The Ethnic Initiative
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, October 15, 2019


The Ethnic Initiative

By Min Zin OCTOBER, 2003 - VOLUME 11 NO.8

A road map proposed by an ethnic coalition provides an alternate route for Burma’s political future. But proceed at your own risk. Road maps are all the rage this year for Burma. Shortly after freshly appointed Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt unveiled the military government’s seven-point blueprint for Burma’s future, a coalition of ethnic groups threw its hat into the political ring as well. In early September, the Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee (ENSCC) announced a two-stage formula to rebuild Burma and generate confidence in a transition to democracy. The group formed just over two years ago to bring together representatives from the Karenni National Progressive Party, the National Democratic Front and the United Nationalities League for Democracy (Liberated Area). Some critics have cynically called the road map a last-ditch effort by its drafters to carve out a meaningful role in Burma’s political transition. Others say its based on a faulty premise—that the military will refuse to negotiate with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at all costs. Regardless of the criticism, the ethnic initiative, at the very least, provides another way out of Burma’s political deadlock. This road map calls for a "Congress for National Unity"—to be comprised of an equal proportion of representatives from the military, winning parties from the 1990 election and ethnic groups—to convene within two years. It would then draft a National Accord, request international assistance, and, after four years, establish a Government of National Unity. In the second stage, sanctions would be lifted, a referendum would follow and general elections would be held in six years. The committee is confident Rangoon will consider its plan. "The announcement of Khin Nyunt’s road map means the generals feel they must do something," says Harn Yawnghwe, an advisor to the committee. He adds that the committee is not rejecting, but improving on what has already been offered. "We just seized this opportunity to forward our proposal," Harn explains. But this is exactly what is kicking up a storm of suspicion among Burmese in exile. Many fear that by offering their own road map, the committee is undermining Suu Kyi’s efforts to unite ethnic forces with her National League for Democracy (NLD) party—efforts which resulted in establishing the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP) in 1998, for instance. Other detractors see it merely as a public relations stunt by ethnic leaders hoping to remain relevant during Burma’s political developments. Nonsense, say the drafters of the plan. It is not a hastily conceived response to Khin Nyunt’s "road map of Myanmar," they add, but the product of tireless consultation among the ethnic nationalities—and with major Burman groups. "Critics should remember that Aung San Suu Kyi, after her release in 2000, clearly told ethnic leaders not to wait around for her but to play their own role," reminds committee member Lian Sakhong. Another reason the ethnic committee took initiative when they did stems from the notion that the government’s secret "talks" with Suu Kyi are dead. This belief was invigorated by junta chairman Sr-Gen Than Shwe’s visit to China in January, when he reportedly told Chinese leaders that the government would cooperate with ethnic groups, but never with Suu Kyi. Thus, as one of the ostensible partners to Burma’s vaunted "tripartite dialogue," the ENSCC floated its road map proposal passed the government as a trial balloon. The generals will listen, but will they comply with any of the committee’s recommendations? Will they embrace the concept in name only in order to gain legitimacy internationally and to delay a political settlement at home indefinitely? More important, will they take this opportunity to negotiate with the ethnic nationalities and opposition or will they accept the ethnic road map and try to bypass Suu Kyi and her party altogether? "We’re not worried the junta will ignore the ethnic road map," says an established Burmese journalist in exile who was a student leader in the 1988 pro-democracy movement. "We’re worried they will accept it, and use it for their own survival." To avoid having Burma’s political negotiations hijacked by the military—and vested business interests in neighboring countries—Burma’s problems must be internationalized. Thus far, multilateral pressure from the West has not been strong enough to counteract the constructive engagement approach with Rangoon favored by Southeast Asian governments. This weak international stance is a prime reason that the regime is allowed to turn its back on Suu Kyi continually. The ethnic committee recognizes this.

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