On the heels of the massive anti-war demonstration in Myitkyina, involving thousands of demonstrators, United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) issued a seven point statement on 8 October, condemning the Burma Army or the military of its offensives on the Ethnic Armed Organization (EAOs) using various pretext, which could derail the peace process and have already devastated the livelihood of the ethnic population on a massive scale.
Simultaneously, the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) also issued a statement stressing that the outcomes stemming from the offensives on the EAOs and ethnic states would be solely the responsibility of the military.
The military has been on its warpath, opening war fronts in Kachin, Shan and Karen States, more intensively in the aftermath of the Aung San Suu Kyi initiated 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC), also known as Union Peace Conference (UPC), which was held from 31 August to 3 September. The second conference of its kind is scheduled to be held within six months, earmarked for the coming February.
Of the three military fronts opened by the Burma Army, the one in Kachin State seems to be the fiercest, employing thousands of troopers, combined with air-strikes, in what amount to be the operation to overrun the KIA garrisons and outposts.
According to the Kachin, the strategy seems to be to drive a wedge between between the different KIA Brigades that protect the rebel headquarters in Laiza, while in western Kachin State, the Burma Army has focused its forces on the mining town of Hpakant, where the Kachin rebels have their main source of revenue through jade-mining and trading.
The cardinal and fundamental question to be asked here is why is the peace process situation deteriorating instead of improving, right after the grand opening of ambitious 21CPC, under the directive of democracy icon Suu Kyi?
Many, who are quite well-informed, are at a loss to find a reasonable answer to this critical question, needless to say for those with just a faint idea of how Burmese politics really works. But before going further, let us first look at the current prevailing situation, in order to make a better assessment.
Offensive wars in ethnic states
Generally speaking, a reasonable approach to conduct peace process would be to first stop shooting, as without peaceful atmosphere or at least absence of armed conflict, it is impossible to hold all-inclusive negotiations that would lead to further consolidation of nationwide ceasefire and eventual political settlement, that would pave way for a lasting-peace. Instead, against this accepted concept, exactly the contrary scenario has been unfolding in Burma, as the military is not committed to the fair process of negotiation, but intentionally unleashing military offensives to pressure and cow the EAOs into accepting its terms or preconceived ideas of “surrendered peace” and not a compromised one that is central to every conflict resolution undertaking.
The on and off armed engagement between the KIA and Burma Army has been going on since 2011, when the ceasefire agreement of seventeen years broke down.
According to Kachin sources, on 23 August the Burma Army raided and seized the KIA held Nhkram Bum Post. But on 26 and 27 August, the KIA retook Nhkram Bum Post and since that date onward there has been daily fighting.
The military started its intentional attacks on KIA position around Laiza headquarters on 16 August. In its offensives not only infantry troops, counting in thousands, were used but also air-strikes were employed, beginning 23 September. Recently, on 7 October, KIA outpost of Gidon and Nhkram were repeatedly strafed by four jet fighters in rotation.
Lamai Gum Ja of Peace Creation Group (PCG) said: “The government (military) started strafing (KIA positions) using four jet fighters this morning at 9:07 hours. It is known to be already the sixth time. Now besides air-strikes, ground forces are also used in the ensuing armed engagement, with twenty battalions involving some two to three thousands troopers.”
The KIO information officer Lt-Col Naw Bu also said: “We can confirm that [the Burma Army] attacked with four jet fighters for about an hour from 8 am. I have not yet received information about the situation on the ground, so I have no comment about that.”
On the same day, in Mansi township, south of Kachin State and along Hpakant-Mokaung road, battles have reportedly occurred between the KIA and Burma Army.
Furthermore, on 1 October, the Burma Army shelled a Kachin village in northern Shan State, killing a two-year-old infant and injuring two children, 5 and 6 years old, who were taken to a hospital in nearby China, according to Kachin activist Khon Ja.
At this writing the Burma Army’s bombardment, air-strikes and ground troops attacks on KIA positions are still in progress.
The military as if to demonstrate its hard power and who is really calling the shots in peace process involving the EAOs, attacked the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) on 1 October, under the pretext and assumption of recruiting new soldiers, followed by the bombardment of the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) positions in Mong Hsu township. RCSS is a signatory of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), while the SSPP is not, but had signed a union-level ceasefire agreement since a few years back.
On 1 October, Burma Army launched an offensive against the RCSS/SSA in Mong Kung Township.
Burma Army battalion 292 attacked a drug relief center in Wan Boi village, Donglao village-tract, in southern Shan State’s Mong Kung Township, including other RCSS outposts.
“This relief center was initiated by local people and our armed group,” he said. “We set up the facility to treat drug addicts – we have about 50 addicts in the program,“ according to RCSS spokesman, who added that some 2,000 local villagers have to flee their homes because of the fighting.
Further clashes occurred around the areas of Namlan and Mong Kung Townships.
On 7 October, Burma Army pounded SSPP/SSA position in Loi Lan area of Mong Hsu Township, supporting its infantry troops, according to General Sao Khun Seng.
Khun Seng reportedly went to Eastern Central Command in Kho Lam to complain about the attacks, but was denied meeting, although the commander was said to ask for the meeting to clear things out.
On the same day, armed clashes between the RCSS and Burma Army’s Light Infantry Division 422 occurred in Tong Lau, near Kung Hsar village, Mong Kung Township. Causality figures were not known from Burma Army side, while RCSS said it was unscratched.
The recent conflict in Karen State between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army – Kyaw Htet (DKBA-KH) and the Government’s Karen Border Guard Force (KBGF), has resulted in over 4,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and a number of refugees fleeing to the Thai side of the border.
