covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, November 18, 2018


By The Irrawaddy JUNE, 2000 - VOLUME 8 NO.6


Resignation Rumors Fuel Ceasefire Concerns

Rumors that Sr Gen Than Shwe may soon step down as head of Burma’s ruling junta have raised questions about the possible implications for a number of shaky ceasefire agreements with ethnic insurgent groups.

Speculation that Than Shwe, 68, is seeking to retire was renewed after the top general recently postponed a planned visit to Bangladesh, citing health problems. Observers say that the general has been wanting to quit as army chief and prime minister for the past five years, but has been prevented from doing so because of his key role in maintaining the balance of power between rival factions within the regime.

Hardliners led by Gen Maung Aye, number two in the ruling junta, are believed to be at loggerheads with Lt Gen Khin Nyunt, head of the intelligence faction and powerful first secretary of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Rangoon-based diplomats say they doubt an open battle between the two sides would ensue if Than Shwe finally did step down, but ethnic leaders in Burma are watching the situation closely. The reason: if Maung Aye takes over as chairman, he could insist that all cease-fire groups surrender their arms.

That could jeopardize relations with cease-fire groups as well as with Khin Nyunt, who is the architect of almost all cease-fire agreements since 1989. Maung Aye, who once stepped on the Karen national flag during a surrender ceremony held in Karen State, is widely disliked by most ethnic groups.

A few months ago, leaders of cease-fire groups held a number of low-profile meetings in Rangoon, where some expressed concern about the slow pace of development in their areas since they reached agreements with the regime. Kachin and Wa rebels were notably restless about the lack of lasting political settlements.

According to a well-informed ethnic source on the China-Burma border, the Was are not happy with the SPDC’s interference in their territory. A few months ago, a Wa commander allowed a high-ranking Burmese army officer and his soldiers to visit their headquarters, but told them not bring guns. It is estimated that the Was have more than 35,000 soldiers and abundant supplies.

Non-ceasefire groups along the Thai-Burma border stand to benefit most from an end to the status quo. "They (rebels) can come back to the jungle (if the ceasefire agree-ments break down)," said one ethnic leader recently.

SPDC Build-Up in Northern Shan State

Shan sources say that the proliferation of groups "joining the legal fold" and signing ceasefire agreements with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Burma’s ruling military junta, has done nothing to slow down the pace of militarization in northern Shan State.

"Since the latter part of 1999, (the) SPDC has been expanding its military presence in northern Shan State," reports the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), an independent news service. The process has involved the creation of new battalions and the confiscation of land for military bases along the main roads from Lashio, Hsenwi, Kutkai and Muse up to Mongko, Laokai and Chinshwehaw, near the border with China.

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