UN GENERAL-SECRETARY APPEALS FOR CEASEFIRE: Burma’s stakeholders need thinking out of the box

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As novel coronavirus now dubbed as covid-19 infected count reached nearly 400,000 and death count showed close to 17,000, UN General-Secretary Antonio Guterres issued an urgent statement. 

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Calling for immediate global ceasefire – UN chief on COVID-19 | news.un.org

“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war”, he said. “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” according to the UN News of March 23.

And as if it is a well-timed action, the Burmese military or Tatmadaw made an announcement which in effect means the escalation of war in its country, exactly contrary to what the UN general-secretary has appealed and called for.

Accordingly two announcements 1/2020, dated March 23, of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Anti-Terrorism Central Committee which included Declaration of Unlawful Association and Declaration of Terrorist Group respectively. The former was signed by Home Minister Lieutenant General Soe Htut and latter by Chairman of Anti-Terrorism Central Committee.

Reportedly, Myanmar President U Win Myint was said to be of the opinion the the Arakan Army (AA) ethnic armed group, its political arm the United League of Arakan and individuals have constituted a danger to law and order, peace and stability of the country and public peace. Thus the president has declared the group as an Unlawful Association in accordance with the law. 

In addition, a statement from the Central Committee for Counter Terrorism accused the AA of torture and killing village officials, civil servants and innocent civilians; and in agreement with the union government decided to declare AA as a terrorist organization. 

The two announcements came on the heels of the AA early morning attack on March 23 on regional military training school No. 9 in Rakhine’s Minbya Township in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, sparking fighting in nearby areas that left casualties on both sides.

So far, the conflict in Arakan State has killed dozens of civilians and displaced 140,000 villagers since the beginning of 2019. 

AA explained its attack as a retaliation of the Tatmadaw’s burning of Tin Ma, Mon Than Pyin, Mee Wa, Kyauk Tan villages in Kyauktaw Township, among others. According to the AA website, more than 20 of the Tatmadaw troops were killed and captured one prisoner of war (POW), although the report said that the AA also suffered causality, the figures were not made public. But the Tatmadaw spokesman Zaw Min Tun said 15 AA troops were killed during the raid.

The Tatmadaw announcements according to the AA spokesman Khiang Thukha “shows that the Myanmar government has no intention to resolve the problems it has with the non-Burmese people politically and restore justice. It also means that Burmese government is already determined to use force to resolve all the problems,” reported the RFA on March 23.

“We want to say their classification does not affect our missions much,” he added.

“We don’t need the Burmese government’s blessing to survive. As long as Rakhine people support us, we are a legal organization in Rakhine State,” said Khiang Thukha brushing aside the Tatmadaw’s position to belittle his organization.

A few years ago, a Kachin Independence Organization top leader General Gun Maw also strike the media the same similar position regarding the legitimacy question, where he said so long as the group is backed by the people, there is legitimacy and what others think are unimportant.

But the tragic thing about is that the government and Tatmadaw are so consumed by its own total annihilation policy, they can neither understand nor reason objectively along the line of the UN general-secretary appeal, despite the tremendous danger prevailing which could wipe out a large portion of the world population.

And while the rest of the world is busy trying to overcome and fend off this plague disaster, the stakeholders in Burma or Myanmar are busy getting at each others throats, instead of pulling their resources together to pass through this difficult phase of  history for the survival of mankind.

It is particularly all the more important for the powers that be in Naypyitaw to show largesse and farsightedness as a major responsible player by holding back such irresponsible actions that would  further fuel the ongoing armed conflict. And in this conjuncture, it won’t be a bad thing to heed the appeal of the UN general-secretary and withdraw back the said two announcements and continue with the bilateral ceasefire talks, which have been pending for a few months without progressing.

Hopefully, saner minds will prevail than just hawkish attitude both among the ethnic armed organizations and government in Naypyitaw, by thinking out of the box in trying to achieve peace, reconciliation and harmony within the country.

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