The Irrawaddy

Peace Process Entirely in Military’s Hands, Karen Group Says

YANGON — The civilian government has no power over the peace process, and all decisions affecting security in the country continue to depend entirely on the Myanmar military, a situation that undermines any efforts to end conflict, according to a group of Karen community leaders affiliated with the Karen National Union (KNU).

In its latest, four-page analysis of the peace process published at the end of May, the KNU Concerned Group highlights what it sees as the military (or Tatmadaw)’s control of the peace process, and asserts that State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her government do not have the power to work with ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) to achieve peace.

The group comprises current and former Karen National Union leaders but is not considered part of the organization. Led by former KNU general secretary Naw Zipporah Sein, it analyzes the peace process in Myanmar from the perspective of the KNU and its policies.

According to the analysis, the army’s tight control over the peace process has allowed it to block progress and restrict political space in order to head off any challenges to its grip on power.

At the 13th Union-level Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC-U) meeting in Naypyitaw in November 2017, the army told the EAOs to disarm and form political parties in order to participate in elections so that they could fight for their ethnic rights in Parliament.

But more than two years after many of them signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, according to the KNU Concerned Group, the army has placed restrictions on the EAOs. All of their activities require approval from their state chief minister and border security minister. As time passes, the restrictions multiply, it asserts.

The KNU often receives letters from the army prohibiting activities such as meetings, training sessions and workshops, and the EAO foresees more restrictions in the future.

According to the analysis, the KNU supports the government’s promotion of the rule of law and hopes the approach can be used to create a democratic system of administration. But as applied by the government and the army, the KNU Concerned Group says, the principle is not leading the country toward justice.

Instead of recognizing the EAOs’ call for dialogue and meaningful political reform, both the government and army resort to authoritarian and repressive colonial laws such as the Unlawful Association Act to block the EAOs’ legitimate calls for reform and label the groups as illegal organizations, the KNU Concerned Group alleges in the report.

It adds that international donors, NGOs and state media have shown a limited understanding of the substance of the peace process and accuses them of failing to criticize the government and army.

The group further claims that the NLD government has no power to steer the peace process despite Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s promise to work for peace during her election campaign in 2015. It accuses her of keeping silent when the Myanmar Army recently launched renewed military offensives in Kachin and other parts of the country. It points out that the army’s recent actions, particularly the forced clearance of more than 700,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State, have drawn accusations of war crimes amid strong international criticism.

If the army has the will to engage in political reform, the group asserts, it must genuinely commit to the peace process. The army does not recognize the struggle of EAOs for equal rights, freedom and democracy in order to establish a “Federal Democratic Union,” it adds.

The army has deployed many troops in areas controlled by the Karen National Liberation Army’s 5th Brigade without prior agreement from the KNU. It has also seized territory with the objective of expanding and upgrading a road deemed to be of tactical significance to the military. Based on the army’s movements, the KNU Concerned Group concludes in its analysis that the army will continue expanding and upgrading bases, and has shown no signs of withdrawing its troops from the area. The group expects the army to launch more offensives, predicting that many more civilians will suffer, just as Karen villagers have for many decades.

According to the KNU Concerned Group, the army’s current actions threaten to derail the NCA, further destabilize the faltering peace process, and trigger a new cycle of conflict and destruction in Karen State.