Military Vows to Remain in Politics as Long as EAOs Exist

By Nyein Nyein 26 February 2019

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—A spokesperson for Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, in a press conference held on Saturday in Yangon restated the commander-in-chief’s vow that the military would step back from politics “when there is no ethnic armed organization and the country is in peace.”

This is not a new policy; it has been mentioned repeatedly since 2012 when peace negotiations began under the previous administration.

Given the fact that armed forces in Myanmar—both those of the state and the ethnic groups—have fostered a militarized culture, achieving peace and stability across the country can only be possible if they can come to an attainable agreement.

Myanmar has seen seven decades of the turmoil of civil war since groups of ethnic minorities first began to line up for an armed revolution in 1949 demanding equality and self-determination. The ongoing peace talks have not been able to bring an end to the fight for political and territorial control between the military and the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs).

The Feb. 23 press conference was held by the military to reaffirm its position on the current armed conflict, peace negotiations and frictions between the military and the NLD over the latter’s push for charter amendments.

At a time when a number of EAOs are fighting amongst themselves, namely the ongoing clashes in Shan State among armed groups from the Shan, Palaung (Ta’ang) and Pa-Oh ethnic minorities, Maj-Gen Soe Naing Oo, head of the military’s True News Information Committee said “only when all of them abandon arms, they will be better off and not one group will have to worry about being attacked by another.”

Peace building is not an easy job: military spokesperson

Maj-Gen Soe Naing Oo acknowledged that that efforts in peace building are not smooth because

Myanmar has had 70 years of armed conflict between the military and various EAOs, but he urged the groups to cease their gunfire by 2020.

Maj-Gen Soe Naing Oo, also a peace negotiator for the military, reiterated the commander-in-chief’s promise “to achieve peace by 2020” urging for the EAOs to disarm so their people can enjoy stability, peace and development.

He said the military is aware of the EAOs’ concerns, adding that their aim is simple:

“Our approach is to bring them all on the [national ceasefire agreement] path. At the same time, they must abandon their arms policy. It is not yet that we ask them for DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration). They must keep their arms but not use them so that the gunfire will stop. In that way we are trying to bring them on the track of negotiations.”

He said that everyone—the state, the military, the public and also the EAOs—want peace, but what is missing is how to adress the EAOs’ emotions, concerns and interests.

“We have to work together to sort these out so it is not an easy job.”

The ethnic armed groups’ efforts against government forces have been the result of a failure to grant political objectives and equality to the ethnic groups. The EAOs say they wouldn’t need arms if there was equality and political guarantees for self-determination.

Military spokesperson Maj-Gen Soe Naing Oo speaks at the press conference held in Yangon on February 23, 2019. / Aung Kyaw Htet

Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win, vice chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU) said the military’s concept has long been on the table but that the most important thing to discuss is how to integrate the various forces for the future of the Union once their political aims are granted.

“It’s not that we are happily doing our armed revolutionary movement. [We are fighting for our] political objectives,” added Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win.

As well as in public, the military also pushes its 2020 peace policy during meetings with the EAOs.

Kheunsai Jaiyen, director of Pyidaungsu Institute, told The Irrawaddy that the Shan groups want to uphold the 1947 Panglong Agreement.

He said that at a meeting on Monday between representatives of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) and the military, SSPP vice chairperson Maj-Gen Sao Khun Sai said “the Shans still uphold the Panglong Agreement principles and when the Panglong Agreement is abided by, there will be no need for us to keep up the armed struggle.”

Peace negotiators on both sides continue to struggle to come up with a political settlement that is acceptable to all.

Military temperament towards EAOs

Myanmar’s military—the strongest institution in the country—has always considered themselves the true protectors of the country and that the insurgency and defiance of the ethnic groups demanding equality and self-determination is unacceptable.

Throughout ceasefire periods in the 1990s and from 2012 onwards, various terms have been used to refer to EAOs. The current NCA signatories are referred as EAOs. But groups currently carrying out active armed combat regardless of bilateral ceasefires, are regarded as insurgents and/or terrorists, and the military vows to continue counter-insurgency operations against them.

The ethnic armed forces, however, see this as a disparagement of their claims of fighting for ethnic equality and self-determination.

The military has sent out contradicting messages on their stance towards the Arakan Army, who are currently in intense battles with the military in troubled northern Rakhine State. Despite referring to them as insurgents and accusing them of taking cover in civilian villages in order to ambush military troops, Saturday’s press conference heard the military representatives referring to the Arakan Army (AA) as their brothers. Military spokesperson Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said at the press event that “the reason why the Tatmadaw does not completely annihilate the AA [in Rakhine] is because the AA are our ethnic brothers.”

He added that though the door to peace negotiations is open, their counter-insurgency operations will continue in the meantime. The military repeated that an armed struggle is no longer appropriate in building democratic federal state.

The military’s differing attitudes towards the ethnic rebels and the inconsistencies between its actions and words will not help them to achieve their trust-building goals nor end the armed struggle in the country.

It appears that political guarantees for equality, development and decentralization of power may be the way to reduce Myanmar’s militarized culture, but how long it would take and who will be willing to come to this compromise is as of yet unknown.