Thursday, July 25, 2024

Former activist sees ‘the good, the bad and the cloudy’ in the peace process

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According to Aung Thu Nyein, former 8888 activist and exile, during a seminar in Bangkok last  Monday, 21 December, a lot of good things have been taking place in Burma since the peace process began in 2011.

Aung Thu Nyein (Photo: RFA)
Aung Thu Nyein (Photo: RFA)

He said he had lately visited Southeastern Burma and witnessed significant changes:

  • People are less security-conscious (“We had already deserted our village three times,” he quoted a villager saying. “But since the signing of provisional ceasefire agreements not once have we left our village in haste”)
  • The roads have improved. People can now engage in business and go to hospital. As a result their life is getting easier than it was before.
  • Meantime, the military chief is sending his officers to foreign countries, like Indonesia, where their own military used to be the paramount force in their society
  • The word “federalism,” once taboo, is also fast becoming a commonplace word

But, on the other hand, old bad habits die hard and new ones are cropping up:

  • With ceasefire, businessmen are arriving in hitherto prohibited areas. Land confiscations, bad enough before, are accelerating in many places “People say they live in fear of two bulls,” quipped a participant. “In the past, they were afraid of bullets. Now they are afraid of bulldozers.”
  • Both army and border guard force (BGF) officers with monthly paychecks insufficient to subsist, are engaging in business, both legal and illegal
  • In the field of education, students are still learning about Bamars (Burmans), and very little about the other diversified populations in the country

He also posed questions for several things taking place in the country which have puzzled Burma watchers and merely served to increase suspicions among its critics:

  • Several ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) have signed preliminary bilateral agreements either to reduce or cease hostilities, but the army still finds excuses to launch attacks against them. Many, as a result, still doubt signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) may be a reliable insurance against attacks
  • The NCA signing should be inclusive. Excluding three of the EAOs (Arakan Army, Kokang and Ta-ang National Liberation Army) only serves to discredit the NCA

Meanwhile, he is not encouraged by the government waiting-in-line led by Aung San Suu Kyi. “Her first priority is the smooth transfer of power from the incumbent which may take some time,” he said. “This means war won’t be stopped too soon in the interim. At least for the present government, the peace process is still one of its top priorities.”

He concluded his presentation saying, “War won’t go away by waiting for the government to do it. It will stop only when we all work together.”

Other speakers include:

  • Charm Tong                 Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) on the fighting in central  Shan                                                   Statethat has displaced more than 10,000 people.
  • Naw Zet                       Kachin Youth Network, on the IDP situation in Kachin State
  • Surapong Kongchantuk Chairpreson, Cross Culture Foundation, on Burmese migrants in Thailand
  • Khuensai Jaiyen            Director, Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue, on the latest                                                  situation in the peace process

The seminar, “To Stop Civil War,” was organized by Thai Allied Committee with Desegrated Burma (TACDB) Foundation and held at the Student Christian Center (SCC) on Phayathai Road.

One of the most well-known accusation against the military, repeated at the seminar was that it has been going “against international law” by using warplanes in the domestics conflict.

SHAN has put this question to Hkun Okker, legal consultant for the EAO signatories.

“I know this has been sort of a gospel to most of our people, both uninformed and even informed,” he said. “But whether or not aerial warfare is legal rests entirely on humanitarian grounds and the question of sovereignty.

For instance, the Burmese government, during the Kokang offensive, had used “in defense of national sovereignty and territorial integrity” to justify its employment of warplanes against Peng Jiasheng’s force.”

According to, there are no treaties specific to aerial warfare, unlike war on land and at sea. “To be legal, aerial operations must comply with the principles of humanitarian law: military necessity, distinction, and proportionality. An attack or action must be intended to help in the military defeat of the enemy; it must be an attack on a military objective, and the harm caused to civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

Famous examples where military planes were extensively used include the Spanish Civil War (1931-1939) and Chinese Civil War (1927-1950).

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