Beginning of the End of Peace?
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, April 23, 2024


Beginning of the End of Peace?


DKBA troops on parade at a Karen New Year’s ceremony in December 2006. (Phto: The Irrawaddy)
(Page 2 of 3)

“The Burmese troops broke the cease-fire.”

Some sources said that the SSA-North is likely to split into two factions—as happened with the DKBA—due to a disagreement over whether to join the BGF plan.

The junta is currently using political and economic means rather than military force to pressure the KIA, the second largest ethnic militia. Prior to the polls, the Union Election Commission, which was handpicked by the junta, refused to allow political parties or individual politicians linked with the KIA’s political wing, the Karen Independence Organization (KIO), to participate in the election.

In November, the state-run press began ominously referring to the KIO as “insurgents” rather than a cease-fire group after blaming it for an October bomb blast in Kachin State.

In addition, the KIO is now being pressured by the government to shut down its estimated 30 liaison offices. And on Nov. 25, the regime banned all border trade passing through the Lajarya Gate near KIO headquarters in Laiza on the Sino-Burmese border, cutting off KIO revenues from border trade taxes, according to Kachin sources.

Similarly, on Nov. 22 the Burmese authorities banned trade at the Taping checkpoint in Shan State, which lies within the area controlled by the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) cease-fire group, according to a report by the Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News.

“It seems that the junta wants to put pressure on the NDAA by cutting its supply route,” said Saengjuen Sarawin, the deputy editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News.

The NDAA, which was founded in 1989 when its leaders split from the Communist Party of Burma, has rejected the BGF proposal. The militia, which is also known as the Mongla Army, is based in eastern Shan State and has an estimated strength of 1,200 to 2,000 troops.

Many observers predict that the recent round of armed clashes and border closures are only the junta’s initial volley against the ethnic militias—both those that have signed cease-fire agreements and those that have not. They say that in the wake of the election, the junta will either launch a major offensive, outlaw all armed ethnic groups, or possibly both.

These dire predictions were sharpened when the regime purchased about 50 Mi-24 helicopters and 12 Mi-2 armored transport helicopters from Russia, indicating that the junta is preparing for war against the armed ethnic groups. Some believe the junta’s actions will become the equivalent of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“If the junta doesn’t stop fanning the flames of war, the situation will worsen,” said James Lum Dau, the KIO’s deputy chief of foreign affairs. 

Zipporah Sein, the general-secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), a non-cease-fire group, agreed and predicted that government offensives against non-BGF ethnic groups will intensify in the future.

If this happens and the junta resumes hostilities, some armed ethnic groups appear ready to employ new tactics.

A collection of ethnic militias, including the KNU, KIO, New Mon State Party (NMSP), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and Chin National Front (CNF), met in northern Thailand in early November to set up a “federal army” to respond to junta aggression.

“We will help each other improve military strength and implement tactics. The KNU has agreed to provide military training for the Federal Army,” said Nai Hang Thar of the NMSP.

Observers also predict that armed ethnic groups will employ guerrilla warfare tactics, targeting urban areas if the Burmese authorities cannot solve the ethnic conflicts peacefully.

If the regime does attempt a military campaign, many observers believe it is doomed to fail, saying that while the junta can temporarily halt military activities by armed ethnic groups, it can never totally defeat and eliminate them. 

David Scott Mathieson, a Burma researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the armed ethnic groups can regroup and become active at any time if they are unsatisfied with the military government, and ethnic militia leaders concur.

“Even though we have withdrawn our troops, we can retake the town [Myawaddy] at any time. This is our area. We know how to maneuver here,” warned Maj. Cha Mu Say of Brigade 5. “If they [the Burmese government forces] don’t do the right thing, their lands will never be peaceful.”

“Our resistance hero Saw Ba U Gyi [the founder of the KNU, from which the DKBA broke away in 1994] told us that our weapons must remain in our hands. We will uphold his command,” said Cha Mu Say.

One would think that, given the volatility of the ethnic situation, serious international attention would be focused on solving the problem.

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