Govt Peace Group Needs Fresh Faces

By Kyaw Zwa Moe 30 April 2012

The reformist President Thein Sein has reportedly ordered a re-jig of his peace negotiating committee due to the lack of breakthroughs―especially in northern Burma where violence between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and government troops has been intensifying.

It was believed that the president ordered the shakeup as the current peace committee has not managed to arrange a ceasefire agreement with the KIA since it began fighting the government a few months after he took office in March last year. And it appears a good move when concrete success is so lacking.

The peace committee is currently comprised of two teams led by former Industry Minister Aung Thaung and the current Railway Minister Aung Min.

Kyaw Zwa Moe is editor (English Edition) of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]
Kyaw Zwa Moe is editor (English Edition) of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]

Aung Thaung, who is viewed as a hardliner and generally corrupt character, dealt with a few armed groups including the KIA. But his team has not reached any agreements other than a ceasefire with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army’s 5th Brigade.

Meanwhile, the other team led by Aung Min has managed to achieve ceasefire agreements with several ethnic armed groups including Shan, Mon, Karenni and Chin rebels. Most recently, it reached an agreement with the Karen National Union (KNU)―heralded as a breakthrough as the group has remained in continuous conflict with the Burmese authorities since its founding in 1948 soon after the country grained independence from the British.

The scoop that The Irrawaddy uncovered in recent weeks is that one of the two vice-presidents will lead the reformed peace committee while Aung Min will continue to play a key role. The committee will be made-up by more senior government officials as well as lawmakers and military officers.

Critics say that Aung Thaung is likely to be ousted or marginalized, and many ethnic groups will be happy to see the back of him. Sources close to the peace committee say that it will soon include some high-ranking military officers whose orders will be influential and effective in their commanding areas.

The president has ordered government troops to stop attacking the KIA since December, but clashes have kept on happening. This obviously demonstrates that military leaders and field commanders have effective control on the battlefield despite unequivocal instructions from the head of state.

The question, however, is whether the new peace committee will be able to make a breakthrough in building genuine peace―the biggest challenge facing a country which has been battered by civil war for more than six decades. The peace process is one of the benchmark measures of success for the government’s current reform process.

As far as we know, the new peace committee does not really seem like anything drastically different. The vice-president likely to lead the committee is Dr. Sai Mauk Kham, who is an ethnic Shan. But many Burmese observers see him as a puppet figure and do not expect his presence to contribute any real weight.

In fact, the committee should not only include government and military officials but also political figures and respected ethnic leaders.

The biggest problem existing between Burma’s successive governments and ethnic groups ever since independence is a lack of trust. The authoritarian and military regimes never honored the 1947 Panglong Agreement which guaranteed federalism for ethnic peoples. Since then, many minority groups have fought for autonomy and equal rights.

Therefore, even the specific formation of the peace committee is a very important issue in order to initially earn confidence from the armed rebel groups.

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is due to take a parliamentary seat on Wednesday, has also offered to play a role to help build peace between the government and ethnic groups. And there are respected and experienced ethnic leaders who are willing and able to help negotiate with all armed groups, including the KIA, not only to reach ceasefire agreements but also to build the “everlasting peace” which President Thein Sein has promised.

Besides, leaders of the 88 Generation Students group recently made trips to Kachin, Karenni and Shan states to investigate peace and development in those areas. Some prominent members, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, are also potential candidates for the peace committee as they have gained the trust of many ethnic people.

Forming a more inclusive committee is the surest method towards developing genuine peace for the President and his government. The international community will also be convinced that the government is really working to build lasting reconciliation. Putting the right persons on the committee is already half-way to achieving success. Otherwise, to build “everlasting peace” in this war-battered country will remain as difficult as ever.