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War in Kokang must stop, if ongoing peace process is to be preserved and nurtured

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Quite a lot has happened, in the aftermath of the fifth Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) draft completion or accomplishment, ready for signing or ratification, if the Union Peace-making Central Committee (UPCC) and Ethnic Armed Organizations’ (EAOs) leadership could agree on the draft text as it is now formulated. To put it differently, if the EAOs would accept this tentative draft, without any alteration and agree to sign it, the deal will be done. As for the government’s highest negotiation organ UPCC, the draft is fully acceptable and is ready to ink, anytime the EAOs’ leaders opt for it. The fifth NCA draft was finalized on 31st March 2015.

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President Thein Sein had called for a meeting among 48 invited personages, covering a wide-range of political spectrum, to which 44 attended, at Naypyidaw, a few weeks back, prior to the six-party talks, which the parliament has endorsed, but refused by the President until recently, indicating that it was not inclusive enough.

 

 

The 44 personages meet was said to be nothing new, without any substance, just like the last meeting a few months ago. It was viewed as a public relations undertaking to prop up Thein Sein’s reform posture and just a talk shop, according to those attending the meeting.

 

 

The following six-party talks, between U Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi, Thura U Shwe Mann and Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Upper House Speaker U Khin Aung Myint and an ethnic representative, U Aye Maung, took place in Naypyidaw, on 10 April, touched on the issues of constitutional amendment, ongoing peace negotiation with the EAOs and the forth-coming national election.

 

 

According to The Wall Street Journal, on the same day, Minister of Information Ye Htut, in a news conference after the roughly two hours of talks, described the conversation as “friendly, as though it was between brothers and sisters.” He labeled the talks a success and said steps toward guaranteeing a free and fair election and a change to the constitution were discussed, without giving specifics.

 

 

But Aye Maung, the ethnic representative at the talks, said no specifics on a timeline for amending the constitution were raised, nor was there any agreement on what should be changed. The specific clause that prevents Ms. Suu Kyi from becoming president—clause 59f—was also not discussed, the ethnic representative said.

 

 

Meanwhile, in an interview conducted by VOA, on 13 April, with a Kokang citizen Mr. Ye Lauk E said, the Burma Army (BA) offensive or better, military onslaught in Kokang area, against Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), goes on, employing some 15,000 troopers, with heavy artillery.

 

 

According to various medias like VOA, RFA and DVB, it was said to be very heavy, with casualties from the government side as high as 700 deaths and wounded, and MNDAA enduring some 60 to 70, within the few days of fighting, starting the 8th of April, coinciding with the approval of fifth NCA draft, President’s sponsored and headed 44 personages – from broad political spectrum – meeting, and the parliament endorsed six-party talks.

 

 

Tun Myat Linn, MNDAA general secretary and spokesman, when asked why the casualty figures could be so different replied to the medias, on several occasions, that as the nature of war, the defending party always have an edge over the attacking group. And this explains the high casualty figure from the side of BA.

 

 

Tun Myat Linn told DVB, on 14 April, that violence has spiked since 8 April in the Tong San area of Shan State, southeast of the regional capital Laogai.

 

 

“I think that there were about 700 dead and injured from the Tatmadaw [Burmese army] over the five days from 8 to 12 April. On our side, there were about 60 casualties,” Tun Myat Linn said.

 

On 16 April DVB report, Tun Myat Linn again said he believes his force has inflicted 1,800 Burmese army casualties since the conflict started on 9 February, despite just 70 casualties among MNDAA troops.

 

Surprisingly, the State-owned media, after quite a few weeks of break, again publicized casualty figures, that 16 Burma army soldiers were killed and 110 injured in an ultimately successful assault on Hill Post 1584 on 15 April. The report cited the government use of airstrikes against the MNDAA, as well as tanks and heavy weaponry in the action.

 

However MNDAA spokesperson Tun Myat Linn rejected the reports, telling DVB that no fighting took place on Wednesday.

 

“We haven’t lost any posts in the fighting. We retreated from some small posts in the Kho Thang area, in accordance with our strategy, but there was no post lost in the fighting,” according to DVB report of 16 April.

 

Earlier he also refuted the BA’s territorial gains, by saying: “ They always report in their media that they have seized our mountain posts. If they could seize our posts, there wouldn’t be any more battles. They have been reporting this since we began fighting with them,” according to the report of The Irrawaddy, on 10 April.

 

As the BA military onslaught goes on unabated, the Ethnic Leaders’ Summit preparation scheduled to be held, on 1-3 May 2015, at the Panghsang headquarters of the United Wa State Army, is underway. According to SHAN report, the summit will be co-hosted by the Kachin Independence Army, the National Democratic Alliance Army and the United Wa State Army.

