Sunday, June 23, 2024

Back to Shan Shine (II)

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During the last days of 2014, 27-31 December, SHAN president-founder and Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue’s managing director was in Loi Taileng, the main base of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), to talk about the ongoing peace process, geopolitics and the role of negotiators and spokespersons to 153 company and battalion level officers.


On the last day, he asked his audience if he could have their assessment for SHAN/PI and their readers, they agreed. Thanks to them, he came down from the border with his bag full of their comments.

The following is the first part of the report.

The Peace Process: No more gourmets and gourmands, please
There are two groups divided among the officers on the question of the 3-year old peace process: one group is optimistic and the other concerned if not outright pessimistic, for they also have some good things to say about the whole business that began on 17 August 2011, five months after Gen Thein Sein become Burma’s first president since 1988.

The good things, according to them, are:
• Most farmers say they are able to go to their fields and back to their homes anytime they like
• Merchants are able to travel from place to place with less fear of being caught on the way by Burmese patrols
• They are also able to join festivals and meetings organized by the armed resistance movements with less fear of being arrested and mistreated on their return
• For the RCSS/SSA, the most valued outcome of the interim ceasefire is two-fold: Establishment of liaison offices in towns and cities where the main forces of the Burma Army are based and the freedom to engage with political parties, CSOs and people living under Burmese jurisdiction
• It is also a period for it to make full self-evaluation as well as do capacity building to deal with the new situation. “I think we have become better people and better fighters,” wrote an officer in his evaluation sheet.
• Another wrote: “We are still fighting now and then, despite the ceasefire. But at least this time we are also talking to each other too.”
• Yet another believe Thein Sein should serve another term as president, “if the peace process is too move on and his promises are kept.”

The president, on Union Day, 12 February 2014 which marked the signing of the historic Panglong Agreement in 1947, declared:

All national races are to establish national unity based on the Panglong spirit and march toward a peaceful, modern and democratic nation through a federal system.

Meanwhile, the majority had pointed out that several problems, apart from the stalemated Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) draft, still remain.

“Unpleasant things stand alongside the good things,” one wrote. Here are some of their comments:
• “Some of us have taken advantage of the situation to focus on money-making, even forgetting why they have joined the resistance in the first place”
• “Burmese authorities are learning more and more about our leaders. I fear they are running a lot of risk going in and out of Burmese controlled areas”
• “Some of our troops have become careless thereby putting themselves and the movement in danger”
• “In the past, Burmese columns need local scouts to guide them through the hills and valleys. They don’t anymore”
• “Even new Burmese immigrants are going back and forth freely in areas once shunned by them and their predecessors”
• In areas, where there is still fighting there are still lots of human rights violations as before
• “Now that they are no longer in danger of being attacked by us, more and more guns and ammunition are being brought in”

On this point, one senior officer spoke to SHAN during the break: “The Burma Army is accusing us of taking advantage of the ceasefire to beef up our forces. What about themselves? 80% of all the benefits are going to them and no more than 20% are coming to us. (I don’t tell him at that time but I thought 20% must be a gross overstatement.)

“It is a typical example of the old Shan saying: I eat because I like it, you eat because you are a pig (Kao Kin Kao Mak, My Kin My Hid),” he added.

N.B. It is also translated: I eat because I’m a gourmet. You eat because you are a gourmand.

“We need to talk about it thoroughly instead of pointing fingers at each other and using it as an excuse to violate the ceasefire,” he concluded.

Here are other comments made by them:
• Naypyitaw, at least the military, doesn’t trust the peace process. We don’t see the government and the military going in the same direction. We won’t have any peace at all this way. Even if we do, it won’t last (Which reminded me of Hernan Cortez’s famous quote: I obey but not comply)
• If (Senior General) Than Shwe is still around, I don’t think we will have peace
• The Burmese military has merely changed tactics but not the strategic aim to defeat us
• We must be careful it doesn’t use the fight against religious fanatics as a cover to defeat us
• The year 2015 is a year for the parties to focus on elections, and the military to prepare for war
• We non-Burmese are also giving more attention to the interests of our groups/groupings rather than those of the nation

Despite such dim views expressed, many of them were not without suggesting ways out:

• We continue to negotiate. And if the Burmese military wants a fight, we give it to them
• Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, if he really wants peace, should meet our leaders
• All movements in Shan State should enter political dialogue on a state-basis
• 2015 elections are important. The more seats the ethnic parties win, the better guarantee it will be for peace
• Unity is important to prevent resumption of war
• We need pressure from our neighbors as well as the world to forestall all attempts to renew the war
• A third party is necessary if we are to speed up the peace process
• More capacity building for our people and members
• Honoring our existing agreements will boost up trust between us

So far so good. Let’s see if the leaders of our country listen to them, let alone consider them.

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