Is Naypyidaw Learning From Sri Lanka to End Civil War?

Myanmay, Burma, Karen, KNLA, KNU, ceasefire, peace, Aung Min,

Gen Baw Kyaw Heh, the KNLA’s vice-chief-of-staff, speaks during an interview with The Irrawaddy at a KNLA Brigade 5 area in Papun District, Karen State. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)

The Karen National Union (KNU) signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in January 2012. Since then, there have been disagreements within the KNU leadership over the ceasefire and the peace process. Some leaders, described as “pragmatists,” want to move quickly forward with the peace process, while others want to exercise caution.

Lt-Gen Baw Kyaw Heh is vice commander-in-chief of the KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and is often described as “hardliner” as he advocates a slower approach due to his doubts over peace process. He is a former commander of the KNLA’s Brigade 5.

The Irrawaddy’s senior reporter, Saw Yan Naing traveled to the KNLA Brigade 5 area and met Lt-Gen Baw Kyaw Heh to discuss the peace process.

Question: What is your opinion on the peace process between the Burmese government and the ethnic armed groups so far?

Answer: In my opinion it is time for the Burmese government to transition and develop the country like other developing nations. They have been criticized for their administration that has for a longtime made no progress. That’s why they certainly have plans to reform, so that they are not criticized and pressured any longer. In a series of reforms, they will also try as much as they can to end the civil war and move forward to develop the country. But, they might have different way of thinking and approach to ending the war.

They want the ethnic groups to get involved into a “game” that they have set up. So, if we don’t think carefully, we are at risk of falling into the trap they set, and we will miss the goal that we want. We have to make sure that we don’t miss our target when we agree a ceasefire with the government. We must lay down a systematic plan and implement it precisely, step by step. We know that they have their own plans; for example to what degree they will categorize us and how much they will give us what we want. If we don’t go straight toward the target we want, we will fall in the trap they set for us.

Q: So what is the government’s plan for the ethnic groups? What do you think the Burmese government has in mind?

A: For example, we have to form parties and enter into Parliament in 2015. There must be one army in the country, and we are supposed to fight alongside the government against terrorists. So, we understand that we will be combined into one armed force under their [Tatmadaw] control.

I think the military is trying to come up with a new tactic to end armed conflicts with the ethnic minorities. In this case, I think they want to copy Thailand. They want to turn the ethnic armies into border guard forces. They will give some reasonable opportunities to the ethnic minorities, like Thailand gives to hill tribe ethnic people who live in Thailand. If ethnic groups get those opportunities, there might be no war. So, the Burmese government thinks again about giving opportunities to ethnic minorities that they didn’t give in the past. They will give us opportunities to disarm voluntarily. But, they will retain sovereignty. They won’t give the Karen a mandate to govern Karen State.

Q: Is there any positive change that has been emerging after the ceasefire between the government and the KNU?

A: Positive and negative matters always come along. There are positive consequences after we reached a ceasefire. For example, fear and concerns about being attacked have been reducing among villagers. And people can speak and share information without fear. These are visible positive points. But, we don’t see invisible negative elements that might be behind the positive ones.

While they [government troops] cease firing at us, they have been trying to influence our communities and territories by means of social and political engagements. They spread their people in a friendly way among Karen communities and get themselves connected not only with civilians but also our soldiers. I see it as their tactic to expand their influence and control in our territories, but in a soft way. It seems the blood of some of our soldiers is getting cold, but among them [the government troops], it’s not. They divide their duties and roles and implement it very systematically. The government and the army acts precisely in accordance with their roles. So, if we take the ceasefire as a “business deal,” I think they won and we lost.

Q: Aung Min is the key peace negotiator for the Burmese government. He leads the peace negotiation team on behalf of the government. What do you think of Aung Min and his words?

A: I think he plays his role very well. He talks very cleverly. He speaks very lightly and makes promises very easily. To me, those who promise easily do not keep their word. So, the more flexibly he speaks, the more I doubt it. I don’t trust those who are sweet talkers. When we talk about important and serious issues, we have to talk seriously. Only those who talk seriously are serious and sincere in their words.

Q: Some say that KNLA Brigade 5 is stubborn. Others described its leaders as “hardliners.” What are your comments on that?

A: While other leaders are following plans that are set up by Aung Min or the Burmese government, I’m not following it. To me, I want to move very carefully and slowly to make things go according to our plan. I am cautious. So I am often against their plans, which I disagree with. They think that I don’t support the peace process and some even worry that I’m going to break it.

For example, Charles Petrie [the head of Norway-backed Myanmar Peace Support Initiative, or MPSI] came to meet me and asked me not to destroy the peace process. He questioned me repeatedly, “You won’t break the peace process, right?” He asked me three times. I told him that I won’t destroy it. I want to do it in appropriate way to secure a lasting peace. Then he said he will write a letter to Aung Min to let him know that I told him I won’t break the peace process.

Q: MPSI pilot projects are often criticized by community-based organizations. What do you think about these activities in war-affected ethnic areas including the KNU territories?

A: I didn’t accept the pilot projects from early on because we have experienced that the government army strengthened its troops during ceasefires with us in the past. And I worry that the government will exploit the development projects and NGOs as tools to strengthen its control in our communities, like has happened in some other countries.

Q: Which country and experiences you are talking about?

A: In my knowledge, I will say the Tamil rebels and the Sri Lanka government. I understand that Norway also get involved in Sri Lanka’s transition. The Tamil rebels lost their territory and bases after a ceasefire [in 2002] with the government as NGO projects, development, education, schools and health care operations came in into their areas.

