Ending the Vicious Circle—Making Peace in Burma
By AUNG ZAW Monday, November 28, 2011


When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Burma this week, one of the key issues she is certain to raise is the ongoing hostilities and human rights violations in Burma’s ethnic regions.

The Obama Administration has stated that the ethnic issues must be solved if the Burmese government wants the US to lift sanctions, and judging by where things stand right now, President Thein Sein has his work cut out for him if he wants that to happen.

There have recently been some signs that Thein Sein understands the message being consistently delivered by US diplomats.

Last week, The Irrawaddy and Bangkok Post reported that he had sent Aung Min, Burma’s minister of railways, to northern Thailand to hold preliminary ceasefire talks with five ethnic armed groups, including major Karen and Shan rebel organizations.

Aung Zaw is founder and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

Aung Min, who was an intelligence officer in the 1980s and a former commander of the Southern Command, is said by colleagues to be straightforward and moderate. He is also known to be close to both Thein Sein and former junta chief Snr Gen Than Shwe.

Following the talks, Maj Sai Lao Hseng, a spokesperson for the Shan State Army-South, said that “Minister Aung Min explained to us that there are three steps toward the emergence of peace—a ceasefire, cooperation between ceasefire groups and Naypyidaw for development, and a meeting hosted by the government to tackle unsolved political conflicts.”

While the fact that the peace talks took place at all is a welcome development, and the Bangkok Post went so far as to call the talks “historic,” it must be cautioned that nothing approaching historic has happened yet.

Although sources reported that three of the ethnic armed groups informally agreed to a ceasefire—and the United Wa State Army previously accepted a temporary accord—no permanent ceasefire has been agreed to with any major ethnic armed group and fighting in Shan, Karen and Kachin states continues with no end in sight.

This is not the first time that peace talks have been held in Burma. In fact, every time Burma has had a new government its leaders extended what appeared to be an olive branch, only to have the initial good will eventually break down and lead to more distrust and conflict.

Following his military coup in 1962, Gen Ne Win called for a ceasefire and offered to hold peace talks with all armed groups, including communists and ethnic groups. The government facilitated meetings and provided the rebel leaders with transportation, including air travel, from their jungle hideouts to Rangoon for the month-long peace talks.

During the discussions, ethnic groups such as the Kachin, Shan and Arakanese all wanted some form of near-complete autonomy within a federal system, while the government asked them to surrender their arms and come back into the legal fold.

With the positions of the government and the ethnic groups firm and so far apart, and with no apparent trust between the parties, the talks finally broke down and fighting soon resumed. With the civil war continuing, Ne Win then built a military machine with the intention of wiping out the resistance, but he never succeeded.

A new military regime took over in 1988, and then in 1989 the government took advantage of a serious mutiny within the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) by entering into ceasefire agreements with drug warlords who splintered off from the CPB. The result was a booming drug trade in northern Burma as the regime simply turned a blind eye towards the production and export of heroin and methamphetamines.

With the initial ceasefire agreements in place, others fell like dominos and the regime agreed to ceasefire terms with more than a dozen ethnic armed groups. These rebel militias and their political representatives were told at the time that if they were patient until a new civilian government was formed, then discussions of their political demands would take place.

The ethnic groups waited as asked for more than fifteen years, but then in 2009, with the polls to elect a new civilian government already in sight, the regime blundered badly and shattered any trust that existed.

1  |  2 

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.

Terry Evans Wrote:
Wrong Fred - junta officials allow the drugs trade to flourish and hand militias business favours and military protection in return for them helping to control ethnic groups.

Fred Wrote:
There is a very simple reason why Burma’s military is unlikely to be able to defeat most of the ethnic armies. The ethnic armies can produce drugs and trade them for military supplies. And the whole process encourages independent ethnic organizational structures.

QSH Wrote:
Dear Editor,

Many thanks for your comment and at the same time cautioned all of us to be vigilant not to fall into another trap. However as you are playing a big role in this reconciliation and therefore adapting the tone of your writing a little bit would be more creative, don't scare us too much.
Mysoong Kah

Norman Hla Wrote:
What can H Clinton do in ethnics issue(continue sanction or US border guard force or interest free cheques).Please,(US& DASSK) Do not -waste our time(next election-2015 instead within 6months, lip-service psychotherapy) -delay our fighting spirit, -mislead our strategy, -delay to find capable leadership-break ethnics unity. Participation of China leaders is a key issue to press than shwe. Than shwe can change any promises whatever he likes all the time,all the course(see constitutions). Than shwe’s firing gun is military education. In low born(bullying, cheating), than shwe erects 3 brutal bama kings' statutes showing deep-seated brutal bama-nization. US should study the Burmese history&PanglongAg. Then, US and UK should fire missiles to than shwe without necessary approval of UN(US,UK statute in all ethnics). If US agrees "General AS kyat equality slogan or syndrome-poor outcome" come to meet than shwe. Or we , Burmese knows how to live poorly with your lip-service.

