Non-Ceasefire Groups Absent From Union Day Events

By Saw Yan Naing 12 February 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — While representatives from several ethnic armed groups gathered in Naypyidaw to mark Union Day on Thursday, non-ceasefire groups, including Kachin rebels involved in ongoing conflict with the Burma Army, were conspicuously absent.

No representatives from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) or the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) were present at the celebrations. Another ethnic armed group, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), also failed to attend.

The Burmese government has reached bilateral ceasefire agreements with more than a dozen armed groups since 2011, with the notable exception of the TNLA, the KIO and the MNDAA.

Htun Myat Lin, general-secretary of the MNDAA, a Kokang rebel group that has been engaged in heavy fighting with the Burma Army in recent days, said no MNDAA representatives were invited to attend the event in the nation’s capital.

“Over 60 years ago, ethnic minority groups happily signed the Panglong Agreement with the government to exist in harmony,” he said. “But these days, it is like the agreement has been forgotten.”

The Panglong Agreement, signed by Gen. Aung San and ethnic representatives on Feb. 12, 1947, is seen by ethnic groups as embodying ideals of equality, decentralization and self-determination that were never fully implemented. The date is celebrated annually as Union Day.

“We don’t like war,” Htun Myat Lin added. “But we can’t avoid it as we have been attacked by the Burma Army since 2009.”

Fighting between the Burma Army and the MNDAA erupted in Laukkai Township, northern Shan State, earlier this week, forcing several thousand residents to flee into neighboring China’s Yunnan Province. The government army launched numerous airstrikes on rebel positions in the township.

A 2009 Burma Amy offensive against the MNDAA also sent tens of thousands of civilians fleeing into China.

At the invitation of the Burmese government, representatives from 12 ethnic armed groups and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front attended Union Day events on Thursday.

The groups met with government representatives where they were presented with an agreement pledging that signatories would work to conclude a nationwide ceasefire without delay; prevent further armed clashes; and solve grievances through dialogue.

The agreement also stated that signatories would draft a framework for political dialogue after concluding a nationwide ceasefire at a date prior to the 2015 general elections.

It is not yet known how many groups signed the document.

Longtime Burma expert Bertil Lintner described the commitment as merely a “face-saving gesture” designed to please the international community.

“The so-called ‘peace process’ has failed,” he said. “Just look at the north of the country. As this agreement was signed there’s heavy fighting in Kokang, northern Shan State, and in parts of Kachin State.”

Tar Parn La, of the TNLA’s foreign affairs department, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that their leaders couldn’t attend the Union Day ceremony in the face of major attacks by the Burma Army.

“Fighting is intense in our areas this month [and] we have learned that the Burma Army is preparing for another major attack in the near future. That’s why our officials could not attend this event,” he said.

Tar Parn La accused Naypyidaw of using the same old “divide and rule” tactics of previous military governments—making peace with some ethnic armed groups while attacking others.

“They call themselves, or are called, a ‘civilian government,’ but they are the same people, [with the] same policies [using] the same methods,” he said. “Fighting is escalating and now they are even using air strikes to bombard us.”