Constitution Remains Key to Solving Ethnic Quagmire
covering burma and southeast asia
Saturday, June 15, 2024


Constitution Remains Key to Solving Ethnic Quagmire

By KIM JOLLIFFE / THE IRRAWADDY Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Karen National Liberation Army soldiers in formation during the 63rd anniversary of Karen Revolution Day on Jan. 31. (Photo: Reuters)

With unprecedented intent on display from all of Burma’s major conflict actors to bring an end to hostilities, and two-sided negotiations ongoing with all groups, progress is certainly being made towards peace in Burma.

But with bloody conflict unhalted in the north and continued skirmishes across the east despite new ceasefires, we are yet to see if words can translate into comprehensive action. Even if hostilities are brought to an end, severe political differences will threaten to derail the peace process unless a common strategy to address them can be agreed upon by all sides.

With the exception of the United Wa State Army, and its close ally the Mongla Army, the country’s largest opposition armed forces have demanded the government commits to nationwide political dialogue in return for ceasefires. While the government has agreed in principle, its own three-stage “roadmap to eternal peace” remains starkly at odds with this fundamental demand. So, how successful can this roadmap be, and what are the realistic alternatives being put forward by the ethnic armed groups?

On March 1, President Thein Sein further clarified the basics of the roadmap, as part of his speech to the Parliament. The three stages are to first sign a ceasefire that brings an end to hostilities; second to engage in economic development, work to eradicate drugs, and to assimilate into the state military and political framework; and third to work through the Parliament to “amend the Constitution by common consent so as to address [the government, national races and all citizens’] needs.”

In the case of the ongoing conflict in Kachin State, where the Tatmadaw (armed forces) remains engaged in daily conflict with the country’s second largest armed group, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), even stage one remains distant.

“There are currently clashes and skirmishes every day in Kachin State between our troops and government troops,” explains La Ja, general secretary of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA's political wing.

“Now, [government troops] are mostly in the northeastern part of Shan State in our 4th Brigade, 8th Battalion area. In Kachin State it is mainly areas east of Myitkyina, in our northern headquarters in the Sittaung area. [There are also government troops on the offensive] farther south in Bhamo, while others are west of the Irrawaddy River in the other special region [areas administered by the KIO for nearly two decades through the 1994 ceasefire agreement with the government].

“The meetings are civil. At the table, Aung Thaung [the government’s head negotiator] speaks very respectfully so the talks go smoothly … but the military’s offensive is now clearly aimed at overrunning our area. They are just aiming to dominate and control the region.”

From the government’s perspective, and indeed at first glance to most observers, it is the KIO that is thwarting the peace process. In successive talks they have refused to sign a new ceasefire as the first step and insist upon immediate political dialogue. However, with no aims to go on the offensive into government territory, and the feeling that their previous 17-year ceasefire gained them very little, the signing of another gestural agreement seems pointless when an end to hostilities depends only on the government pulling back its troops.

“Ceasefires themselves cannot achieve long-lasting peace.” La Ja stressed. “We don’t want to fight but this fighting was started by 'you' encroaching on our territory, so if 'you' withdraw 'your' troops then there will be no clashes and no fighting.”

To show commitment to stage one of the road map, Thein Sein, and the ceasefire delegation should be focusing primarily on its own military, in order to bring troops back out of KIO territory and build trust. Comprehensive action to crack down on human rights abuses on ethnic civilians should also be taken. While routine extortion and destruction of livelihoods continue and regular incidents of extrajudicial killing and sexual abuse are taking place, government demands for the KIO to halt all hostilities are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Farther south, according to David Taw, secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU) Peace Committee, for them also, “the first stage is still not complete. There are many areas where there are still clashes so a ceasefire is not in place yet.” But he remains largely positive saying, “I think it is based on communication. If we can develop good communication, these things won't happen.”

According to anonymous sources in numerous KNU areas, however, tensions are increasing further, primarily due to extensive resupplying by the Tatmadaw on its frontiers, in areas previously isolated by ambushes of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the KNU's military wing.