In the process of the conflict, the KBGF trying to encroach on the Karen National Union (KNU) controlled territory of Hat Gyi, with the backing of the Burma Army, where a dam is scheduled to be built, is seen as a threat that could widen the war between the Burma Army and the KNU, a signatory of NCA, as KBGF is an organ of the Burma Army.
The leadership of the KNU which oversees the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), have all agreed from the outset to oppose any large development projects in Karen State until a “stable peace” has been reached with the Burmese Government.
The KNLA commanders were said to be against the project and have made it clear that any territorial violation would be met with decisive military retaliation.
Two separate protests, on 3 and 6 October, came after months of escalating clashes between the Burmese military and ethnic armed groups, and the death on Oct. 1 of a 2-year-old girl who was hit by mortar fire, in Pu Wang village, Mung Koe Township, close to the Chinese border.
The usual denial of Maj. Gen. Aung Ye Win, a spokesman at the Ministry of Defence, was that the Burma Army forces were not involved in any clashes on that day, as far as he was concerned and refused to give any further comments on the events.
The KIA spokesperson, dispelling the speculation that it might be the rebel’s fire, also said there were no rebel troops stationed in or around Pu Wang village at the time of the shelling.
Thousands of demonstrators, estimated to be some 20,000 to 30,000 according the NGO sources, on 6 October demanded an end to Burma Army offensives against ethnic armed groups in Kachin State and around the country. The rally in the Kachin State capital began around 8 am at the town’s Manau festival grounds, where a similar gathering took place also on 3 October.
The ant-war protesters later marched through the streets of Myitkyina chanting slogans calling for peace. The rally was held with official permission from the town’s police, according to organizers.
“We the people of Burma demand that the Burmese army cease its offensives in Kachin state and the rest of Burma, and end atrocities that are the result of the civil war, such as displacement, rape and human rights violations against local people,” said Tang Gon, one of the organizers of the event.
The armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States, that has started since 2011 when the ceasefire agreement of seventeen years broke down between the KIA and the military, resulted in mass forced relocation of nearly 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) spread over in 165 camps.
The protest particularly highlighted the plight of the IDPs, caused by the restriction of aid delivery to be lifted on humanitarian grounds.
Meanwhile the 21st Century Panglong Civil Society Organizations’ (CSOs) Preparatory Interim Forum issued a statement on 6 October demanding that the Tatmadaw stopped the war in ethnic states, where even young children have to die and suffer. The statement went on to demand that bilateral ceasefire declaration, both by the military and the EAOs, so that the peace process would not be derailed.
On 8 October, about a hundred persons from twenty-seven CSOs that were concerned about the peace process demonstrated in front of the Rangoon City Hall to immediately stopped the war.
The officially allowed protest shouted out slogans such as “Stop the war immediately”, “Justice for the child killed by artillery shell”, “Your wars are correct, only the citizens are wrong”, and “ Emergence of federal union through peaceful means”.
The US and EU also issued statements urging to stop the Burma Army offensives, during the week.
This brings us back again to the point why the National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader Suu Kyi, who is supposed to deliver the goods of peace and development has been totally powerless and could hardly instill a climate of peaceful atmosphere, not to mention her all-inclusiveness commitment and eventual political settlement.
For her part, she seems to be handling the situation appropriately, where give-and-take between her and the military is concerned. Several private meetings with the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hliang abound, no one really knows what kind of deal has been cut between them. And if the latest US lifting of the remaining sanctions, that benefited the military top brass and company, which Suu Kyi has made it necessary by coaxing President Obama, is part of the deal is also not clear.
People naturally wonders that one day after the return of Suu Kyi from the US, when its Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel visited of Kachin State and the urged the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) to sign the NCA is remarkable, if not strange. But the point to be noted is that whether there is a connection to the wars in Kachin, Shan and Karen States, which have notably heightened and the peace process, on the verge of being collapsed.
Whatever the case, one could hardly blame Suu Kyi for not being able to deliver, as her helplessness hinges on the political structure that empower the military more than her election-winning NLD government on one hand and the other, her ability to push through her party’s policies depends largely on the largesse and political will of the military to cooperate.
The undeniable and stark reality is according to the military-drawn, 2008 constitution, the military is allotted with twenty-five percent appointed seats in all states, regions and union parliaments, plus the control of home affairs, defense and border affairs ministries, which makes the military more powerful than the NLD regime.
Apart from this, the military has been making its own policies and discharge them according to its liking. In other words, it has a monopoly in decision-making, particularly where ethnic states and EAOs are concerned.
It could not be in the interest of the NLD to agree with the military in escalating the war in ethnic states, when it is pushing hard for all-inclusiveness and nationwide ceasefire, so that its 21CPC could be held in a positive light. Sadly, there is nothing that the NLD could do to stop the military from its warpath march.
This explains the deterioration of peace process that is fast leading to the stage of collapse and the helplessness that Suu Kyi has to endure and confront.
For the time being, the military’s objectives are pinned on occupation of more territories and winning small wars. Economic gains and incentives could come from more territorial control coupled with natural resources extractions, while at the same time it could also undercut the ethnic rebels support base financially.
But one thing that the military is not yet ready to tackle is the holistic political solution that encompass all the ethnic nationalities, Bamar included, along the line of equitable power and resources sharing, unless it is according to its prescription.
To sum up, it now looks like that the military is determined by all means to push through its committed and convinced mode of “surrendered peace”, where its preconceived ideas of military guided democracy and its leading role are guaranteed and not a noble, “compromised peace” that promotes “unity in diversity” with a high degree of power devolution and decentralization, which is anchored in an acceptable form of genuine federalism.