LABELING UNFC AND NA-B TERRORIST: Ethnic offensive blame game might lead to further conflict polarization

  • Written by Sai Wansai/ S.H.A.N
  • Published in Op-ed

The Burma Army or Tatmadaw hard-line stance vis a vis the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) has never been in doubt. But as the Defense Minister proposed that all the organizations that made up the Northern Alliance-Burma (NA-B) be determined as terrorist establishments and their leaders be considered officially terrorist, the Tatmadaw has gone an extra mile to heighten the conflict and buttress its all-out war of attrition, politically and militarily.

On 2 December, Defense Minister Lt‐Gen Sein Win proposed to the Lower House that the Parliament should consider labeling the NA-B that launched offensives in Shan State as a coalition of “terrorist organizations.”

He said: “Because the offensives are causing senseless death and injuries to the innocent civilians, destroying non-military targets like buildings, motor vehicles and economy of the people, (I) proposed that the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA) should be considered as terrorist organizations by the Parliament.”

The Defense Minister further stressed and urged the Parliament that the help of NGOs and INGOs under the heading of humanitarian aids should also be curtailed.

Buttressing the Tatmadaw’s hard-line stance, the military MP Col Than Aung said that tough actions should be taken against the main perpetrators including United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) chairman N’Ban La, KIA leader Gam Shawng, TNLA leader Tar Aik Bong, MNDAA leaders Peng Jiasheng and U Peng Daxun and the AA’s commander Tun Myat Naing, in line with existing statutes,  according to the anti‐terrorism law.

However, the Tatmadaw’s motion, including twelve lawmakers’ debate were recorded without any decision made. Thus the debate over an urgent proposal by Dr. Maung Thin of Meiktila Constituency on NA-B’s offensive issue, which was said to have caused death, injuries and displacement of civilians and affected national sovereignty, rule of law, stability and the country’s peace process, was decided only to be recorded by 244 against 141 votes.

The NLD and ethnic parliamentary representatives were said to have discussed the issue and opted for speedy negotiation around the table.

UNFC response

Understandably, the UNFC has responded by saying that the Tatmadaw MP’s  fervent insistence within the Parliament to label head of the UNFC N’Ban La, whose organization has constantly been in touch with the government regarding the ongoing peace negotiation, reflected the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing’s opinion on the UNFC, said Tun Zaw one of its spokesperson.

He further elaborated that the KIA, through the UNFC’s good office, has time and again requested the Tatmadaw for talks to stop the offensives and deescalate the armed conflict, but were only met with a deafening silence.

He stressed that the UNFC is still for peaceful negotiation to end the conflict and it now depends solely upon the attitude of the government and the Tatmadaw, whether they would be ready to come around to the negotiation table.

Accordingly, there has been a widespread believe that the government is not in a position to say or discuss anything regarding the Tatmadaw’s military undertakings.

Aung San Suu Kyi

During the State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent visit to Singapore, on 1 December, about 7,000 Burmese people attended the event at the Big Box Event Hall in Singapore’s Jurong East neighborhood, where she touched on selected questions posed by the community.

From all the questions posed, two of them are quite relevant as it concerns the issues of rape and the impact of the NA-B offensives on the 21st Century Panglong Conference.

Regarding the series of high‐profile child rape cases over the past few months, “It is also a social issue,” she said. “We have to analyze why there are so many rape cases against minors and what kind of weak points our society has.”

“We need to analyze these cases from a social perspective, and then we will decide how we should resolve these cases in every possible way,” she stressed.

But surprisingly enough she had not made any mentioning on the Tatmadaw’s long employment of “rape as a weapon of war” against the ethnic population, which were so widespread and well documented, in connection with the rape issue discussed. The high profile rape case of the two Kachin teachers by the Burma Army troops, in northern Shan State in January last year, is still a fresh reminder for many of the ethnic women that still have to live with the constant fear and worry within the conflict zones.

Concerning the recent clashes in northern Shan State, which have pointed a spotlight on the importance of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference, she said: “Some don’t have the courage to achieve peace, when the mistrust [between communities] is bigger than the desire for peace.”

