Burma Army Chief: Some Ethnic Leaders Are ‘Narrow-Minded’

By Saw Yan Naing 6 January 2017

Burma Army commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said that government troops must continue to engage in military action because leaders of some ethnic armed organizations in the country are “narrow-minded” in their approach to peace.

The senior general made the comment during a ceremony awarding gallantry medals and certificates to military members in Naypyidaw on Jan. 4, which marked the 69th anniversary of Burma’s independence from British rule.

“Instead of promoting democracy in a peaceful way, the leaders of some ethnic armed organizations with a narrow-minded attitude till today are trying to threaten the lives and property of the people and harm the State interest as well as lacking the real spirit to achieve peace,” Min Aung Hlaing is quoted as writing, in English, on his Facebook page.

“Therefore, military means is still inevitable. Ignoring the appeasement, patience and negotiations of the government and Tatmadaw, they are trying to jeopardize the national sovereignty by stirring up conflicts,”he said.

The army chief also said that the ethnic armed organizations in question carry out “anarchic acts led by extremists,” in contrast to Burma Army troops, who he said are engaging in a “fair war.”

Although Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing did not mentionany ethnic armed organizations by name, observers speculated that he was referring to those who opted out of signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in 2015, such as members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an ethnic armed alliance.

Khu Oo Reh, general secretary of the UNFC, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that Min Aung Hlaing’s comments do not indicate progress.

“It is not solution to find excuses and blame ethnic leaders as being narrow-minded,” he told The Irrawaddy.

He also said that it was not helpful to criticize ethnic leaders who did not follow the steps of the peace process laid down by the Burmese government and the Burma Army.

“We should find a way for both sides to agree in dealing with the peace process. We have to negotiate to reach an agreement and it may take time. We have to talk. Before we have reached an agreement, they shouldn’t conclude that we are narrow-minded or stubborn,” Khu Oo Reh said.

While emphasizing that ethnic armed organizations suffer the most from ongoing conflict, he also added that if these groups continue to blame the Burma Army for airstrikes in Kachin and Shan states, the “blame game” would not end.

Eight ethnic armed organizations signed the NCA with the previous government in October 2015. Yet some powerful groups, including United Wa State Army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) did not sign it. The KIA and three other members of the recently formed Northern Alliance—including the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army—are still engaged in war with the Burma Army.