Peace Prize for Thein Sein Draws Praise and Scorn

Burmese President Thein Sein returns to Rangoon after his visit to the United States in November. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON—The International Crisis Group (ICG) will grant Burmese President Thein Sein its annual ‘In Pursuit of Peace’ award at a prestigious gala dinner in New York on Monday in recognition of the democratic reforms and peace efforts that he has introduced.

But opinions on his government differ among officials, opposition members, experts and ethnic leaders. Some are saying that it is inappropriate to honor Thein Sein as he is linked to Burma’s powerful military, which still continues offensive operations and rights abuses in ethnic areas.

The ICG announced in November that Thein Sein would receive its peace award for his “decisive action towards improving Myanmar’s relations with the political opposition and liberalizing past repressive laws. He has made significant strides in ending the country’s decades-long internal conflicts.”

The high-profile ceremony will be attended by Western government leaders, US politicians and influential figures, such as George Soros. It also serves as a fundraising event for the non-government organization, and companies pay tens of thousands of dollars for a chance to meet the honorees and distinguished guests.

The President Office’s spokesman Ye Htut said Minister Aung Min, the government’s chief peace negotiator, will receive the award on behalf of Thein Sein.

“Giving this award to the president [shows] appreciation for the efforts by the government to achieve peace in ethnic areas,” Ye Htut said. “The majority of the Myanmar people and the international community appreciate the president’s work,” he added.

Thein Sein, a former general, was appointed by Burma’s previous military rulers in March 2011 to head a quasi-civilian government, as part of a military-approved roadmap to free and fair elections in 2015.

He has since pushed through a raft of political and socio-economic reforms, releasing hundreds of political prisoners and repealing a number of repressive laws. His government opened peace talks with a dozen ethnic rebel groups and reached ceasefires with 11 militias, except the Kachin rebels.

The international community has hailed Thein Sein as a historic reformer and quickly reengaged with Burma, suspending international sanctions against the government and slashing much of its foreign debts.

However, Thein Sein’s government has been criticized over its brutal military offensive against the Kachin rebels in northern Burma, where tens of thousands of civilians were displaced and numerous human rights abuses were reported. His government has also been accused of failing to protect Muslim minorities during waves of attacks by Buddhist mobs in western and central Burma that have occurred several times since June 2012.

Currently, Thein Sein is midway through his presidency and opinions on his performance—and on whether or not he deserves the ICG’s peace award—vary.

Aung Naing Oo, who is with the government’s Myanmar Peace Center, said Thein Sein had made great progress since assuming office. “President Thein Sein has been dealing with the legacies of the military regime extremely well,” he said, before adding that “enormous challenges” remained. “Recognition [through the ICG award] could not come at a better time, to keep him going,” Aung Naing Oo said.

General Secretary of the Karen National Union Kwe Htoo Win said he welcomed any international recognition of the progress being made under President Thein Sein in resolving Burma’s ethnic conflicts.

“There has been success [in peace building] to some extent. The [ICG] recognize his efforts, and then we think he should be given the award too,” said Kwe Htoo Win, whose group signed a ceasefire with the government in early 2012. “We have to acknowledge the end to gun battles and civil war in some ethnic regions. But, I think the government should do more to implement peace,” he added.

However, Win Tin, a senior leader of the National League for Democracy, said there is no justification for granting the peace award to Thein Sein, as he cannot control the military, which is able to continue offensive operations in Kachin and Shan states.

“There is no actual peace-pursuing with the Kachin. This month there is a lot of fighting in Shan State, and thousands of people had to flee,” the opposition member said. “Actually, Thein Sein’s government is not pursuing peace in Burma at all, so I don’t think it’s proper to give him this award,” Win Tin said.

Bertil Lintner, a veteran journalist who has written numerous books on Burma, said awarding a peace award to Thein Sein was a completely misplaced gesture and he offered harsh words on the ICG’s decision.

“One has to wonder how the International Crisis Group can sleep at night when they’re giving an award to a gaggle of generals who
actively, cynically deny that their troops commit war crimes,” he wrote in an email. “It is disgraceful that the ICG calls for an investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka and not Burma.”

