MYANMAR CRISIS AND INTERNATIONAL INACTION: Polarization strengthened after a year of military coup

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Even though the Commander-in-Chief General Min Aung Hlaing quite recently sent a letter to Peace Process Steering Team (PPST), 10 signatory ethnic armed organizations’ (EAOs) legal think-tank and negotiation body, for the continuation of nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)-based peace process and also earlier urged the EAOs in Kachin, Karen and Karenni states to opt for political dialogue to resolve the conflict, the sign of further hardened confrontation is unmistakably on the march in Myanmar’s political arena.

Commander in Chief General Min Aung Hlaing meet with PPST team old picture in 2018
Commander in Chief General Min Aung Hlaing meet with PPST team old picture in 2018

Most EAOs, except the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Mongla or National Democratic alliance Army (NDAA),  Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and New Mon State Party (NMSP), are all on war-footing, including the rank and file of all People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) and Local Defense Forces (LDFs), some under National Unity Government (NUG), parallel government outfit to the junta’s State Administration Council (SAC), and some not.

People’s Spring Facebook uploaded a piece of news on January 16 that All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), which has signed NCA with the former Thein Sein government in October 2015, staged an attack on the junta’s troops together with the Katha People’s Defence Force on January 15 at around 2pm on two junta’s ships coming from Shweku to Katha Town along the Irrawaddy River with 60mm RPGs. The report said that there could be heavy casualty from the junta’s side as it only managed to return two big gun fires. The combined Katha PDF and ABSDF was able to retreat without casualty. This is the first battle against the junta by the ABSDF after the military coup in February last year, according to the news.

Later on January 16, Khit Thit Media reported that ABSDF Chairman Than Gare confirmed the incidence and said his organization cannot stand idle when the EAOs, people’s defense forces are delivering resistance against the junta.

“We are fighting because battles are raging all across the country and we can’t afford to be sitting idly. We have been involved from the beginning of the Spring Revolution continuously,” Than Gare told the Khit Thit Media, without specifying his organization’s involvement.

Yebaw Myo Win of ABSDF told the RFA on January 16 that the junta’s SAC sent letter to PPST dated January 6, proposing for an unofficial meeting.

PPST online meeting November 2021
PPST online meeting November 2021

“Regarding the issue the PPST is only in the process of discussing it. We consider to analyze and evaluate the letter and the developing present situation,” he said noncommittally.

According to a joint press statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on the night of January 7, General Min Aung Hlaing had informed Hun Sen that the current Myanmar government had previously declared a five-month ceasefire with all Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) until the end of February 2022 and has now decided to extend it until the end of 2022, wrote  The Phnom Penh Post on Jan 8.

Min Aung Hlaing also called on all parties to accept the ceasefire in the interest of the country and people, end all acts of violence and exercise utmost restraint.

“[It’s] a move Prime Minister [Hun Sen] strongly supported with the view to de-escalating tension and enable constructive dialogues among relevant stakeholders to achieve enduring peace and national development,” said the press statement.

Hun Sen visit Myanmar
Hun Sen visit Myanmar January 2022

Prime Minister Hun Sen had officially appointed foreign minister Prak Sokhonn as ASEAN Special Envoy on Myanmar. Min Aung Hlaing said he welcomed the participation of the special envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar to join the ceasefire talks among the EAOs.

“The Senior General has assured the facilitation of the visit of the special envoy to Myanmar and to meet with all parties concerned including EAOs taking into account the prevailing situation in Myanmar,” said the press statement.

But the report is misleading as the junta has always declared ceasefire all the time with an exceptional clause, stating that it does not include terrorist organizations whatever it is meant by that. As a result it always manages to wage war on those it chooses, even after years of ceasefire announcements that were renewed each time they expired. And this time it is also nothing new and it will be just like in the past. It mentions ceasefire with the EAOs but the PDFs, which are delivering serious armed resistance against the junta in Bamar-dominated regions, are not mentioned or included. This means the junta just want to reach ceasefire with the Chin National Front (CNF), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Northern Alliance, Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and Karen National Union (KNU), which are collaborating with the PDFs. In other words, the junta is only interested in isolation of the PDFs so that the Bamar population uprising against it may be crushed if they are without the backing of the EAOs. The junta scheme is easy to predict, so Min Aung Hlaing’s overtures is nothing but a farce, or should we say with ceasefires like these, who needs war.

