RANGOON — Those attempting to negotiate an end to decades of armed conflict in Burma lack a mandate to effectively broker peace between the Burmese government and the country’s ethnic armed groups, according to Burma expert Bertil Lintner.
Speaking at a conference on “The Peace Process, Constitutional Reform and the Role of Ethnics” in Rangoon on Monday, Lintner said that peace advocates like President’s Office Minister Aung Min, who heads the government’s peace negotiation team, and members of the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), a government-affiliated nonprofit organization involved in peace talks, lack authority to make decisions on the ethnic conflicts.
“He [Aung Min] doesn’t have any mandate to discuss anything accept the ceasefire agreement. And he promises for dialogue sometime in the future. He has no political mandate,” said Lintner.
The veteran Swedish journalist, who has written numerous books on Burma, said the peace process has become an industry where international peace experts and nongovernmental organizations are lavishing money on peace advocacy and development projects. However, due to limited knowledge or understanding of the historical and political background of armed non-state ethnic minorities, the foreign experts do more harm than good, he argued.
He cited the MPC as an example. The center receives significant financial support from international donors such as the European Union (EU), but lacks capacity in promoting the peace process, he said.
“The MPC is like an organization which is being paid for doing nothing,” said Lintner.
According to a monitoring report by Burma News International, the EU granted start-up funding to the MPC in 2012 of 700,000 euro, almost US$1 million, followed by a sizable funding package later in 2012. The EU gave a total of 30 million euro, about $38 million, to Burma’s peace process in 2013.
Many observers say trust between the government and the armed ethnic minorities is still poor and existing ceasefire agreements are still fragile. Mechanisms to consolidate the ceasefires, such as codes of conduct for ethnic areas are not in place.
Economic development has been prioritized in the peace process, but observers say armed struggle is unlikely to end until ethnic groups’ political demands, like the demand for autonomy, are addressed.
Lintner said existing ceasefire agreements were just pieces of paper, and they can break down anytime.
Several ethnic armed groups saw ceasefire’s break down and fighting with the Burma Army resume in 2010 and 2011.
Lintner said that even though there is no exchange of fire in Karen State, eastern Burma, government troops are still deployed in Karen National Union-controlled regions—despite a ceasefire agreement with the rebel group—and military supplies to the region are increasing.
In an interview earlier, MPC member Kyaw Yin Hlaing admitted that Burma’s peace process has a long way to go.
“The situation remains fragile. The ceasefires can break down at any moment. But, of course, everybody is working really hard,” said Kyaw Yin Hlaing.