 

NCCT members such as the Wa National Organization (WNO), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), Arakan National Council (ANC), Chin National Front (CNF), Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), and Karen Peace Council (KPC) were excluded from the invitation list.

 

According to a source close to NCCT, there are only 12 ethnic armed organizations on the invitation list, namely the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), New Mon State Party (NMSP), Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), United Wa State Army (UWSA), Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), Palaung State Liberation Front, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

 

Adding cacophony to this perplexed situation, RFA, Burmese Section, on 14 April, reported that in spite of government’s urging to drop the invitation, the UWSA has invited MNDAA, TNLA and AA to the ethnic leaders meeting, due to be held in first week of May, in Pangsang. U Aung Min headed party was also said to be in Panghsang, the Wa capital, during this period.

 

U Aung Myint, UWSA spokesman reportedly said that the invitation were already sent out even before the arrival of the government delegation. He said that the ethnic leaders were reviewing the government’s dissatisfaction and as well, how all-inclusive participation of various ethnic groups could be entertained.

 

Likewise, DVB on 16 April reported that Military Security Officer Headquarters Office, stationed in Lashio, cannot accept that Kokang attending the Ethnic Leaders’ Summit, according to U Aung Myint.

 

He said: “It is not forbidding, but not happy – with UWSA – inviting the Kokang for the government doesn’t accept the group.”

 

The dilemma for the government is that it badly wants the EAOs to endorsed the tentative NCA draft so that it could be ratified as soon as possible, but cannot swallow the fact that MNDAA will sit as negotiation partner and will also sign the document, without having teach a due lesson or cow the group to Tatmadaw’s satisfaction. On top of that, if the Ethnic Leaders’ Summit would not materialize, due to logistic difficulities stemming from the Tatmadaw’s implementation of Section 17/1, unlawful association act, disrupting and hindering the ethnic leaders’ journey to Pangsang, or any other reasons, the EAOs would not be able to decide, whether they could agree on the fifth NCA draft text. This, in effect means, the UPCC and EAOs’ leaders would not be able to ratify the draft anytime soon, which is against the interest of President Thein Sein, who wants to close the deal badly and as fast as possible.

 

In the face of such perplex development, Lt-Gen N’ Ban La, head of the UNFC released an open letter addressed to President Thein Sein to intervene and stop the BA offensive against MNDAA, in Kokang area. The letter, dated 13 April said that he is concerned of the armed conflict taking place in Kokang region and worried that it would become a hindrance to the signing of NCA. He further pointed out that Kokang people are one of the ethnic nationalities and MNDAA is a member of NCCT and as well, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). He urged the President to use his power and capacity, as leader of the peace process, to achieve speedy ceasefire through dialogue and negotiation, with all organizations concerned, including the Kokang force.

 

Recently, RFA, Burmese Section, reported, on 13 April, that BA’s bombardment with heavy artillery fell on Chinese side again. The artillery is said to hit part of the road within China, which is about 7 to 8 miles distance from Nansan, opposite Laogai.

 

Tun Myat Linn said almost twenty percent of the whole BA light infantry divisions (LID), with the exception of LID 22 are involved, in the offensive, in a tiny enclave of Kokang, according to DVB 14 April report.

 

He said that the BA heavy offensive, which has intensified starting 8 April and is still ongoing, using more heavy weaponry and mortars, supported by armed cars and tanks.

 

Given such circumstances, it seems, the BA is not going to withdraw anytime soon, which in turn means that the “total annihilation” policy will still be implemented, even if NCA is ratified or not. This would again mean the UPCC or government will employ two track-policy approach of “offensive on one front, while employing peace-making with the others”.

 

No one knows for sure, why the BA is wasting so much material and human lives just to dislodge the MNDAA, when it has repeatedly made known that it is ready to negotiate peacefully, within the mold of NCA, with the government, together with the other EAOs. If the BA is doing all these just to safe face for its heavy casualties on the war front, seeking revenge for its wounded dignity, or just sheer knee-jerk reaction out of hatred and anger, this undertaking is going to ruin all the hard work, hard-won trust-building and understanding on NCA draft achieved so far. And given that the UNFC and EAOs are for all-inclusive signing of the NCA and cessation of armed conflict on the ground prior to the ratification of ceasefire, the BA’s all-out “total annihilation” military onslaught, employed in Kokang region is only going to have a tremendous negative impact, even derailing and ending the ongoing peace process altogether.

 

And as such, the war in Kokang and armed conflict going on elsewhere within the country, have to be stopped, the sooner the better.

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