Lintner said that international observers seemed to also ignore the fact that Thein Sein had been “hand-picked” by former military supremo Than Shwe to be the acceptable international face of the quasi-civilian government, while Commander-in-Chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing had been positioned to freely pursue the military’s security goals.

Further strong criticism of President Thein Sein’s government’s shortcomings appeared on the same day that he was due to be honored in New York, when the US group Human Rights Watch (HRW) launched a scathing report on last year’s inter-communal violence in Arakan State, which displaced more than 125,000 people.

The group accused authorities of committing “crimes against humanity in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims.” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said in a news release that “The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement.”

Additional reporting by Nyein Nyein

30 Responses to Peace Prize for Thein Sein Draws Praise and Scorn

  1. All know ICG is rubbish.

  2. “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” Abraham Lincoln,

  3. Thein Sein is chairperson of Na Ta La which is government sponsored committee which forces ethnic christian children to become Buddhists. If Thein Sein and his USDP deserve any peace price, every human being on earth deserves the price. There is calm before the storm. Thein Sein reform is just for majority Burmans, not for ethnics, Bengali people and other Muslims. So, there is no real peace in Burma as long as no real truce has been reached between regime and ethnics. I will repeat it. It can be just a calm before the storm.

  4. Maung Kyaw Nu, a former political prisoner of conscience.

    It Hitler were alive today ,he will be co -receiver of prize with Thien Sein.

  5. TheBurmeseFreedomFighter

    It is better to risk saving a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  6. nomination for noble prize,ICG awarding peace prize man like( POL POT) thein Sein is insult for humanity. Genuine receiver of peace award,Like Mandela,Suu Kyi, will feel humiliation.just pretending as reformer,actual reform change did not take place.war in kachin intensify,merciless killing civilian,blocking aid to the displace kachin refugee,looting natural resource of kachin people.shan peoples are attacked everyday.most of ethnic minority have uncertain future because of government apartheid policy.some artificial reform are for expectation like lift sanction from US,EU,Financial package from IMF,ADB,Paris club are already under way as prior calculation.the election of president thein sein by 25% of unelected army is joke ,name of democracy.all most all of USDP representative steal the vote for is selection ,name of election manipulated by than shwe &aung thaung groups.he should charge for cheating public,killing unarmed ethnic,abuse of power but award from ICG, it is betray to his victim.

    among the crime he thein sein, Ne Win committed are,dis honoring ping-long agreement of federalism.Looting ethnic minority natural professional denier famous words of no rohingya in Burma, openly supporting , participating rohingya genocide,keeping all rohingya in arakan in open concentration camp,blocking aid ,medicine with rakhine magh,Buddhist thugs, all amounted ethnic cleansing committed by thein sein (POL POT) & more Myanmar Muslim in central Burma massacre in which government fully this man still deserve ICG award ,instead this men should stand trial for crime against humanity.killer from Balkan,Rwanda stand trial ,why killer,abuser, looter,.lier from burma pol pot thein sein is award?it is shame for all human kind.

  7. I agree that President Thein Sein deserves the Award. We should not criticize him with his military background. Historically, there are a lot of good people among the generals. For instance, some elders in the leading NLD hold military background. How long have we been living under military dictatorship? The military can do anything or disrupt anything in the country if they want to. Look at the nephew of Than Shwe. What can we actually do to him? He is bullying everywhere he goes.
    In a county where the strong suppress the weak, we should b more thankful to those who hold liberalism and progressive philosophy. After receiving the Award, I am sure President Thein Sein himself will be happy to fulfill the goal of democracy. This the time to unite our country.

    • Yeah! Right! Nobel Peace winner Suu Kyi no longer cares the cry of the Kachins and the Bengali and Muslims from central Burma. Will the award change Thein Sein? Absolutely “No”. If Thein Sein is in control, it may help somewhat but he is just a puppet. Awarding Thein Sein may not affect that much. If the winner is Than Shwe, then your view may be right one. Keep hoping and keep looking. Living with hope is not a bad thing.