It is like a cold war. You turn off your weapons, but you strengthen your control through social developments. So, I’m worried that the conditions here will be like that. The situation of Tamil rebels might not be the same as the Karen and the Sri Lanka government might not like the Burmese government. But, the theory of defeating rebels is the same.

Q: Burma is a multiethnic nation and has different armed groups. Apart from the government armed forces, there are more than a dozen ethnic armed groups. Burma’s Constitution says that one country must have one national army. But, ethnic minorities want a “federal army.” How Burma can fix its military structure?

A: It will be difficult to structure all ethnic troops and the government army into one armed force because all ethnic minorities want to govern their states. There should be a state guard [made up of the ethnic armed groups] and a union army. We can cooperate with the government army. But, state guards must not be centralized by the union army.

Q: We know that KNLA Brigade 5 has significant military strength. How do you get financial support to run your army?

A: The KNU has economic, taxation and forest departments. Financial support for our needs comes from those departments. And for our survival, we give some permits to those who want to come and conduct small-scale mining in our areas. We also permit some small-scale logging. We rely on taxation.

Q: In the late 1970s, ethnic minority armed groups formed the National Democratic Front (NDF). They vowed to fight and work together until they reach their common goal. But, some ethnic groups signed ceasefire agreements with the government in the 1990s individually. Now, they team up again and vow to come up with one voice in demanding their rights. Do you think it will work this time?

A: None of us are perfect. We all have strengths and weaknesses. So, we shouldn’t blame each other. I think when the Kachin went and signed ceasefire with the government in 1994, they might have had their own difficulties.

But, overall, the cooperation and unity within ethnic groups right now is not encouraging enough to me. We have to work a lot to make it better. We have been meeting and talking again and again, time has passed year by year, but unity among us is up and down. That’s why the Burmese government divided us into pieces. It is not that the Burmese government is so smart, but we ourselves also are not smart enough.

6 Responses to Is Naypyidaw Learning From Sri Lanka to End Civil War?

  1. Kachin thought they were so smart. Now THEIR people are payng with their blood. That blood is not only on the Cowardly, devilish,Rapist Sit-tut of Than Shwe’s hands but also on the the hands of Greedy, KIA selling out their own. Seems they are doing it again on the face of continued suffering and deaths of their own people.

    Sae po selling out to Japanese, Norwegians and the EU cashed up MPC is good only in a very, very short term for himself and a few of his own cronies. Majority Karen people will end up losing their land and rights forever, this time irreversibly. So-called peace with build up of the army bases and administrative centres is such a baloney only totally stupid or totally blind selfish people would swallow. Petrie is simply a rent boy.

    The Bamar Sit-tut thinking themselves so smart is also doing the biddings of the Yanks and EU as pimped by that saintly or not-so-saintly woman who was groomed, polished and trained for this very purpose and is dancing the tunes of organ grinder well. But at the end Sit-tut will also be part of the country by then owned, poisoned and destroyed by the reckless soulless global corporations who own global academia, journalists (media), and governments let alone those IMF, WB, ADB which are their very own shops anyway.

    Destruction like Sri Lanka. You bet! Norway is simply an errand boy for the Yanks and EU dominated global business network for that Neoliberalism .

    Tamils are done for for a long, long time and their hundreds of thousands of massacres repeatedly are never to be atoned. The “West” whole-heartedly supports the most vicious Fascists (another Chinese lapdog) Rajapaksa brothers. But of course Tamils have been so, so virulent under Prabhakaran. KNU is another story from the hateful LTTE. But Sae Po makes sure that Karen people meet the same fate as the Tamil populace. Only solace is this time the whole of Burma will be dine for under the global corporations actively pimped not only by the Sit-tut and their darling Aung San Suu Kyi but by the once-were-dissident groups on the pay roll of Soros and the -oh, yes, the Monks Army under control of Gene Sharp/ Helvey/ Ackerman or NED, the CIA liaison office. (the Monks Army is currently on loan to Aung Thaung.)

    • You blame both sides. But it does not make you a wise person either. The Kachins have to save and defend their ancestors’ land. The war between KIA and Myanmar thugs is not because of Kachins’ mistake nor wrongdoing. It is absolutely from Myanmar’s aggression. Blaming the Kachins for their suffering makes no sense if you are wise enough to understand what was the core issue and problem of the war.
      1. Kachinland was never under the control of Myanmar kings.
      2. Chinland was never part of the Myanmar king before British rule.
      3. Shanland was not under the Myanmar rule at the time of British occupation.

      That’s why Chins, Kachins and Shans had to sign treaty with Aung San to form the Union. Founding the Union and Forming the Union of Burma at Panglong, you may not understand the reason. Instead, you just bark like a wild dog at the Kachins. Kachins, Shans and Chins deserve respect but the Myanmars betrayed them. So, stop barking like a dog, man.

    • Ohn is not a man. Ohn is not a woman either. So, he is gay. He has the right to be gay anyway.

  2. Gen Baw Kyaw Heh is smart and clever enough to understand Bama military thugs’ real cruel intention and their own survival. Let study those bama military thugs’ cruel personalities and low education (unethical and immoral ).

  3. To indigenous people in Myanmar,we must to be a Conservative like Gen Bawkyaw Heh and knowing a tactic of Burmese government and military hardcore which they have been exercising and systematically genocide our ethnic people for a long time.Let us learn from the past as the history reflected that How Gen Aung San betrayed to us. the followers hold it tenaciously and practice it. Don’t pay for second price in this time.

  4. the most important phrase above is:

    “It is not that the Burmese government is so smart, but we ourselves also are not smart enough.”

    kudos for saying that, at last. the ethnic minority armies screwed up themselves. alas.

    manerplaw fell many moons ago, so did the dream (illusion) for karen autonomy.

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