BURMA ARMY’S MINDSET: No to Unilateral Ceasefire

Sai Wan Sai
Sai Wan Sai

The Karen National Union (KNU) and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the former a nationwide ceasefire agreement-signatory ethnic armed organization and the latter non-signatory, recently urged the government to declare unilateral ceasefire countrywide in order to be able to tackle the threat of coronavirus, now dubbed Covid-19, more effectively. The call was followed by some 52 civil society organizations, the 15 ethnic political parties’ United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), and various western Ambassadors in Burma. Moreover, 53 countries echoing the UN General-Secretary  António Guterres’ call for ceasefire around the globe also came up with a statement headed by Canada.

On April 1, the Three Brotherhood Alliance made up of Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) issued an emergency press release underlining its extension of ceasefire, which will cover the whole month of April, to combat and prevent coronavirus, with the aim to build stability and security on the shared borders and to avoid public panic.

But on April 1, the Burma army or Tatmadaw spokesman Brigadier General  Zaw Min Tun rejected the call saying that it is not necessary to announce unilateral ceasefire to deal with Covid-19.

He said: “Covid-19 is a national concern. I respect these parties interest in it but this is not practical. In implementation process, it is more practical (to observe) whether the rules are followed or not.”

He said the government declared a unilateral ceasefire for nine months last year in some areas of the country, but the truce went unheeded and fighting continued, implying that nothing would come out of the unilateral ceasefire if it is again announced. And perhaps making it clear that there would be no cooperation or coordination, except that the ethnic armed groups should just toe the government’s directive.

He emphasized that he thought if someone directly or indirectly abetted or support the accused terrorist group in its propaganda work, he or she could be sued according to the counter-terrorism law. The latest lawsuit against Voice of Myanmar (VOM) is being filed by the home ministry, which is directly under the control of the military.

Besides, he said since the journalists are citizens they also need to obey the law. In short, it is in no way allowed to contact the group which is designated as a terrorist group.

The KNU General Secretary Saw Tah Doh Moo who earlier told the press that the Tatmadaw should stop shooting them so that his organization could concentrate on combating Covit-19 said: “The health prevention level of the displaced people in internally displace persons (IDP) camps is very low. By having ceasefire at least we can educate them on preventive measures.”

Earlier, as if it was a preparation to reject the forth-coming unilateral ceasefire urge of the local and international players, echoing the UN general-secretary call for worldwide ceasefire in all civil war affected areas, the Tatmadaw pre-empted the call by making announcements that AA is a terrorist group.

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 were made respectively. The former was signed by Home Minister Lieutenant General Soe Htut and latter by Chairman of Anti-Terrorism Central Committee.

Shortly after, a local news outlet, VOM editor was arrested on charge of anti-terrorism law for interviewing the Arakan Army (AA) spokesman Khine Thukha. 

It’s Editor-in-Chief Nay Myo Lin could face life in prison following the March 27 publication of reporter Khine Linn San’s interview with Khine Thukha, spokesman for the AA, which is in open armed conflict with the Tatmadaw for greater autonomy in Arakan State.

To date VOM, Narinjara and Khit Thit media outlets face terrorism charges for interviewing the Arakan Army, which the government has declared a terrorist organization. 

The media position in general is that it has to present the views of both adversaries’ point of views in order to file a balance report and thus interviewing the Tatmadaw’s opposition party is in line with ethical media reporting. 

Moreover, Myanmar Press Council (MPC) in its recent protest statement said that any dissatisfaction on media report should be first consulted with it before suing a media outlet, which the home ministry failed to do. The statement pointed out that such action by the ministry or police is not in line with democratization process that the country is trying to implement.

Given such an attitude, regarding the suggestion of unilateral ceasefire, the Tatmadaw isn’t going to comply with unilateral ceasefire countrywide and would go on with its hard-line policy of total annihilation of the ethnic armed organizations, with or without the threat of Covid-19. 

On top of all these, the recent ultimatum given to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) by the Tatmadaw not to harbor the AA or else its area will become battlefield; and the recent helicopter bombing runs that killed two civilians in Minpya Township, Arakan State reportedly without provocation from AA or any ongoing battle,  are clear indications that it is war as usual, so far as the Tatmadaw is concerned.