RANGOON — Burma’s business community sent a strange and redundant message on Friday, when the country’s chief business associations published adjacent, identical ads in state media commending a ceasefire agreement between the government and armed rebels.
The nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)—which includes only eight of the country’s more than twenty armed groups—was signed on Thursday in Naypyidaw after two years of volatile negotiations.
A full page, front and back, of Burmese language daily Myanma Alinn featured paid bulletins from the country’s largest business alliance, the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and ten of its 70 sister associations weighing in on the historic occasion.
Distinguishable only by their logos in the top left corner of each bulletin, ten ads—all but the one published by the UMFCCI—touted the exact same message:
We hope and believe that this [NCA] will advance toward the successful commencement of political dialogue and we also hope and believe that the remaining ethnic groups will sign the NCA… We, on behalf of the citizens of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, are deeply grateful to the Union Government led by the President, Union Peace-making Central Committee, Union Peace-making Work Committee, division and state governments, eight ethnic armed groups, and officials of the Myanmar Peace Center, who have taken the lead role in the successful signing of the NCA and we hereby express our heartfelt congratulations to them.
A larger bulletin from the UMFCCI was worded slightly differently.
Dr. Maung Maung Lay, vice chairman of the federation, said that as a large organization that works with the government, the UMFCCI had a duty to express gratitude. He also denied suspicions that the associations were in any way pressured to make the statements, a speculation that arose among some readers.
“As we are the biggest business association, we work with the government and we appreciate their achievements,” Maung Maung Lay told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “We weren’t forced to announce that in the newspaper.”
As for why the other ads were all identical in form and content, Dr. Maung Maung Lay speculated that the other associations might have just been “too lazy” to draft their own messages. Though perhaps, he said, they didn’t want to confuse readers if there were inconsistencies in their approach, choosing “the easy way to announce that.”
Dr. Soe Tun, joint secretary of the Myanmar Rice Federation, also denied any pressure to push a certain message. He said that all of the country’s business associations have the same goal of achieving a stable and peaceful environment whereby borders can be developed and businesses can benefit farmers and workers.
“In the rice industry, for instance,” Dr. Soe Tun said, “there are many farmers who have been displaced around the conflict areas. So now they can go back to their homes.”
If successful, the ceasefire agreement would surely a boon for business, as it could lead to more development and access to places and populations that were previously isolated and impoverished. A front-page story in Friday’s English-language state daily, The Global New Light of Myanmar, said that ceasefire areas would be prioritized for development projects, highlighting the “importance” of special economic zones, garment manufacturing and agro-business jobs.
The ten associations that ran announcements in Myanma Alinn are the Myanmar Rice Federation, Union of Myanmar Travel Association, Union of Myanmar Beans and Pulses Traders Association, Myanmar Livestock Federation, Myanmar Fisheries Federation, Myanmar Construction Entrepreneurs Association, Myanmar Oil Traders Association, Myanmar Medicines and Pharmaceutical Association, Myanmar Industrial Association and the Myanmar Rice Producers Association.