US’s Burma Act is an ‘Ultimatum’ to Myanmar Regime

By The Irrawaddy 20 December 2022

Both houses of the United States (US) legislature passed the Burma Act last week, part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), to provide non-military aid to the parallel National Unity Government (NUG) and its affiliate organizations, including the National Unity Consultative Council, the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) and ethnic armed organizations (EAO).

The Burma Act also authorizes measures to prevent the military regime from acquiring weapons and expands sanctions against junta businesses. However, the NDAA is yet to be signed into law by US President Joe Biden.

Members of anti-junta forces and democracy activists shared their views on the passing of the Burma Act with The Irrawaddy.

U Kyaw Zaw, NUG Spokesperson

The act is very positive. It will help our revolution a lot if it becomes law. The act says humanitarian aid will be given to the Myanmar people, but not through the regime and its affiliated entities. It also aims to work together with partners to prevent the junta from acquiring weapons and doing its business. So the act is great.

The act authorizes political support for establishing federalism, as well as humanitarian aid and technical support for anti-junta forces. It also promises action against perpetrators of war crimes. But it does not mention how much assistance will be provided for specific sectors. It is a very good sign that the act legally commits the US to assist in those sectors. If we can get a small proportion of the assistance package being given to Ukraine, it will further increase the momentum of our revolution.

The strength of the people is the key to overthrowing the military dictatorship. The brutal military has been committing violence against the people, and is now committing more extreme violence. We need weapons to protect the people against air attacks. We have only the collaborative strength of the people. But we don’t have enough weapons. And it is also important that all the countries impose sanctions against the military regime.

Dr Tun Myint, Associate Professor in Political Science, Carleton College, US

The NDAA authorizes training for PDFs and EAOs. Any kind of training except lethal training can be provided to them. This means training can be provided in various fields including health, education and defense. The act also aims to provide humanitarian assistance and medicine, and to help internally displaced people and Myanmar refugees in foreign countries. It also authorizes more sanctions.

The spirit of the act is that it views the Myanmar military as a terrorist organization. Though it does not use the term terrorist, the act explains its objectives, what it will do to achieve those objectives, and also tells the US ambassador to the United Nations (UN) what to do [to put greater pressure on the regime through the UN]. It also aims to prevent the Myanmar military from obtaining weapons. The act clearly regards the Myanmar military as an unjust, unruly and inhumane organization.

The act also authorizes funds for training programs for EAOs. The act is almost a declaration of war. It is an ultimatum to the regime.

U Aung Hsan Myint, Secretary-2, Karenni National Progressive Party

We have no comments in particular. It [passing the act] is a decision that should already have been made. And they [the US] should have imposed more sanctions. There are still many international organizations that engage with the regime. The Myanmar people don’t like the regime, and the international community should think about ways to put more intense pressure on it.

I am very glad that the US government will provide a certain amount of support to PDFs and EAOs demanding democracy. Many people have been affected by the fighting in our state [Kayah State], and we want to start rehabilitation as soon as possible. But it appears that it can only be started after a political solution is achieved. So we welcome the new pressure on the regime.

Different regions have different needs. In our region, we need a lot of humanitarian aid for displaced people and for their rehabilitation. In some regions, people live in constant fear of being killed any time in a lawless society. We are grateful that the international community is pressuring the regime and helping us free ourselves from the military dictatorship.

But the regime has good ties with such countries as China, India, Russia and North Korea, as well as with some Southeast Asian countries. So there is a need to pressure not only the regime, but also its partners.

Padoh Mahn Mahn, Karen National Union Brigade 5 Spokesperson

It will strengthen our revolution if practical steps are taken to implement the NDAA. It is important that we have solidarity and powerfully demonstrate our solidarity against the military dictatorship to the international community.

Besides providing non-lethal aid, it is important that the international community does not do things that support the regime. In particular, the international community should not sell aviation fuel for Myanmar military aircraft.

Our revolution will be hindered if the regime can get military equipment and aviation fuel from other countries. So while helping us, it is important for the international community to cut military aid to the regime.

Lway Poe Nge, Advisor to the Ta’ang Women’s Organization

The international community has been helping Ukraine for a long time. They have been providing weapons and technology. Regarding the Myanmar issue, [foreign countries] are imposing sanctions [on the regime]. They also deliver humanitarian assistance [for the Myanmar people]. But they have a policy not to provide military assistance [for anti-junta forces].

Like Ukraine, we need a lot of help. We need a lot of financial and technical assistance. So I hope [the Burma Act] will have some benefits for our country. In the Ta’ang area, [the regime] shells villages every day. That is a war crime. This shows that the regime views the people as the enemy and is persecuting them. The international community should not ignore this and provide humanitarian aid effectively.

PDFs were born out of civilians. There is a need to recognize their revolution and their needs and to give a helping hand. The international community should review its policies about the PDFs. It should consider the reason why they [PDF fighters] have taken up arms. And they should change their policies accordingly. There are a lot of requirements on the ground. Everything is deteriorating under military rule.