Tony Broadmoor FEB, 2002 - VOLUME 10 NO.2


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The regime, however, canceled the majority of the contracts by 1998, leaving NMSP leaders with little in terms of economic support, thus weakening the party. These failed investment promises caused Mon people and Burmese analysts to question the benefits of the ceasefire agreement. "At first I thought the ceasefire agreement was a good idea for their party, but then the party became weaker and weaker," says a Karen elder living in Sangklaburi, Thailand. During the two years when the business concessions were up and running, some NMSP leaders were able to benefit personally from the business contracts, causing turbulence and jealousy within the party. This resulted in some rank-and-file members leaving the party, according to a NMSP member. From 1995 to 1997 fighting in the region had been minimal due to the ceasefire agreement. In late 1997, however, the SPDC attempted to conscript local farmers into forced-labor development projects including work on the natural gas pipeline and the Ye-Tavoy railroad. Some of these farmers were ex-MNLA soldiers who after the agreement had put down their weapons and begun farming. Many of these former soldiers refused to participate in the projects and instead chose to fight. "If you were a soldier and I forced you to construct a railroad, what would you do? I think you would fight," says a Mon human rights worker regarding their decision to take up arms again. Since the birth of these splinter groups, the central government has used them as an excuse to further encroach on NMSP-controlled areas. The splinter groups have had little success in stopping the Burmese army but continue to proliferate. In November 2001, former MNLA Col Nai Pan Nyunt formed the Honsawatoi Restoration Party (HRP) and the Monland Restoration Army (MRA). According to a statement released by the party, "the worsening conditions of forced labor, land confiscation and human rights violations, as well as the suppression of the Mon culture and literature, had led to the decision to break with the party." NMSP officials, however, claim that Pan Nyunt illegally collected 1.5 million kyat (US $2,100) in taxes from NMSP-controlled villages and then refused to return the money to the party, causing him to break away along with some 100-150 troops. Pan Nyunt and members of the HRP or the MRA were unavailable for comment. The MRA has been involved in numerous conflicts this year around the Three Pagoda Pass area of the Mon State, which is also in close proximity to the Halockhani IDP camp. As a result, the sprawling borderless camp has become increasingly insecure, with fighting between SPDC troops, the MRA and battalions of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), which is also active in the area, occurring just eight km from the camp. One village not far from Halockhani was recently burned down by SPDC troops due to suspicions that the villagers sympathized with the MRA and had provided them with food and housing. Tee-Wa-Doe village was torched in late November, sending some 600-700 people to Halockhani overnight, according to foreign aid workers in the area. The real threat to the camp’s existence, however, revolves around whether the Burmese Army will begin to see Halockhani as a sanctuary for the MRA and other splinter groups. "The NMSP party does not have enough power to repel the SPDC if they decide to come to Halockhani to look for Pan Nyunt," says an aid worker familiar with the camp. The NMSP blames the presence of Col Pan Nyunt’s troops for the torching of the villages, which the MNLA had protected before the ceasefire agreement. "[Since the ceasefire] it has been difficult for us to protect villagers from the SPDC troops," admitted the NMSP central committee member cited earlier. With no single group controlling these areas, the villages are left to pay protection taxes to up to four separate groups. This quadruple taxation is not easy to manage. Villages oftentimes have to pay taxes to troops from the SPDC, MNLA, MRA and another splinter group led by Nai Hlein, according to Mon insiders. NMSP officials feel that one benefit of the ceasefire agreement was that it enabled them to interact with other ethnic groups and the central government, something that was not possible before the ceasefire. "Before the ceasefire agreement we could prevent human rights abuses but could not communicate with other ethnic groups," says the central committee member. The party is split on where to go from here. Not everyone agrees that a return to fighting is the answer to the problems of the Mon. But they do agree that a change is necessary in order for the Mon to achieve internal peace. After almost seven years, the ceasefire has come no closer to a permanent settlement, and given the regime’s track record, a substantive dialogue is unlikely to occur in the near term. "I think more fighting is coming to Monland," says one NMSP member.


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