Some of Burma’s longtimepoliticalactivistsadmitted in a conference on Thursday in Thailand that progress in the country’s peace process has been more challenging under the current National League for Democracy (NLD) government than they had anticipated.
At a panel discussion entitled“Burma Under Aung San SuuKyi: Current Human Rights Situation and the Peace Process” in Chiang Mai, longtime observers and activists said that many of State CounselorDawAung San SuuKyi’sinitiatives in the peace process are surprisingly similar to those of the former regime, but that she wields little to no influence over the Burma Army.
Human rights abuses, they say, continue to be perpetrated by security forces in a similar manner as they were carried out in the past, which has surprised observers and players who expected a different scenario from an administration led by a pro-democracy icon who herself spent more than 15 years under house arrest at the hands of the old regime.
Speakers described DawAung San SuuKyi’s approach as “bureaucratic,” and highlighted the difficulties in setting up peace-related meetings with her government’s negotiation body, the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC).
KhuensaiJaiyen, a veteran Shan journalist and an advisor to the ethnic Shan rebel group the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), said that ethnic leaders ironically find DawAung San Suu Kyitougher to negotiate with than theformer government’s peace team.
“They [the ethnic leaders] thought it would be easier to deal with her, compared to the previous government, because the previous government was from the military,” said Jaiyen. “But, they have found that it is more difficult.”
KhunsaiJaiyen who also works at Pyidaungsu Institute, an ethnic research center, said that conflicting policies by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burma Army’s chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, also pose challenges to collaboration. Ethnic leaders feel that they have to put in double the effort in order to work with each the government and the army.
They feel like they have two governments, some said: one led by the State Counselor and another by the Snr-Gen.
The activists also said that trust in DawAung San SuuKyi among ethnic communities is faltering, as she has failed to speak on behalf of those the suffering in conflict zones, or to stop the Burma Army from launching offensives.
“Even though they [the government] held peace talks and is working on the NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement] process, there more offensives in our areas. They keep sending more troops to our area. So, how can we trust that peace process, the NLD government, or the military?”asked Nang Moon Li, a longtime Kachin activist from the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT).
According to a recent report by KWAT on human rights abuses, amid escalating fighting in Kachin State, Burma Army has deployed over 100 battalions over the past year, numbering 15,000 troops, with increasing use of fighter aircraft.
Before the KIO signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994, there were only 24 Burma Army battalions in Kachin State. Burma Army increased its battalions to over 50 after 1994 and now the Battalions are over 100, according to the KWAT report.
DawKhinOhmar, aprominent exiled Burmese activist who has been campaigning for political change for decades, said that Burma’s transition is well-designed for a win-lose political game by the military in which opposition has no chance to win.
She was once allowed by the previous Burmese government to return to her homeland, but has since been returned to the administration’s blacklist.
“[An official] said,‘the return of you and dissident activists was just for the government’s political game. You will be allowed to return only when they want something from you.’ What was interesting is that he said those times are over, meaning that we are no longer needed [to them],” said DawKhinOhmar.
“With the military, there is no win-win solution. You win or you die. You win or you lose. The military’s agenda is that there should be no decentralization,” she said.