Resolving Ethnic Conflicts in Burma—Ceasefires to Sustainable Peace
By ASHLEY SOUTH Thursday, March 8, 2012

(Page 2 of 4)

It is essential that communities and their representatives are included in peace initiatives, as well as ethnic diaspora in neighboring countries and beyond.

Comprehensive and sustainable peace-building in Burma requires engagement with a broad range of stakeholders. This is particularly important for those communities who do not feel themselves well-represented by armed opposition groups and affiliated organizations. For example, many Karen communities (particularly Buddhists and Pwo-speakers) feel unrepresented by armed groups dominated by Sgaw-speaking Christians.

Government Initiative

In his speech to the joint Hlutaw Union Parliament on March 2, the president called for an “an all-inclusive political process for all stakeholders,” stating that “there must be mutual assurances and pledges to end all hostilities.” This historical opportunity for peace should be seized. However, there is a danger that hastily agreed ceasefire agreements could unravel later.

At present, the government’s approach to ceasefires is implemented by two sets of rival actors: Aung Thaung and Thein Zaw, and the Railways Minister Aung Min (the president’s personal envoy). This dual-track approach has created some confusion among ethnic groups. There are also questions regarding the extent to which the Burmese Army buys into recent ceasefire agreements. Burmese military field commanders have proved adept at manipulating conflicts. Will they acquiesce in civilian government-led peace initiatives?

Recent Ceasefires

Over the past few months, preliminary ceasefires have been agreed between the government and armed non-state groups representing the Chin (Chin National Front or CNF), Wa (United Wa State Army or UWSA), Mongla (National Democratic Alliance Army or NDAA), Shan (Shan State Army-North and South or SSA-North and SSA-South), Karen (Karen National Union or KNU, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army or DKBA, and KNU/Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council) and Mon (New Mon State Party or NMSP). Talks have just taken place with Karenni/Kayah (Kareni National Progressive Party or KNPP), and are on-going with the Kachin (Kachin Independence Organization or KIO).

For many of these communities, there is a profound lack of trust in the government, and particularly the Burmese Army. Also, in the case of several groups, there are internal differences of opinion and strategy. For example, some KNU leaders are seeking to move forward with an exploratory peace process, following an historic January 12 meeting with government representatives in the Karen State capital of Pa’an, where a preliminary ceasefire was agreed. Others in the KNU leadership have proposed introducing new conditions, before engaging in further talks with the government. Questions remain whether the KNU will be able to maintain a coherent and consistent position.

The situation in Kachin State is particularly dangerous. The resumption of armed conflict after a 17-year ceasefire must be understood in the context of the perceived failures of the 1994 KIO truce, and pressures on ceasefire groups to become Burmese Army-controlled Border Guard Forces—plus the government’s refusal to allow a Kachin political party to contest the 2010 elections (after promising to do so). Fighting in Kachin areas has forced some 60,000 civilians to flee. Although the KIO and government have had several rounds of talks, these have yet to result in a peace deal.

What Next?

There is a need for consistency of approach and representatives on the government side. It is important to build on political momentum, but at the same time, undue haste may lead to ceasefire agreements which cannot be sustained.

Without a clear “roadmap” leading to political negotiations, the current round of ceasefires may stall. The president’s initiative calls for the completion of initial ceasefire agreements, followed by Union level political talks, and discussion of key issues in Parliament.

The third stage of his plan envisions a grand Hlutaw, along the lines of a “New Panglong Agreement” which many ethnic nationality politicians have been calling for. It is important that participation in national level political talks includes civil society and political stakeholders, as well as armed groups.

Re-negotiating the relationship between state and society in Burma risks provoking a backlash from Burmese military hardliners. A pretext for the 1962 coup was that (then Prime Minister) U Nu was on the point of selling-out to secessionists. Might “hardliners” use the prospect of a new Panglong-type conference to precipitate a crackdown?

Another historical precedent is the ceasefires of the 1990s, when some two dozen armed ethnic groups agreed truces with the military government. It is important to avoid the missed opportunities of this period.

  1  |  2  |  3 | 4 

Tom Tun Wrote:
Where do you get all these ideas? By smoking pot? Keep living in your dream buddy. Are you lecturing Burmese people and Ethnic people, how is proper peace be built? Can you even make peace with your own girlfriend? Every human being with thinking power have idea of how to develop peace. It has already began. Your divisive agenda of Poe Karen and Sagaw Karen doesn't work. We don't need you.

