Peace-Building: A Chin Perspective

By Kyaw Zwa Moe 20 March 2015

President U Thein Sein’s government hoped to sign a nationwide ceasefire accord with various ethnic armed groups on Feb. 12, Union Day. Bogged down by lingering unresolved differences and imperiled by intermittent clashes between a handful of ethnic armed groups and the Myanmar Army, as with past target dates, Union Day came and went with no deal reached. Naypyitaw has signed bilateral ceasefire agreements with more than a dozen armed groups since 2011, but a nationwide deal remains elusive.

Pu No Than Kap, the chairman of the Chin Progressive Party and Chin national affairs minister for the Sagaing Region government, spoke to Kyaw Zwa Moe, the editor of The Irrawaddy English Edition, about obstacles to an agreement and the way forward.

Q: Why is it taking so long to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement? What are the major hurdles?

A: In my view, both ethnic groups and the government desperately want a ceasefire. However, something is wrong somewhere. I don’t want to put blame on anyone in particular. The president has taken steps and opened the door. I think ethnic groups welcome his move, because everyone accepts the fact that fighting all the time has served no one’s interests.

But the president himself has to do more. It is taking so long on the ground, I think perhaps, due to too much suspicion.

Q: How should they dispel that suspicion and build trust?

A: It is the president who should and can start to make a move for a breakthrough. The government understands this and it should therefore open the door wide, not just ajar. The government and the military could declare a unilateral ceasefire, but with a time limit—for example for 15 days, or a month or three months—and say, ‘We will not launch attacks during that period and will invite ethnic groups for political dialogue.’ Ethnic groups would certainly join it, I believe.

Q: That is the first step toward building trust?

A: Even if a nationwide ceasefire accord can’t be signed right now, the government should open the door fully by declaring a unilateral ceasefire, and they should invite ethnic groups to a political dialogue during the ceasefire. It would help a lot, I think, because doing so would earn the trust of ethnic groups. They then have no reason to believe that the government does not want a ceasefire. Then the burden is on them [ethnic armed groups]. All national peoples will think that the political dialogue to which they aspire can be started when the government declares a unilateral ceasefire.

Q: There has been a great deal of debate over what form political dialogue should take, and how many participants it should include. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the government and ethnic groups all have different opinions on the matter.

A: For me, I accept any type of dialogue—four-party or six-party or 12-party talks and so on. I am not so rigid as to stick to only one form. The important thing is that the talks be genuine. The outcome should be fruitful for our country. Without dialogue, I don’t think we can get any results. Even the last time, when we 48 political and ethnic leaders met with the president, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the commander-in-chief of the military, I think we managed to have a dialogue to some extent. Each of us could share our perspectives. That, at least, is a good outcome from such a meeting.

Q: How important is political dialogue for our country?

A: I think all we urgently need is to start a political dialogue to solve the problems. Unless and until the political dialogue is started, we will not be able to solve this lingering problem. A mere ceasefire can’t guarantee peace. There will be gunfire anyway, either necessarily or accidentally, on this broad battleground.

Because the problem is based on national chauvinism, I think political dialogue should begin as early as possible to solve this problem. This is a chronic cancer that Myanmar has suffered for 60 years. We all know what kind of disease we are suffering from and what kind of remedy we need to cure it. Ethnic leaders know it, and especially the president knows it. But they don’t seem to apply that remedy to cure the disease.

Q: Why do you think the government leaders don’t want to use the remedy?

A: We’ve been fighting for more than 60 years. Why have ethnic people taken up arms to fight the government? The government does know what the ethnic people want, doesn’t it?

Frankly speaking, I think we ethnic people made a mistake because we believed in Bogyoke Aung San and we wanted independence from Britain to set up a federal union. We believed in what Bogyoke Aung San promised to us: equality to all ethnicities in the country. But so far, his successors and their governments have not given it. In fact, the federalism we have asked for is not to separate from the country. We can’t build a federal union by coercion or political ploys. It should be built up with satisfaction, agreement and follow-through. And then, no one will want to separate from that union.

Q: The major political parties, the government and the army are all dominated by ethnic Bamar, and as an ethnic leader, you have had to deal with them constantly since entering into politics. Do you still see Burmanization and chauvinism? Do you still see any discrimination in dealing with authorities as well as democratic forces, including leaders like opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

A: In my view, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi does not seem to hear our voices. She may be someone who can understand us well under certain circumstances. I don’t want to talk about it.

We gained independence 60 years ago. Suppose a Chin Christian man joins the army; generally, he will not be given a promotion higher than the level of colonel. It is restricted for two reasons: the first is because he is Chin and the second is because he is Christian. We Chin people call it the two Cs factor. The question has been, is it an underlying principle that only Bamar nationals and Buddhists can be generals?

Q: Is it fair to say that Aung San’s successors did not fulfill his aspirations for Myanmar?

A: Many think that his aspirations were not fulfilled by his successors. Whatever the case may be, our view is we signed [the Panglong Agreement] because of him—we trusted him more than he should be trusted—and he died; and whenever we think about our situation, we think of him.

Q: What if he had survived?

A: Who will answer the question: what if he survived? In fact, he did not. We are pragmatic.