1  |  2 | 3  next page »

Please read our policy before you post comments. Click here
E-mail:   (Your e-mail will not be published.)
You have characters left.
Word Verification: captcha Type the characters you see in the picture.

Dan BW Wrote:
It is a good thing being able to see from a positive view but only when the intention is for the positive. What David Taw saying is similar to "at least we can see how they are planning to kill us by signing up cease-fire deal and setting up liaison office". However, he forget to see that by not signing up cease-fire and not allowing them to plan to kill his people would be much safer. Has he not leaned from the mistake the Kachin (KIO/KIA) made or simply it is just a revenge to the Kachin? (Note; during the cease-fire with KIA, Burmese military intensified it's offensive against KNU and its army and crushed them ). I hope David Taw knows that two mistakes wouldn't make one right. My question to David Taw would be if the Burmese government can't honor the promiss they have already made (Panglong Agreement), what make you think they would honor another one which is not even on the table yet!

chindits Wrote:
so basically if you follow his 3 stages road map, 60 years of struggle for state autonomy that was granted in Panglong agreement is uselss.

Kyaw Wrote:
The ethnic cleansing and atrocities in Kachins must be stopped by the Government troops immediately. KIO/KIA is respectful De-facto Government of Kachins. They represent absolutely to Kachin and they effectively influence to the Kachin state population. Weakening KIA can create uncontrollable terrorism with no leaders to talk and to negotiate in the population centers of middle Burma, the peace stability and prosperity dreams will be just vanished away. See the example of Pattani Thailand.

MawShe Wrote:
1) Amending the constitution in the parliament is unreasonable when these ethnic groups leaders are outside the Parliament. 2) They are outside now because they including KIO were not allowed to form a political party and join 2010 election. 3) Urging these groups to disarm and form a political party to enter the parliament to amend the constitution, without any concrete political resolve, is ridiculous because no one want to dump their arms before their goal is reached. 4) So talking about parliament should end here if we are to proceed pragmatic approach. We need alternatives like a national-wide ceasefire and nation-wide dialogue. Not one by one group deal. 5)This dialogue (Panglonglikeconference) should include experts and produce a new constitution draft. 6) This new draft should go to parliament to be approved or not.

Ohn Wrote:
The Devil appeals. The Devil always appeals to the dark side of people. Every one.

Khin Nyunt used to use this principle to control monks and people alike. Eg. " A -lo- daw- pye- phayre", honours- Thri Thudamma,etc, hundreds of professors!

This time round it is the so-called "Democratic Forces" and their desire to be like Singapore at all cost. To have big roads and tall buildings and iPAD's and not to be sniffed at with Burmese Passport at international airports.

Aung San Suu Kyi wants Burma to be like the leader of the ASEAN whatever it is.

Ohn Wrote:
Than Shwe senses RIGHTLY that for that people will ignore most inhumane killings and torturing going on at the highest level in 20 years and still sing praises of Thein Sein who is there just for the grace of Than Shwe whichever way anybody spins it.

Than Shwe rightly calculates that all his selling out of the country to Chinese will be put aside so long as people are getting money out of it as well like hauling pipes for the Chinese which is equivalent to putting out the carpet for the thief.

Ohn Wrote:
The public simply are not aware how much of the country has been sold off already and how many BULLDOZERS are going to turn up to their houses and farms one morning too soon.

But their misguidedly trusted "Democratic Forces" directly or indirectly desires it.

It is their duplicitous-ness that Than Shwe is exploiting.

Change of constitution? It WILL NOT happens because NO ONE wants it. All they want is to be like Bangkok. That's all.

Unless selling out the country for quick silver is denounced, one cannot say one doesn't support the killings that go along with it. By desiring the sacred "electricity" people are in connivance of killings to get it.

In the shallow world, the frog is the king.

Frog can be king ONLY if it is SHALLOW.

more articles in this section