Army Chief Defends Civil Conflict as a ‘Just War’

By Tin Htet Paing & Saw Yan Naing 5 January 2016

RANGOON & CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The commander-in-chief of the Burma Army on Monday defended the nation’s ongoing civil conflict as a “just war” geared toward stability of the nation, remarks made on the same day the incoming leadership vowed to make peace its top priority.

Speaking at a ceremony honoring soldiers for their service on Burma’s Independence Day, Jan. 4, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said the country’s ongoing civil war was for the benefit of the nation’s citizens.

“All military personnel, including the commander-in-chief of the Defense Services, solemnly pledge that any war we are engaged in is for the justice and well-being of the State, the people and the Tatmadaw,” Min Aung Hlaing said in the capital Naypyidaw, referring to the armed forces by their Burmese name.

The commander’s remarks were published on an official Facebook page of the office of the army chief on Monday, shortly after the ceremony.

“By looking at the past events thoroughly and optimistically, one can see that the Tatmadaw is not just engaging in those military operations because it is willing to wage war,” his comments continued, adding that those who most deeply despise conflict are the servicemen who are willing to sacrifice their lives for their country.

Burma is home to one of the world’s longest-running civil wars, which began shortly after the country gained independence in 1948. A multilateral peace process between the government and several mostly ethnic armed groups began in 2011, following the onset of a political reform agenda geared toward transitioning from military to civilian rule.

The protracted peace process resulted in the signing of a “nationwide ceasefire agreement last October, though the pact was signed by less than half of the country’s non-state armed groups. A political dialogue is set to begin in mid-January to seek solutions to the conflict, which is expected to be attended by about 700 delegates.

A number of ethnic minorities will not be represented in the dialogue, however, as they are still at war with the central government. Among them are some of the most powerful non-state actors, including the Kachin and Shan armed groups from the country’s north and northeast.

Addressing the ongoing clashes, the commander-in-chief said that some ongoing conflict was to be expected and reiterated that the current clashes were in the interest of the population at large.

“Our fellows, including myself, can vow that we are fighting a just war for our citizens and the Tatmadaw,” he said.

“It is the duty of every citizen to safeguard our country’s ground, airspace and territorial waters and [protect] the life and property of our people.”

Commending the military for its role in bringing about Burma’s recent transition to a more democratic form of governance, Min Aung Hlaing said the armed forces have historically played a unique and central role in modern politics and national identity.

“The Tatmadaw also took the lead in marching toward the multi-party democratic system that the citizens have aspired to,” Min Aung Hlaing said.

Also on Monday, Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won a landslide victory in a November election and is set to take power early this year, told her supporters that her administration will make peace-building its top priority.

“The first responsibility of the next government is to build peace. We will organize an effective peace conference to improve the recent ceasefire agreement and we will urge widespread participation,” Suu Kyi said at the headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy.