RANGOON — The Shan State parliament voted to brand the ethnic armed groups belonging to the Northern Alliance as terrorist organizations on Wednesday, following a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmaker’s proposal to do so one day earlier.
The move came two weeks after the Northern Alliance—comprised of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA)—launched joint offensives against the Burma Army in several townships in northern Shan State, including Muse and Mong Ko, contributing to civilian casualties and injuries.
On Tuesday, the USDP’s U Aung Thu of Lashio Constituency (2) put forward an urgent proposal to the Shan State parliament, condemning the attacks by the Northern Alliance and urged the regional legislature to brand three of the groups involved as terrorist organizations. U Aung Thu did not mention the AA in his proposal, and the Burma Army does not recognize it as an armed group, arguing that the group was established after 2011 and did not represent the Arakanese people.
Seven lawmakers debated the proposal before it was put to a vote. Sixty-three voted in favor of it, 45 voted against it and seven abstained. The current 129 seats Shan State’s parliament are dominated by USDP and military appointees, followed by Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) legislators and those from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).
“The proposal was put to a vote and approved with over 60 ‘yes’ votes. This implies that the group [the Northern Alliance] is now considered a terrorist organization. And this makes it easier to launch offensives against them. This is how I understand it,” state lawmaker Sai Kyaw Zeya, representing the SNLD and Laikha Township, told The Irrawaddy.
Following the proposal, over 140 local civil society organizations sent an open letter to the Shan State parliament on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to avoid using controversial terms which cause further challenges to reconciliation, said Maran Jaw Gun of the Kachin Peace Network.
The open letter argues that the use of words such as “insurgent” and “militant” to describe ethnic armed groups undermines the country’s 21st Century Panglong peace conference, the next session of which is scheduled for February. The signatories to the letter called for the state parliament to avoid such terms.
At a time when the new NLD-led government is working to convince non-signatories of the 2015 nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) to come on board with the pact, Maran Jaw Gun said that the branding of these organizations as terrorist groups could harm the peace process and result in fiercer clashes. This, he explained, is a deviation from the all-inclusive political dialogue that many groups have demanded.
“If that happens, the state parliament that approved the proposal has to take responsibility for it,” Maran Jaw Gun told The Irrawaddy.
The open letter also condemned increasing political pressure through military means.
Last Friday, on Dec. 2, Lower House USDP lawmaker Dr. Maung Thein of Meiktila Constituency submitted an urgent motion urging the Union Parliament to express concern over clashes in northern Shan State that killed and injured civilians and forced them from their homes. The fighting, he said, also undermined the country’s sovereignty, rule of law, peace and stability.
However, after a debate by 12 lawmakers, the Lower House only put the motion on record, and voted down official legislative action. Military representatives Col Than Aung and defense minister Lt-Gen Sein Win debated in favor of the proposal.