Ethnic Armed Coalition Seeks Dialogue with Burma’s President
19 August 2011: A coalition of 12 armed groups representing various ethnic nationalities in Burma is seeking a ‘political dialogue’ with the country’s President Thein Sein to find a political solution to six decades of armed conflicts in the war-torn nation.
In a letter addressed to the President, copies of which were also sent to regional and world leaders, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) has urged the ex-general to order the Burma Army to end its ongoing military offensives against various ethnic armed groups, and declare a nationwide temporary ceasefire so that a political dialogue can take place.
It comes at a time when the Burma Army is engaged in new offensives against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the country’s far north following a breakdown of a 17 year-old ceasefire between the two in June. Burma Army is also accused of launching heavy offensives against the Shan State Army North (SSAN) in the country’s northeastern region.
“Our collective experiences from the last 60 years of civil war tell us that trying to seek a military solution to the problems without a political solution will only prolong the conflict. Rather it will lead to a further deterioration of the country’s situation and the suffering of the entire population,” the letter reads.
An informed source told Chinland Guardian that the letter was sent to Naypyidaw through diplomatic channels on Wednesday, the same day President Thein Sein delivered a major policy speech to a gathering of local businessmen in Naypyidaw in which he said, “Not only KIO and KIA but also any anti-government armed groups in Shan State and Kayin [Karen] State can hold talks with respective [State] governments if they really favor peace.”
Arguing that the denial of equal rights and the attempt to impose racial domination over non-Burman ethnic groups have spawned ethnic resistance, the UNFC suggests that Burma find a peaceful solution based on principles embodied in the historic Panglong Agreement or to adapt ‘successful experiences from other countries where multi-ethnic unity has been achieved.’
Panglong Agreement was a 1947 legal document that led to the founding of a multi-ethnic Union of Burma and the country’s eventual independence from Britain, signed between representatives of the Chin, Kachin and Shan and Burma’s charismatic leader General Aung San.
The UNFC says it had welcomed with great hope the inaugural speech by Thein Sein earlier this year, when the newly sworn-in President had vowed to work towards national unity. But it says the President should now complement his rhetoric with deeds, by seeking to build that unity through political means and not by military force. It warns that failure to pursue a peaceful approach will result in prolonged civil war and continued suffering for the people.
Olive Branch or Divide and Conquer Tactics?
How Thein Sein responds to the UNFC, if at all, will give indications of whether his offer for peace talks with the ethnic resistance groups is really genuine or whether it is purely a public relations exercise intended to salvage Burma’s image in a bid to gain favor for its ASEAN Chairmanship in 2014.
In extending the ‘olive branch’ to the ethnic armed groups, Thein Sein said that peace talks will be held at the local level between respective State Governments and individual armed groups in those States. The UNFC, on the other hand, has insisted on a collective bargaining directly with Naypyidaw and that the President first declares a temporary nation-wide end to hostilities to allow for a ‘political dialogue.’
But during one of the recent ceasefire talks with the KIA – against the KIA insistence that talks be held collectively with the UNFC members – the Burmese head of delegation Col. Than Aung likened the conflict situation with other ethnic groups to the relationship between parents and spoiled children, which he said, requires the responsible parents to deal differently with each child according to their individual behaviors. If this analogy represents the mentality of the Burmese government, then it would have validated the fear of the UNFC members that the Burmese government remains committed to its decades-old “Divide and conquer” tactics.
The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNCF) was founded as an alliance composed of some of the largest ethnic armed resistance groups, including the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Chin National Front (CNF), New Mon State Party (NMSP), Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), Arakan National Council (ANC), Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), Palaung State Liberation Front (PALF), Kachin National Organization (KNO), and Wa National Organization (WNO).