  8. May be, some thing is right for some people some time, but can anybody be right all the time?
    That includes ICG and every body else whoever may say something at some point in space and time. It all depends on how one looks at it.
    Here too the purpose of the award is a proactive process, not any way “I will condemn you”.
    Did Thein Sein have any choice he become the President? Or, does any body, for that matter.
    I refer to the comment: “some are saying that it is inappropriate to honor Thein Sein as he is linked to Burma’s powerful military, which still continues offensive operations and rights abuses in ethnic areas.”
    And isn’t the purpose of the award good enough? I refer to the context: “decisive action towards improving Myanmar’s relations with the political opposition and liberalizing past repressive laws. He has made significant strides in ending the country’s decades-long internal conflicts.”

    We are not at the end the road we have chosen, you know!!! (And I do not support military dictatorship, mind you, and not the reversion either). It is an on-going process.
    Does any one want to derail the reform program and the peace efforts? There is a great deal more work to be done. I, for one, would rather like to have people come in to help, rather than detract, not to praise militarism, nor condemn people who try to do good work.
    Does any body think “perfection” can be expected from mortal man?

  9. Shoes should be thrown at Thein Sein at the award reception.

  10. Everybody knows he is corrupt and puppet of Than Shwe. What can western countries do? They will have to look their interest and why should cry for minorities of Burma. Now is the time for Western countries to havea share of pie from Burma. Hurry up. They are already late and majority of Burmese resources were sucked by China.

  11. He should be awarded “Middle Age Barbarism” prize for his outstanding performance in executing Rohingya minorities.

  12. Nobel peace prize committee made a grave mistake by awarding the prize to aung san suu kyi. ICG is following the same foot steps.

  13. Congratulation!
    President Thein Sien will set a good example for other military leaders and dictators around the world. WE should be proud of our president. He could be the puppet of Than Shwe, but the fact is he is the figurehead of the country and he is the one who is leading the country into the path of democracy.

    • Are you sure that you will be granted autonomy and self-determination in Chin State? We will find it out very soon, Chinland Yebaw. Thein Sein is dragging his feet slowly. So, your mega wish may come true in a million years from today.

      • Shwe Ba, it’s always better if things can be settled on the table with political dialogue rather than.
        We have been fighting for more than 20 years. Others are fighting for more than sixty years. How many lives have been perished in vain? What do we gain? Nationalism? Not at all. Enough is enough.
        American Civil War took only 6 years and lost 600,000 lives. There is a time to fight and there is a time to make peace. I think the time is ripened for Burma to make peace, and resume our infrastructural development program.

        • Chinland Yebaw,
          The pot on the table has nothing inside except some sugarcoated candies around the pot. Peace is good but be careful not to get cheated with sugarcoated candies. We will see what you really get. I see nothing in Thein Sein’s hand for you. His hand is empty. Sorry. Cheated second time? I believe it is third time. Be patient and keep hoping. But try not to cry when you find out that you get nothing but fake diamond which tecthes nothing.

          • I can’t make a better analogy than yours. Props for you.

          • Mr. Careful,
            Do not beg if it is a real candy. Suspicions and procrastination will drag you back to another 20 more years. No one knows for sure what the future has in store for all of us. Yet, things can be judged through conscious reasons and actual events. Woe to me if I can’t read the writing on the wall. But remember that a coward dies a thousand times, a soldier dies but once.

    • “Democracy” under the guise of “mili-business” cooperation. Don’t be a fool to believe his “democracy” just after getting the right to vote.

  14. What the point of disagreeing about the decision? They have done their research and everyone voted so he is getting the peace award. Are you jealous or sth U win tin? Saying it’s not appropriate that our president is getting the award. Our president deserve this award.

  15. ICG award will lost reputation ,if continue awarded people like thein sein.He deserved global condemnation .


  17. What Burma needs is A government By the People, Of the people, For the People NOT a government by the military dictatorship, of the military dictatorship or for the military dictatorship. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP K[LL[NG THE INNOCENT KACHINS, INNOCENT SHANS, INNOCENT CHRISTIANS, INNOCENT ROHINGYA MUSLIMS AND THE PEACE-LOVING INNOCENT MUSLIMS. WE ALL WANT TO LIVE IN PEACE. ICG HAS COMMITTED A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY BY AWARDING THE PRIZE TO THEIN SEIN. SHAME ON YOU ICG !!!!!!!!

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