Interview

Myanmar Civilian Govt Minister Dismisses ‘Death Threat’ Claim as Misinformation

By The Irrawaddy 16 November 2021

The civilian National Unity Government (NUG) last week officially denied a claim by three peace brokers that it made death threats against them. The accusation was made on behalf of the three—all of whom have links with the military and have been involved with the official peace process during periods when it has been controlled by military regimes or proxy governments—in a letter penned by one of them and sent to Myanmar-based diplomats. Claiming that the NUG and its armed wing, the People’s Defense Force (PDF), had put the three men on a “hit list”, the author of the letter urged the diplomats to take appropriate action against the organizations.

In a recent interview with The Irrawaddy, Dr. Tu Hkawng, the NUG’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC), denounced the actions of the peace brokers as sneaky and dishonest, and said their claims were a distortion of the facts.

Dr. Tu Hkawng has formally studied the latest phase of the Myanmar peace process since 2012, when he was doing his PhD on the topic in Thailand, and is an authority on the subject.

Some peace brokers have filed complaints with foreign diplomats alleging that they received death threats from the NUG/PDF. What is your view on that?

What I feel about their complaints is they said they had confirmed with their friends in the NUG [that they are on a “hit list” put out by the NUG/PDF]. If they have such close friends in the NUG, why don’t they raise the issue with us? All of us are democracy supporters; do they believe we would do that to them? If they have received a hit list, why haven’t they contacted the people they know in the NUG? They could have made contact and expressed their concerns.

If they were really threatened by the PDF, we could identify the [particular] group and ask them not to do so. Why did they spread misinformation to foreign [diplomats] behind our back? We assume it is false. We don’t have a hit list. We have never discussed that. I have never heard of that.

About the killing of informants, that is a local-level problem. Only local PDFs will know who the informants are in their relevant wards; outsiders may not know. It is a problem of extrajudicial killings at the local level. And we must accept that it is the result of a chaotic society lacking in the rule of law. We can’t control that and neither can the military regime.

But it was started by the military regime. They started arresting and killing young people, but they sneakily told the international community that the NUG are committing those crimes.

In their complaint, the peace brokers said they were threatened because they are pushing for dialogue. But the military regime has rejected dialogue. Why are they pushing for dialogue?

It is clear. Since after the coup and before the NUG was formed, peace brokers have urged Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement [NCA] signatories not to join the revolutionary movement. [NCA signatories comprise 10 ethnic armed groups from the Karen, Mon, Shan, Lahu, Rakhine and Chin communities. It was signed in 2015.] They are very concerned the NCA path will be lost because it is their profession, their job. They will have to change their profession if there is no longer an NCA. So, they are worried that the NCA path will be lost. They are pretending to be peace makers in the country when talking to the international community.

You said that given Myanmar’s history, peace can’t be achieved without solving the political problems first. So, is the NCA still a practical approach given the current situation?

Since discussions on the NCA started after 2012, when the peace process began, I have noticed that peace brokers are engaged in peace projects, and not [in efforts] to sustain a genuine peace process. They have never pushed for a genuine peace process. They only focus on how to make their projects successful, but fail to make the peace process successful by finding a balance between the two sides.

The NCA is incomplete in some ways, but peace brokers pushed the U Thein Sein government and ethnic armed organizations to jump the gun and sign the pact. I’m afraid there were no thorough discussions.

We have heard that certain peace brokers are now trying hard to ensure that NCA signatories and the NUG can’t join hands in this revolution. As they have a certain degree of international publicity, they claim the NUG to be this and that. This has negatively impacted upon us. We only found out about [the NUG’s alleged threat against them] after their complaint was leaked.

They could have told us about that. They are close to people in the NUG. Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong [currently the NUG’s minister of Federal Union Affairs, who represented the Chin National Front during previous peace process negotiations] and Daw Khin Ma Ma Myo [currently the NUG’s minister of commerce, who worked as a security affairs expert] worked with them [during peace negotiations under the hybrid civilian-military governments]. They could have talked directly to them. That they have complained to foreign diplomats is not good. They can directly tell their concerns to us. As we didn’t threaten them, we can help find out who made the threats.

I’m concerned that the military regime might threaten and assassinate them. It is more worrying now because they have told foreign diplomats [that they were threatened by the NUG]. So this enables the military regime to spread propaganda against the NUG, by [potentially] accusing it of killing them should they be killed.

At the same time, we can’t know all the PDFs. We ourselves have to be cautious in contacting them. There are many informants and those who pretend to be PDFs. So, we ourselves have to exercise caution.

You claimed that they received a monthly salary of US$10,000 when they worked for the Myanmar Peace Center [MPC] under U Thein Sein’s administration. Is that true?

Salaries are not officially declared to the public. That was the figure they claimed; some of them asked for [that amount] when the MPC was formed. In fact it is natural and understandable for someone who has worked in Afghanistan to say that he should be paid that amount for his services. But, in the context of Myanmar, that amount seems enormous. It is not an enormous rate by international standards.

Their remuneration package is however substantial, inclusive of their facilities. Those projects are anyway state-level projects. And some of them didn’t work as Myanmar citizens [but foreign experts]. So, that rate is not unreasonable, as those projects are national-level projects. That amount is not enormous for a professional in a state-level project. But it is a huge amount for someone at an NGO.

There have been rumors that the peace brokers’ letter was sent to diplomats on the orders of former generals who led the MPC and the generals who are currently leading the junta’s peace council. What is your view on that?

It is possible. The SAC [State Administration Council, the junta’s governing organ] still sticks to the NCA path, and General Yar Pyae [the head of the junta’s National Unity and Peace Coordination Committee] frequently meets them. They are doing so to create the appearance that their regime has legitimacy, because the NCA path supports the 2008 Constitution. The NCA was signed before foreign diplomats, so it is quite important for the regime for its legitimacy. So, my view is that they will by all means support the revival of peace projects.

The interview has been edited for clarity.


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