Thein Sein Cannot Control Army, Shan Rebels Say

By Than Htike Oo 3 July 2013

RANGOON—Burma’s President Thein Sein is unable to control the army, a major ethnic rebel group said following talks with the government in Naypyidaw.

The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), a rebel political group in east Burma, said that despite Thein Sein’s desire for peace in Burma’s ethnic minority states, the president lacked real authority over the country’s armed forces, who continue to clash with ethnic rebels despite ceasefire agreements.

“The president worries that true peace cannot be obtained and he worries about the re-emergence of battles,” the RCSS said over the weekend, in a joint statement with its armed group, the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N).

“Some people from the government want reforms, but some don’t,” it added.

The RCSS, which has signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, made the statement on Saturday, following meetings in Naypyidaw in early June. The meetings, which saw Thein Sein talk with an RCSS-SSA delegation led by Lt-Gen Yawd Serk, were held at the request of the Union Peacemaking Working Committee.

Other ethnic armed groups have also questioned Thein Sein’s authority, especially over government soldiers in north Burma’s Kachin State, where fighting escalated early this year despite calls by the president for a unilateral ceasefire.

“Look at the example of the Kachin issue,” Naing Han Thar, secretary-general of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), an ethnic rebel group in Mon State, told The Irrawaddy. “The president wrote to the army [to stop attacking], but the army did not obey. So the army is trying to cling to its own style and ways of operating. You can see that the government cannot be influential over the army,”

Following the latest peace talks in Kachin State in May, Kachin rebels and the government made a tentative peace agreement but clashes continued in June.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a military analyst based on the China-Burma border, said current clashes in Burma did not indicate weakness on the part of Thein Sein. He said the military was continuing to operate in accordance with plans created by Burma’s former dictator, Sr-Gen Than Shwe.

The military analyst added that Thein Sein did not have sole authority to make decisions, as power in the country was divided between leaders of the army, Parliament and the government.

“Because all three leaders have authority, none of them has a right to make a decision [alone],” he said. “But at present, regarding the peace process, the army is the most powerful. Even if U Thein Sein, the president, told the army [to stop fighting], the soldiers would not pay attention. It’s just Than Shwe’s workmanship.”

In the last union-level meeting in eastern Shan State in May last year, a Shan delegation led by Yawd Serk signed 12 agreements with the government, led by Minister Aung Min from the President’s Office.