RANGOON — Recent efforts by the Burma Army and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to label certain armed ethnic groups as “terrorist organizations” have raised questions about their sincerity concerning the peace process.
The four ethnic armed groups of the Northern Alliance—the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA)—have carried out a joint military offensive against the Burma Army in northern Shan State since Nov. 20, contributing to deaths and injuries to civilians in the region.
Following these attacks, USDP lawmaker U Aung Thu, who represents the Lashio region, put forward an urgent proposal in the Shan State parliament to condemn the Northern Alliance and urged the regional legislature to brand the groups as “terrorist organizations.”
With the majority of the seats in the Shan State parliament held by the USDP and the military, the proposal was easily approved. Sixty-three lawmakers voted yes, 45 voted no, and seven abstained from the Dec. 7 vote.
The vote drew wide criticism. Observers called the measure a harmful step backwards for the national reconciliation and peace process, which the current National League for Democracy (NLD) government has focused on since it came to power.
Critics said the move clearly revealed the military’s stance on ethnic armed organizations.
“Although this vote would have no legal effect, because it was only a decision of the Shan State parliament, it is still not a good move politically because the ones who proposed it and supported it were the military and the USDP,” said U Koni, a lawyer and constitutional expert.
This wasn’t the first time that lawmakers were perceived as harming the peace process. On Dec. 2, the Lower House of Parliament debated a proposal from USDP lawmaker Dr. Maung Thin, which expressed concern that the Northern Alliance was deliberately shooting and using explosives to cause death, injuries, and displacement of civilians. The proposal accused the Northern Alliance of harming national sovereignty, the rule of law, stability, and the peace process.
Defense Minister Lt-Gen Sein Win and military representatives supported the Dec. 2 proposal. The minister was in favor of labeling the ethnic armed groups as “terrorist organizations.”
But the proposal was not approved by the NLD-dominated Lower House.
Lawyer U Koni said that parliaments have the right to enact laws, but labeling “unlawful associations” or “terrorist organizations” is more a function of the executive body. So the Shan State parliament’s decision to call the Northern Alliance a terrorist organization won’t have any effect unless the Union government declares it.
If the USDP wanted something to get done, they should have submitted a proposal to Parliament to urge the Union Government to take action, U Koni added.
On Sunday, while those USDP lawmakers postured, the eight ethnic armed groups who have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) released a statement opposing the term “terrorist organizations.”
“We oppose the labeling of any ethnic armed organization or its individual leader as a ‘terrorist organization’ or ‘terrorist’ because such action will damage the work of national reconciliation and internal peace that we are carrying out,” the eight NCA signatories said in the statement.
“So this makes it clear that the Burma Army wants to call them ‘terrorists.’ They tried in the Lower House, and they didn’t succeed there. So then they brought the proposal to the regional legislature,” said Lower House lawmaker U Pe Than of the Arakan National Party (ANP).
“But the peace process will never be completed without those ethnic armed groups who remain non-NCA signatories,” he said.
U Pe Than added that if the KIA is no longer included in the peace process, then none of the other ethnic armed groups who belong to United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)—of which the KIA is a member—would attend the peace process either. This could also lead to discord among NCA signatories.
“This could cause delays or a complete stop to the peace process that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is pushing for,” he said.