RANGOON — Ethnic leaders and politicians have hit back at comments made by a grandson of former head of state Gen. Ne Win during a memorial service for fallen soldiers in Rangoon.
Staged near Shwedagon Pagoda, Sunday’s service was organized by former military servicemen and attended by a collection of former senior army officials, including Lt-Gen Tun Kyi, who was purged by the former military regime for corruption, and their family members. Serving military personnel were also present. Organizers said the aim of the event was “to honor the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country.”
Aye Ne Win and his brother Kyaw Ne Win, the grandsons of the country’s leader during the turbulent years of the Burma Socialist Programme Party, came to pay their respects to the soldiers who died while serving the military their grandfather helped to found. At the conclusion of the service, Aye Ne Win offered his thoughts on the country’s prospects for a durable nationwide ceasefire agreement, laying blame squarely at the feet of ethnic armed groups.
“We still don’t have peace because the other parties [ethnic armed groups] really don’t keep their promises and act in an undignified manner,” he told assembled media. “What happened two or three weeks ago, it’s quite shameful.”
Aye Ne Win told The Irrawaddy that the attack on a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) training center near Laiza last month, in which 23 cadets from armed groups allied with the KIA were killed in an artillery bombardment, was evidence that ethnic armies had reneged on their promise not to increase their size.
“They have army cadets under training. That simply shows they are expanding their forces and breaking their promise,” he said.
The attack on the Laiza camp was condemned at the time by ethnic groups and political parties, including the National League for Democracy (NLD).
“We are not countering those condemnations, but I have to say we are inspired to hold a memorial service to honor our fellow army men who sacrificed their lives for the country,” said Ye Moe, one of the event organizers and a former Military Intelligence captain, who was purged in 2004 by the military government, during a press conference after the event.
More than a dozen ethnic armed groups have signed bilateral ceasefires with the government since President Thein Sein took office in 2011. The KIA and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army have yet to conclude ceasefire agreements and have frequently clashed with government troops in recent months.
Aye Ne Win’s comments were rejected on Monday by Secretary Pado Kwe Htoo Win of the Karen National Union, the political wing of Karen National Liberation Army, which signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government in 2012.
“What he said is not true,” he said. “The civil war and the conflict are due to the governments both old and new using armed power to suppress ethnic groups’ demands for their rights.”
“It doesn’t mean the ethnic people don’t want peace. Given past experience, we haven’t had situations in which we could trust each other for ceasefires and talks. What the successive governments promised had never happened. That’s why ethnic people are sceptical,” he added.
Tin Oo, a patron of the NLD and former commander-in-chief of the Burmese army, who was forced into retirement by Ne Win in 1976, said Aye Ne Win should have instead said something that encouraged the peace process.
“He shouldn’t say things like that at any time,” he said. “Even if we have differences, we have to negotiate. We have to respect what minorities need.”
Ye Moe added fuel to the fire at the press conference after Sunday’s service, saying that ethnic armed groups needed to present more realistic demands to move the peace process forward.
“They routinely ask to be given the commander-in-chief position for the army,” he said, referring to demands that the position be rotated among different ethnic groups. “They also ask for the formation of a federal army. Our Myanmar army is made up of different people from inside the country. So we don’t need a separate federal army. That kind of demand creates obstacles to peace.”
Pado Kwe Htoo Win countered on Monday that Burma still lacked an army that represented the entire country.
“If the Burmese army represented the whole country, the army would have protected ethnic rights,” he said.
Tin Oo welcomed the idea of honoring fallen soldiers, but added that yesterday’s service had a more problematic subtext when compared to services held for military personnel in other countries.
“Here we have had a few wars with other countries. But most of the wars we fight are amongst ourselves,” he said.
Aye Ne Win and Kyaw Ne Win, two grandsons of former dictator Ne Win, were released from Rangoon’s Insein prison last year after being convicted of high treason for plotting to overthrow the former military regime in 2002, shortly after Ne Win’s death while under house arrest.
Four family members of Ne Win were arrested at the time in relation to the coup d’état plot. Ne Win’s son-in-law Aye Zaw Win and another grandson, Zwae Ne Win, were released from prison in Jan. 2012. Ne Win’s daughter Sandar Win was released from house arrest in 2008.