However, Suu Kyi is quite vague in addressing the root cause of “mistrust” and what could be done to achieve “trust” that has been depleted. She clearly failed to mention the month-long Tatmadaw offensives in Kachin and Shan States that have contributed to the depletion of the little trust that the ethnic might have ever accumulated on the government.

Chinese mediation

Meanwhile, the Chinese planned mediation between representatives of the Northern Alliance and officials from Burma’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) on 1 December in Kunming, China to discuss a possible end to the two-week-old conflict fell apart, as the opposing sides could not agree on the basic format of the meeting, according to ethnic armed group leaders.

According to Radio Free Aisa, one Northern Alliance negotiator, Col Tar Phone Kyaw of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) said: “We, members of the NA-B all four, wanted to meet as one group together, but Dr. Tin Myo Win’s group (NRPC) wants to meet separately; first with TNLA, later Kokang and AA only. As we can’t agree, we’re going back.”

Remarkably, the NRPC made no mention of wanting to meet the KIA.

Frustrated, Col Tar Phone Kyaw said “Now let’s go back to our territory and launch this war again,”   after the talks failed to materialize, reported The Irrawaddy.

On 29 November, Mr. Wang Wei, Deputy Director of the Yunnan Foreign Affairs Office, met the Myanmar media delegation in Kunming World Trade Center was interviewed.

When asked what would be China’s position on accusation that the Chinese government had provided help to the ethnic armed groups after some of their members entered China following the conflict that broke out,  replied: “If any injured people come into China, the Chinese authorities will provide medical treatment to them in the first place. At such a critical moment, we don’t have any time to investigate the identity of the injured. But what I want to stress is the stance of the Chinese government, which is no action by anyone is acceptable to undermine the peace and stability in the border area, and no one is acceptable to rely on China to fight others. The Chinese government hopes that Myanmar would restore peace via political means. We think such information carried by foreign media is inaccurate. We hope that the Myanmar media may obtain detailed and accurate information via this field investigation.”

The point to be noted here is that China is not going to take sides, but humanitarian aids would go on, where necessary.

Perspective

Looking at the recent development, the future outlook of the peace process looks dim. Suu Kyi is unable to rein in on the military to stop its offensives in Kachin and Shan States; the two-tier administration seems to become the order of the day, with the military making and implementing its own policy in ethnic areas, while the NLD rules over in areas where wars are absent; the polarization of positions between the Tatmadaw and the NA-B, which also indirectly involves the UNFC; and the Tatmadaw’s commitment to carry on the war of attrition rather than a negotiated settlement.

Besides, the Tatmadaw’s attitude on the ethnic population within the conflict zone is worrying, which is unreasonable  and outright inhumane, as curtailing humanitarian aids would mean starvation and slow death for the people caught in the war between two warring groups.

As such, pessimism has taken over the political landscape and in particular, the much promoted 21 Century Panglong Conference and peace process achievement are now really in doubt.

But there is still a glimmer of hope for not all has gone down the drain yet, when Home Minister General Kyaw Swe said that even though the four EAOs that formed the NA-B could now be announced as terrorist organizations,  in order not to affect the government’s peace process, they were abstaining from doing it.

This considerate stance, in contrast to the Defense Minister urging to label the NA-B as terrorist groups, has at least leave the door of negotiation open for now.

But the immediate task of the warring parties has now being tested militarily in Mong Ko area, given the intense firefights with the NA-B trying to route out the Tatmadaw’s hill top garrison to take control of the whole area and while subsequent, retaliation and bombarding of the Tatmadaw, using combat aircraft from above are said to be also hitting civilian targets, would be the defining moment, if the protracted war could be capped and negotiation would resume.

It is now up to the warring parties, if they wanted to be reasonable or whether to make or break the peace process. For neither Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also in no position to influence the Tatmadaw, nor the Chinese, who could only persuade the warring parties to be logical, could stop the ongoing armed conflict, as only the people involved in it would have to decide for themselves. One could only hope that rational sense would prevail and the war could be stopped, at least, for the benefit of the suffering people, if not for anybody.