Now with the PPST four members CNF,   Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), KNU, ABSDF, out of ten altogether, actively participating in armed conflict against the junta, the NCA-based peace process may not be an ideal setting to resolve the countrywide escalating civil war.

In other words, of the remaining six PPST members only the RCSS has a strong army, moderately followed by the New Mon State Party (NMSP), which may have a few hundreds and unwilling to fight the junta, followed by Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) with a few hundreds and in the same category as the NMSP. The rest are almost without armed soldiers.

RCSS is bogged down in inter-ethnic conflict with the combined force of SSPP, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), UWSA across  northern and central Shan State, including occasional clashes with the junta’s army.

Parallel to this, the junta has been committing war crimes killing no less than 35 civilians by burning them alive in Karenni or Kayah State that hit the world headlines; bombarding the capital of Karenni State Loikaw creating the exodus of thousands of displaced persons fleeing to Shan State and elsewhere; regularly bombarding civilian targets and burning, looting in Sagaing Region, Chin State and Karen State, just to name a few; it is hard to believe the good will and overtures of the junta.

While militarily the mood has hardened on both sides of the warring parties, namely broadly speaking the ethnic-democratic camps and the junta or military bloc, the political front competition likewise is also not doing any better, where settlement negotiation is completely blocked.

So much so, that the International Crisis Group (ICG) findings suggest in its latest report on Burma situation as:

  • What’s new?

The 1 February 2021 coup d’état has intensified deadly conflict and ended Myanmar’s decade-old peace process involving its many ethnic armed groups. The Tatmadaw now faces a mix of new and reinvigorated adversaries, some of whom have begun to unite behind a collective vision for a genuine federal state.

  • Why does it matter?

With the moribund peace process now over, the junta will try to dissuade ethnic armed groups from siding with the opposition. Neither the Tatmadaw nor the opposition appears likely to prevail anytime soon; the ensuing rise in conflict will have significant humanitarian consequences.

  • What should be done?

Donors should shift focus from supporting the peace process to assisting people in conflict-affected areas. International actors should avoid pressuring ethnic armed groups into new ceasefires, engage with the parallel government and other opposition representatives, and work with local civil society organizations to address humanitarian needs.

Analysis

We will have to wait and see what the ASEAN under the chair of Cambodia headed by Hun Sen can do.

For now the Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei are for the exclusion of junta participation, with only a token of non-governmental participation person in ASEAN Summit. It is not clear either whether the junta will accept the five-point ASEAN consensus and thus, resolving the country’s conflict and political settlement will be a long way off.

Another point to ponder is whether the ethnic-democratic camps will want to accommodate the junta as negotiation partner and giving it legitimacy to be part of the stakeholder as political decision-making entity in political arena.

This is due to the junta’s crime against humanity and war crimes committed by it during its just one year tyrannical rule, which most consider that it has depleted all legitimacy to rule, not to mention the previous decades gross human rights violations in almost all ethnic states.

Regarding this please allow me to quote the following.

The issue of the legitimacy of the states and governments is outlined in the UNPO Statement On Self-Determination as below:-

  • “States exist for the sole purpose of fulfilling three fundamental tasks: 1) to protect the population of the state; 2) to promote the economic , social and cultural welfare of that population; and 3) to represent the interest of that population externally, that is, internationally.”
  • “Where a state, or its government, does not fulfill these functions over a period of time, but instead represses or even kills the people it is supposed to protect; destroys their culture, economically exploits them; or represents other interests other then those of the people, then that state or government lacks legitimacy in respect of the whole population of the state or that section of population which it oppresses.“

(Source – SECESSION AS AN ETHNIC CONFLICT RESOLUTION :   THE CASE OF  THE SHAN STATES, by Sai Myo Win (a.k.a) Sai Wansai. Delivered at the conference – The Implementation of the Right to Self-Determination as a Contribution to Conflict Prevention – held in Barcelona from 21 to 27 November, 1998. The Conference was sponsored by the UNESCO and “UNESCO Centre of Catalonia” was responsible for all the arrangements.)

In sum, the political scenario isn’t encouraging as the ICG portrayed, as it is likely that the civil war will drag on and thus the only possible thing the international donors could do is the cushion the fallout stemming from the armed and political conflicts. In other words, helping the people rather than trying to play the mediator role. But the question remains if the world body, or at least the so-called democratic countries, will continue to be bogged down by  red tapes and international norms of ” non-interference and territorial integrity” and deny comprehensive solution of the conflict for the suffering people, with inaction, lack of urgency and false pretense, least to avoid dirtying their hands.

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