Military Chief Blames Ethnic Armies, Govt for Myanmar’s Protracted Peace Process

By Nyein Nyein 20 August 2020

Myanmar’s army chief has blamed the government and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) for the failure of the peace process, accusing them of being dishonest and failing to strictly adhere to basic principles, while defending the armed forces’ role as protector of the country.

Myanmar “needs to assess why we cannot attain peace today,” said the commander-in-chief of defense services, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, during his address to the fourth and latest session of the government-sponsored  21st-Century Panglong Union Peace Conference, which began in Naypyitaw on Wednesday.

He said peace had yet to be attained for three reasons: the dishonest attitude of stakeholders; attempts to link the peace process with other processes; and stakeholders’ failure to strictly adhere to the underlying principles of the peace process.

The army chief also criticized the National League for Democracy-led government for taking the role of mediator between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) and the EAOs, saying the government was acting as if it were a neutral peacemaker.

“The EAOs have opposed the Union and successive governments. If one studies history objectively, it can be seen that the Tatmadaw has protected the Union and successive governments,” Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said. He added that “based on its experience, the Tatmadaw is taking measures to prevent what should not happen from happening, and to pave the way for what should happen to happen.”

Myanmar has held peace building and ceasefire talks for the past nine years, including five peace conferences. Four of these have been held as sessions of what has been dubbed the 21st-Century Panglong Union Peace Conference under the incumbent NLD government. At these peace talks, the government, Tatmadaw and the 10 EAOs that are signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) are attempting to draft plans for a future democratic federal Union.

Not all of the country’s ethnic armed groups have signed the NCA and some—in particular the EAOs based in the north of the country—are still at the stage of negotiating bilateral ceasefires.

Elaborating on his allegation that stakeholders have been dishonest, the senior general claimed that “The Tatmadaw has been portrayed as the creator of the armed conflicts in the country.”

In regards to his final two reasons for the failure to attain peace, he said the peace process must be based on the national interest rather than individual desires, political ambition or the interests of a group.

He said the principles outlined in the NCA are the basic principles underpinning the peace process and urged negotiators to strictly follow the text of the agreement.

But Nai Hong Sar, the chairman of the New Mon State Party, told reporters in Naypyitaw on Wednesday that the army chief was wrong to suggest that the armed conflict was caused by the EAOs.

“Actually, our rights are being lost and we raised this through political talks, but they responded with arms. Thus, we take up arms,” Nai Hong Sar said.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the government’s peace negotiation team, said in her opening remarks to the conference that peace building is not only about stopping shooting and bombing, but is also about rejecting the logic of the current “bad political culture” in which might makes right and people must rely on arms to be recognized or succeed.

She added that it is necessary to “end the attitude that led to this bad political tradition that taking up arms is the effective way” of achieving one’s goals.

During the peace conference, two Shan leaders representing an EAO and a political party respectively delivered messages about the importance of peace building, equality and maintaining the “Union spirit”.

General Yawd Serk, the chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), who is also leading the EAOs’ peace negotiations, said, “We all have a responsibility and must all be accountable, as we share joint ownership of the NCA.” As recently as last month, the RCSS and government troops were fighting in Kyaukme Township, Shan State.

Visibly struggling to speak in Burmese, as he was banned from speaking in Shan, his mother tongue, Gen. Yawd Serk said the principles to be added to the Union Accord “have not achieved what was expected” because the negotiating partners were plagued by mistrust and doubt, were overcautious, held firm to their own stands and confronted each other [the Tatmadaw and NCA-signatory armed groups].”

Sai Nyunt Lwin, the vice chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, highlighted the urgent need to build national unity in order to achieve reconciliation and attain peace.

The Shan politician urged Myanmar citizens to put their “love for Union and love for country” above their “patriotism” for their race and ethnic nationality.

He also urged “citizens of Myanmar to live in harmony; each nationality must have equality in terms of rights, freedom and authority, and respect the identities of others.”

His speech reiterated the longstanding call by Myanmar’s ethnic minorities for equal access to rights, self-determination and resource sharing.

However, in his speech, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing insisted there is “no discrimination against minorities in Myanmar”, and that ethnic rights and minorities’ rights are upheld as stipulated in the 2008 Constitution.

The opening of the three-day conference was attended by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Union President, the parliamentary speakers, the military chief, representatives of political parties and the leaders of the ethnic armed groups that are the signatories to the NCA.

Other EAOs that have not signed the NCA, including the members of the northeast-based Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee, do not join the event this time.