President Thein Sein, accompanied by Commander in Chief Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing, visited troops wounded during clashes with the Kokang ‘renegades’ on Monday, 16 February 2015.
During the visit he was reported by Myanmar News Agency (MNA) as saying that the troops “are protecting sovereignty and ensuring territorial integrity.” He also “vowed not to lose an inch of Myanmar’s territory owned the successive generations.”
His statements, if they really were his statements, beg several disturbing questions:
• Was he insinuating that China was behind the fight that began on 9 February?
• Was he thinking of Kokang, the majority of its population speaking Chinese, just like Kiev leaders are thinking of eastern Ukraine, with the majority population speaking Russian?
• Was he signaling that he would need outside assistance to recover every “inch of Myanmar’s territory owned by the successive generations”?
• Or was it also an implicit message to all border-based armed movements that are “threatening” its territorial integrity that the military’s enraged response in the Kokang case also applies to them? That they could expect nothing less than what the Kokang resistance movement and the population are getting for offending his sacred institution — the Tatmadaw (military)?
SHAN may be wrong to feel that way about the President who has since 2011 been tirelessly pursuing peace, which, as all may agree, is harder than fighting a war.
But the difference between making peace and making a war is profound:
• When you try to make peace, you yourself may suffer (due to attacks by well meaning people, as Robert Kaplan says about Lord Castlereagh, who often confuse eloquence with substance, as well as the efficiency by which they pursue the country’s national interest) but the people do not
• But when you make war, you may not suffer as you are physically away from the battlefield, but the people there do
The message, if the report from MNA is true, may prove unfortunate despite substantial success made on the Union Day with the signing of the Deed of Commitment for Peace and National Reconciliation, if something is not done immediately.
That something may involve the following measures:
• Immediate call for ceasefire talks with Peng Jiasheng, leader of the Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)
• Clarification of the President’s 16 February statements that they were not directly or indirectly pointing fingers at anyone including the armed movements that have for so long fought without external assistance (The only armed groups that have received foreign assistance, as we all know, have been the Tatmadaw and the Communist Party of Burma)
• To earnestly and vigorously re-start the long awaited Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) negotiations
Who knows but the Kokang incident might become a blessing in disguise as well as a shot in the arm for the peace process.