Myanmar’s Failing Peace

By The Irrawaddy 17 May 2018

Myanmar’s prospects for peace are fading as fighting escalates in the north, in Karen State in the south and to the west in Rakhine State.

China, the US and the EU have issued statements expressing “concern” and asking all sides to exercise restraint and arrange an immediate ceasefire. As a result of the outbreak of renewed fighting between the armed forces and police on one side and ethnic armed groups on the other in Muse Township, Shan State, the Chinese Embassy issued a statement noting that some Myanmar residents along the border have fled to China and that some stray bullets have landed in Chinese territory.

The irony is that China promised to help broker peace between Myanmar’s government and military and its ethnic armed groups. But no one seems to be listening.

Beijing appointed Sun Guoxiang, its special envoy for Asian affairs, to assist in facilitating discussions. But his approach so far is believed to be under review and facing some resistance from powerful Chinese army generals who oversee their country’s border with Myanmar.

Indeed, China’s economic and political interests in this troubled country should be under review.

Members of the Northern Alliance bloc of ethnic armed groups are believed to be under the influence of China. But considering the renewed clashes in Myanmar, China’s promise to assist with the peace process is now in question.

Northern Alliance members include the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army (AA).

Western powers that were active in the “peace process” under the previous government of former President Thein Sein have not sat idly by.

The US Embassy and EU mission in Yangon issued statements expressing concern and calling on the government and military to protect civilian populations and let in humanitarian assistance.

“The US Embassy is deeply concerned about intensified fighting in Kachin State, which has forced thousands of people to flee their homes,” the US said. “We are also deeply troubled by recent fighting in Shan State and [Karen] State that has also displaced thousands of people. We urge all parties to cease fighting. We call upon the government, including the military, to protect civilian populations and allow humanitarian assistance to be delivered to those affected by the conflicts.”

The Myanmar Army used air strikes against Kachin rebels — members of the Northern Alliance — in Hpakant Township on Tuesday, and KIA fighters were injured. Some newly bought jet fighters, including JF-17s from Pakistan, are reportedly being deployed from the Myitkyina Airbase to attack the rebels. As a result of the fighting, thousands of innocent civilians are suffering.

In Yangon, Mandalay, Myitkyina and other major cities, activists have gathered to call for an end to the fighting. A peaceful anti-war protest in Yangon on Saturday was disrupted when civilians allied with the police started attacking participants. Eight people were detained and sued for violating the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law before being released on bail the following day.

Witnesses and reporters who have covered such events for the past four or five years say the aggressive civilians were known supporters of the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, commonly known as Ma Ba Tha, and the army.

The EU statement called on Myanmar to ensure that peaceful protesters could exercise the freedom of expression and assembly.

The demand for peace is gaining momentum.

On April 30 more than 3,000 Kachin residents staged a protest march against the ongoing clashes between the Myanmar Army and KIA and to call for the rescue of thousands of displaced people trapped by the fighting. The Northern Command of the Myanmar Army has sued three Kachin youths who led a sit-in protest against the fighting in their state for defamation.

A lasting peace in Myanmar is far away. More importantly, the recent clashes demonstrate that ethnic groups are losing faith in the current peace process and in negotiations with the military and government.

The silence of Myanmar’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and other top leaders is also alarming and surprising — a sign that they are admitting defeat in the quest for peace?