KML Wrote:
Usage of appropriate terms in the Burmese official media needs to be reviewed by President U Thein Sein’s government. There have been inflammatory and insulting terminologies towards ethnicities traditionally used by military governments such as Thaung Gyan Thu,Ah Pyat Thama, insurgents, rebels, traitors, axe handles and so on. In fact those peoples are patriotic selfless struggling for their rights in eyes of their individual ethnic perspectives. Even DASSK had been defamed by inflammatory words for more than 20 years and we can only see U-turn now.
Reframing friendly terminologies such “ethnics with different opinion”, “our estranged brothers” “our alienated ethnic brothers” etc.. will definitely benefit current government with no cost in this optimistic season of Burmese politics.

kyaw Wrote:
Trying to achieve peace by forces is just a naive act of undeveloped brain. In reality the troops of Theinseins are terrorist worse than Taliban and Osama as they torched Churches torture and killed pastors and the monks, even use the Chemical Weapons and Rapes as the weapon, countless innocents have been killed by unspeakable torturing methods. It is a shame that Theinsein call KIA insurgent, the ethnic army who is trying to protect its own peoples and even supply power to the Capital of Kachin State.

myo nyunt Wrote:
"The ethnic minorities took up arms and demanded local autonomy in order to preserve their identity and culture." Does the author mean, that civil war, insurgency, rebellion, terrorism still will always be embedded in Burma, unless “the ethnic majority” do not assert their “rights” with respect to "their identity and culture". The future citizens of Myanmar (Burma) risks being again the subjects of other more enlightened sovereign nations.. It is the responsibility of the political leaders and intelligentsia of our nation, to give due recognition to the history of liberty and progress of the western world, and direct our mental and physical efforts to achieve democracy, human rights and perpetual peace in Myanmar (Burma). Myanmar is still in the making, democracy is us. We will do it.

Free Man Wrote:
"..... in others revealing that [Then Sein's] understanding of the ethnic struggle is one dimensional and deeply-rooted in the military’s arrogant view of ethnic minorities and their issues."

No wonder Mu Gha (Aunty) Suu has called upon those concerned to show broad-mindedness and understanding when considering the ethnic issue.

"What should not happen is for the second and third steps to be delayed until the Burmese government implements its supposed plan to develop the ethnic regions. ..........."

Ditto. I was even talking about this matter with a friend of mine two days ago.

Very glad to read writings and opinions like this as this sort of understanding of this longstanding issue is very very conducive to speedy peace, harmony and prosperity in the land.

Venus Wrote:
Clinton's visit is just the beginning of ground work and we cannot expect nor force human right issues to fix overnight. Half a century long ethnic issues need "Hybrid Negotiation Strategy" layer by layer. National level Peace Conference should be welcome.

Brang Wrote:
An excellent article. We can’t have prosperity unless we have peace. Ethnic regions can’t develop unless their people and their leaders have their political rights to do so. Why should an ethnic community (Bama in lower Myanmar) decide on behalf of another community (Kachin in northern Myanmar)? Harmony and prosperity can only exist if we respect one another. Federal democracy will ensure people in Kachin State have the rights to choose their leaders who will represent them. Is that not a good thing? If society in Kachin State have their autonomy rights, what this made lose to society in Yangon? Of course, ethnic love union, that is why they voluntarily joined and formed the federal-styled democratic union of Burma under Panglong agreement. To revoke federal union is to drive ethnic states out of the union of Burma. To revoke federal is to cause everlasting problem.

More Articles in This Section

bullet Sizing Up an Icon

bullet Fighting Corruption Begins at Home

bullet Future of Exiled Burmese Media

bullet How Much Freedom Does Burmese Media Enjoy?

bullet Five Days in Burma

bullet Turning Burma into Next Asian Tiger No Simple Task

bullet With Suu Kyi On Board, Is Burma Finally Moving Toward Real Change?

bullet The ‘Rule of Law’ in Burma

bullet New Doors are Opening in Burma

bullet A Good Beginning to the New Year

Thailand Hotels
Bangkok Hotels
China Hotels
India Hotels


Home |News |Regional |Business |Opinion |Multimedia |Special Feature |Interview |Magazine |Burmese Elections 2010 |Archives |Research
Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group. All Rights Reserved.