The Irrawaddy

Poor Prospects for Peace in Face of Military Might

Kyaw Kha: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we’ll discuss the latest developments in Myanmar’s peace process. I am the chief reporter of The Irrawaddy Burmese Edition, Kyaw Kha, and I’m joined by The Irrawaddy Burmese Edition Executive Editor Ko Ye Ni and Social Democratic United Front [SDUF] rally committee member Ko Kyaw Ko Ko.

It is fair to say that Myanmar’s peace process has stalled. Looking at the latest developments, clashes are ongoing between the Kachin Independence Army [KIA] and the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military]. More than 2,000 civilians are trapped by the fighting. Ko Ye Ni, can you explain the latest developments in Kachin State?

Ye Ni: According to the latest reports, at first the Tatmadaw reportedly didn’t allow the rescue of those trapped by the fighting. But now the Tatmadaw has agreed to rescue them. So there must have been negotiations between the government and the Tatmadaw for the rescue. But how to rescue those 2,000 displaced persons is still a question. According to our latest reports, the KIA attacked the rescue convoy, but no one was injured. The KIA said in its statement that the rescue convoy must bear [identification] signs so that it can be recognized. So it appears that the rescue operation is dangerous.

KK: The rescue operation was carried out only after Kachin youths, religious organizations and local Kachin residents staged protests that called for the rescue of those trapped by the fighting. And similar protests were held in Yangon, Mandalay and Pyay. Protestors were sued for breaching the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law. Ko Kyaw Ko Ko, can you explain?

Kyaw Ko Ko: [Authorities] attempted to stop us twice, in Sanchaung and during our march from Mawtin and Sule. They openly said they would sue us and also attempted to provoke confrontation.  Students and youths were able to handle them calmly.  But they took a further step and sued the protestors. Four protestors in Yangon — Ko Kaung Htet Kyaw, Ko Ye Aung Aye, Ko Zeya and Ko Myo Saw — who are members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions [ABFSU] and the SDUF, were sued. Three protestors, including Ko Aung Hmine San, were sued in Mandalay. And Ko Metta Oo and Ko Myo Thu, who planned to march from Pyay to Kachin, were detained in Aunglan. The two were detained on the spot while police searched for the lead protestors in Yangon. Ko Zeya was forcibly seized when he arrived at the funeral of veteran political prisoner U Pe Aung to read the ABFSU’s statement on his death. But he was set free as the funeral party stopped [authorities] from arresting him.  But it was still an unseemly act. Even under previous governments, there was no arrest at a funeral service. The arrest suggests that the situation has gotten worse. I would say it is a direct threat to peaceful protestors.

KK: Ko Kyaw Ko Ko, you are associated with those associations. In the case of the Mandalay protest, police said they took action according to the law because the protests were held without permission. So why didn’t they seek permission, and what do you want to say about what the police said?

KKK: They mainly demanded the rescue of those trapped by the fighting. While they were trying to raise public awareness, they were also soliciting donations from the people for displaced persons in Kachin State. It was an awareness campaign and to collect donations, but not a protest. They were not making demands besides asking for the release of those trapped by the fighting and for an end to the offensives. I mean it was done on humanitarian grounds rather than on political grounds. The youths did it for humanity reasons to evoke sympathy from the people. If they had sought permissions from authorities, there would have been unnecessary delays. Second, if the authorities had not given permission, the protestors would have had to find another option. To avoid these nuisances, and also because they did not believe their activities needed official permission, they collected donations and raised public awareness. Their thinking was that simple. I’d say it was inappropriate that they were sued under the Unlawful Assembly and Procession Law.

KK: Considering the overall situation in ethnic areas such as Kachin, Karen and Shan states, I feel as if peace is almost impossible. What is your assessment of the peace process?

YN: Given the recent developments in the internal peace process, it is fair to say that there are more clashes now than during U Thein Sein’s term. Under U Thein Sein’s government, the whole of southern Myanmar had a ceasefire. The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement [NCA] was signed and there were hopes for peace. The guns fell silent on the western border with India.

But now, besides the clashes in Kachin that the U Thein Sein government was unable to stop, fresh clashes have broken out with the KNU [Karen National Union], one of the NCA signatories. A new battleground has emerged on the Indian border with the Arakan Army. There is shooting along the border, which is not a good sign for peace.

KK: What has caused the negative developments in the peace process, Ko Kyaw Ko Ko?

KKK: To build peace, the most important thing is to radically change the mindset and attitude of the Tatmadaw. It is not willing to change the situation it has created through the Constitution to maintain its power and role. It has a six-point peace principle. It doesn’t view armed organizations as organizations that have to take up arms for political causes and [to resist] political oppression, but as ethnic insurgents. It is the view that they have constantly held. They believe that they should be the only armed force in Myanmar. This attitude is problematic.

The current government can’t change such a situation because it does not have as much power as we expected. It has to negotiate with the Tatmadaw and finds it difficult to do certain things that the Tatmadaw doesn’t allow. In other words, it has no authority to give orders to the Tatmadaw. The Constitution clearly states that the government can’t interfere in military matters to stop fighting or withdraw troops from ethnic areas.

When there are such fundamental differences, a stalemate in the peace process is inevitable. The Tatmadaw needs to review and reform its whole set of ideologies, or most of its ideologies. Whether we call the current reforms democratization or liberalization, as long as the Tatmadaw maintains the status quo, efforts to build peace will be in vain.

KK: Considering all this, what can we expect of Myanmar’s peace process?

YN: The most important thing is to take care of the wishes and interests of the people. The civil war was being fought long before we were born. I remember Thakhin Kodaw Hmaing said that he wanted to see peace before he died. He died and peace has still not been achieved even in our generation. So I have the same feeling. I doubt I will see peace before I die.

KK: What is your expectation, Ko Kyaw Ko Ko?

KKK: People across the country must focus on it. People must actively strive for it as a personal matter. The most important thing is an immediate military ceasefire and for all the stakeholders to gather around the table for negotiations. There are a lot of things to negotiate, and we can’t say what the details will be. They may include federalism and deployment of troops. These need to be solved politically. And it is not wise to cling to the NCA only. Different negotiation approaches might be needed.

If one approach doesn’t work, another approach should be tried. The most important thing is to solve all the problems and reach the goal. [The Tatmadaw] shouldn’t stick to it [the NCA]. It shouldn’t force [armed ethnic groups] to sign the NCA with military pressure. It needs to understand this point well. People play an important part in ensuring this. In 1970 the whole world was against the Vietnam War. Even the citizens of the US, which was fighting the war, were against the war. Students at Berkeley University and Hollywood actresses took to the streets, and the US Army had to stop its war. Likewise, we need a mass movement in our country. This is our best hope for achieving peace. If we have this hope, other hopes will be fulfilled, I think.

KK: Thank you for your contributions!

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.