Friday, March 1, 2024

Is Burma Army hard stance putting peace process in jeopardy?

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Burma Army Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing’s unyielding, negotiated surrender position of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) and rejecting Ethnic Armed Organizations’ (EAOs) insistence of incorporating security sector reform (SSR) are having a negative impact on the ongoing peace process, which resumes today, after a break for about a week ago.

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According to The Irrawaddy report, on 27 March, “In the implementation of a cease fire and peace process, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration [of ethnic armed groups] is essential,” Min Aung Hlaing said.

“National solidarity [and] national reconciliation… will be carried out without fail as the Tatmadaw is the Union Defence Services formed by ethnic people of the Union.”

When one looks at Min Aung Hlaing’s statement generally, it is quite harmless and could even see eye-to-eye that DDR is the way to go, if durable post-conflict, peaceful atmosphere should be maintained. DDR, as its name suggests, is only all about disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, but says nothing about security sector reform, which from the EAOs’ point of view is the restructuring of the military into a federal army, to be in line with a federal union. Besides, for the EAOs, insisting only on DDR is interpreted as a “negotiated surrender”; a non-starter to achieve a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

Sean McFate, in his article “ The Link Between DDR and SSR in Conflict-Affected Countries” writes:
“Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR) processes should be interrelated and mutually reinforcing. As DDR and SSR share the same objective–consolidation of the state’s monopoly of force to uphold the rule of law–they succeed or fail together and should be planned, resourced, implemented, and evaluated in a coordinated manner. The natural point of intersection for DDR and SSR is in the reintegration phase, as many ex-combatants find employment in the security apparatus that SSR creates.” (Source: The Link Between DDR and SSR in Conflict-Affected Countries – By: Sean McFate. Published: May 5, 2010)

Min Aung Hlaing’s parting shot, on 13 February this year, when the EAOs were invited to attend the Union Day and four parties out of thirteen have signed the government’s the “Deed of Commitment to Peace and National Reconciliation” MoU, that all should embrace the collective national identity of “Myanmar” and disregard their aspirations of  “ethnic or national identity”, many were said to be caught off guard and later were furious on his parting remark, according to some ethnic sources that were present at the occasion.

Again, according to The Irrawaddy report of 17 February, Min Aung Hlaing was believed to have  again hinted that  Wa are foreigners. The report writes:

“On Union Day, Feb. 12, Min Aung Hlaing met with several ethnic representatives in Naypyidaw, imploring them as citizens to maintain their Myanmar identity. It was as if he were suggesting that some other ethnic groups were foreigners. Some observers interpreted the message as being directed at the Wa, one of the groups represented at the meeting.”

Finally, the Burma Army escalation of war in Shan and Kachin States, conducting massive offensive on Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Arakan Army (AA) and accusing Shan State Army-North (SSA- N), United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Mong La, are indications of total war declaration on all EAOs.

VOA of 28 March filed a report that the Burma Army have launched furious offensive at MNDAA positions along the Chinese border, and attacking the TNLA, in Kutkai township, at the same time. Also in Kachin State of Mansi township, the KIA and Burma Army are at loggerhead, following the armed clashes that occurred a week ago, involving attacks with fighter bombers and infantry offensives by the Burma Army.

According to Duang Khar, head of the Kachin Independence Organization’s technical team, the Burma Army offensives on KIA positions, with the pretext of taking action on timber smuggling gangs, is actually aimed at capturing and controlling of the strategic communication route of Bhamo-Namkham, from the KIA.

All the said episodes are pointing at the continuation of military hard-line policy of “total annihilation” or “negotiated surrender” of the EAOs. The military has started out with its strategy of Border Guard Force (BGF) program to control or get rid of the ethnic resistance, once and for all, but drew back, when met with massive deterrence; only to come back again, employing massive military offensives and blurting out ethnocentric statements, not at all helpful to the ongoing peace process.

So what is the motive behind such undertakings? Is it to sabotage the peace process, which the government has never really intended to fulfill, or to ward off the upcoming general election, using the pretext of heightened civil war, which the regime doesn’t have the means to win?

If it is so, the regime’s whole reform process will be just a sham undertaking, which was never meant to be fulfilled. Hopefully, this speculation will be proved wrong.

The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor

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