Ohn Wrote:
In the cloak and mirror land of Burma, conventional political wisdom may not be usable. Derek Tonkin got it right ( when he suggested that current situation is but orderly planned events by the military with surgical precision. With perhaps a great stroke of luck that Aung San Suu Kyi swallowed Then Sein’s lines hook, line and sinker.
Biggest asset of the Burmese military is their unparalleled accurate perception of the Burmese as well as international opinion and ability to exploit it most effectively admittedly with few glaring miscalculations. Hence the survival of the fittest.

Ohn Wrote:
The1990 “peace deals” of Khin Nyunt correctly assumed that by giving business deals and letting the top leaders of various armed groups to run legitimate businesses in mainland Burma, the army would get free hand to deal with the more important and pressing issue of crushing civil dissent in urban areas and get the proceeds of the lucrative opium trade into mainstream economy which continues to the day.

Ohn Wrote:
In one stroke, few of the armed groups truly representing the people of the region, became simple mercenaries with business deals losing their traditional grass root support.

Current round of negotiations are but over confidence of the military to buy out the “ethnic leaders” with better business deals and token recognition in administrative posts which are purely ceremonial like Shan Vice-President. But unfortunately the true nationalistic spirit has not been sufficiently corroded with many groups putting principles before money and influence putting their own lives at risk.
The chauvinistic Burmese military thinking is exactly the same from 1962 to today. The continued conflict signifies there are more than money at stake here but the military will never understand this simple fact in a million years.

MHK Wrote:
Good article with excellent recommendations.
“Lasting peace must also address the underlying social-economic and political grievances and aspirations of ethnic communities. These are potentially divisive issues, which require working with individuals and communities on identities and interests. Such long-term work must be owned and driven by Burmese citizens.”

Very true. At the end of the day, the Burmese who compose 60%, the majority of the entire population must initiate the understanding with all other minority peoples of Myanmar. It is to us (if we think the state is not performing well), who should initiate the cultural, languages, traditions, religious exchanges among our people.

The Burmese should learn also shan, Karen, chin, kachin languages if necessary and try to understand them, first of all learn about the different peoples of Myanmar with different histories, cultural, traditional values and try to live together with equality.

We know so less or almost nothing about peoples of Myanmar.

Brang Wrote:
Not ceasefire but political dialogue that we need. The minority ethnic will demand for autonomy base on the ethnic equality and self-determination rights which the Burmese government doesn’t want to share it.
To get genuine peace in Burma is totally depend on the Burmese government. To gain peace in Burma 1) they should have willingness of political solution 2) Reconnection of the ethnic arm group 3) Officially announce nation-wide ceasefire 4) Call for National Assembly as Panglong which include all the Ethnic arm groups and political parties and civil society but this should not be under the 2008 constitution 5)National reconciliation and the refugee and IDPs resettlement and rehabilitation have to implement after gaining peace in the country.

Note; The Foreign investment have to wait until the ethnic and political conflict was solved. Otherwise the investment will no longer guarantee.

KML Wrote:
Thank you for a balanced analysis and recommendations on ethnic peace making and peace building. It is a golden opportunity to heal the wounds inflicted in past. While armed ethnics are at the centre of peace building priority, the healing process for unarmed ethnics should not be underestimated and ignored.
Rohingya in Rakhine state, does not matter how you call them, is the right example. They did have low grade arm resistance before, but later disappeared due to unpopularity among the same community. You can label them immigrants, aliens or whatever but their wellbeing is also important in restoring the good image of the country. There are three options: CRUSH, IGNORE & EMBRACE them. Crush and Ignore options never worked in the past and created significant embarrassment on Burma. Does the new government ready to embrace them? If so, 1982 Citizenship Law should be amended and simplified. I think UN and other foreign governments are observing this issue before ASEAN 2014, Naypyitaw.

Uraw Gam Wrote:
International Witnesses and Monitor required to achieve a sustainable peace. Without them no deal, no signing.

More Articles in This Section

bullet Making Sure Burma Doesn't Go Dutch

bullet Corruption Scandal in Burma: The Canadian Connection

bullet Helping Education to Keep Pace with Reform

bullet How the Game Was Lost

bullet Karens at the Crossroads

bullet Building Country Ownership in Burma

bullet Donors Rush Where Angels Feared to Tread

bullet Myanmar: On Claiming Success

bullet Ceasefires Won't Bring Peace

bullet General, You Lied

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.