Monday, August 22, 2011

When will the KIA/KIO, Burmese government conflict end?

(Commentary) – The Kachin Independence Army/Kachin Independence Organization (KIA/KIO) signed a cease-fire agreement with the former Burmese military regime in 1994, but it was broken shortly after the so-called civilian government came in to power earlier this year.

KIO troops prepare for inspection. Peace  negotiations between the KIO and the government have come to a stand off with the two sides unable to find a common ground for a cease-fire.  Photo: Mizzima
KIO troops prepare for inspection. Peace negotiations between the KIO and the government have come to a stand off with the two sides unable to find a common ground for a cease-fire. Photo: Mizzima
Since then, a civil war has grown more intense although two negotiation meetings have been held. The KIA/KIO wants to negotiate a cease-fire based on principles in the Panglong Agreement of 1947. Also, it demanded that the government stop the offensive war nationwide and initiate cease-fire discussions through the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).

The government questioned the KIA/KIO about how it could deal with the United State Wa Army (USWA) if it only talked with the UNFC? The WSWA is not a member of the UNFC, and repeatedly has insisted it wanted a cease-fire signed with the KIO/KIA first. The KIA/KIO agreed to a cease-fire based on the 2008 Constitution, which it said it does not believe in. With such obstacles and disagreements, the civil war will likely continue in Burma.

With the majority of ethnic armed groups reunited and speaking in one voice to challenge the government, the country s entering it most crucial period since 1988.

The KIA/KIO is holding out on peace talks until the government agrees to negotiate through the UNFC. On the other side, the government wants to sign a cease-fire agreement with KIO/KIA first, and then start to talk with other ethnic armed groups based on their particular situations.

The trauma of breaking the cease-fire agreement has impacted on the discussion process, causing a lack of trust. Both sides need to share their views openly and discuss why and how the cease-fire agreement was broken and how to solve the current issues. In order to cultivate trust, some government officers need to be held accountable for breaching the cease-fire agreement. That will also serve as a warning that anyone who breaks a cease-fire in the future will be held accountable.

In an open letter recently, Aung San Suu Kyi offered to be a mediator between the government and the Kachin Independence Organization, the Karen National Union, the New Mon State Party and the Shan State Army. Her offer is a positive sign, but the question is will the government let her act as a peace mediator and how much can she influence the two sides to come to an agreement? There would seem to be little possibility that she could make a big difference in a cease-fire deal because her influence on the government is limited.

The government may doubt minor ethnic armed groups’ attitudes, but the Burmese people are more integrated now than ever before because of better transportation, communications and education. In terms of culture, literature and geography, the people of Burma share many common areas that bound them together as brothers and sisters.

In order to achieve peace, ethnic minorities must be granted equal rights and control over their affairs as outlined in the Panglong Agreement. That’s how to build a more united Union in Burma, instead of trying to extinguish their identity and language. The government should recognize who they are, instead of trying to make a mountain tiger become a delta lion. It also means leaving it up to them if they prefer to wear their traditional dress, to dance to their traditional songs and to practice different religious beliefs (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc.). The acceptance and respect of minorities’ wishes and rights will bring a much a better future. And it will also make ethnic minorities feel as if they are a part of Burma. If these types of things were done, the peace process would move faster.

By signing a cease-fire only with the KIA/KIO, it will not bring lasting peace in the country because all ethnic minorities are now entwined. That’s why the government should start cease-fire negotiations with all ethnic armed groups through the UNFC, if it really wants peace and thinks of itself as the country’s parents.

The KIO/KIA demands represent the true desire of all ethnic armed groups, including the WSWA and Shan State Army (South), even though they are not members of the UNFC.

There may be significant reasons behind why the WSWA and SSA (South) didn’t join the UNFC. Perhaps it has something to do with allegations that the WSWA is involved in producing illegal drugs and its leader Boa Youxiang is wanted by the USA. The UNFC may find it hard to accept the WSWA as a member. SSA (South) is likely to become the next UNFC member, if trust is established between the two groups. However, it is certain that if the groups in the UNFC started fighting with the government intensively, then both the WSWA and SSA (South) would join them in what would be a massive civil war.

At this moment, both the government and UNFC members are preparing for the best and the worst. At the same time, they are both considering how to solve the cease-fire deal crisis. If the current issues cannot be solved, then Burma will revert to the civil war era of the 1980s to 1990.

There is no doubt that the government will use its divide and rule policy in talking with UNFC members. On August 18, it said all cease-fire armed groups and non-ceasefire armed groups that want a cease-fire agreement should negotiate individually with their state or regional government. This kind of cease-fire offer directly challenges the UNFC unity.

But a divide and rule policy may not work well this time, because armed groups are more sophisticated and experienced politically and militarily. They also have a more savvy media to keep the international community informed, which can bring a lot of pressure on the government.

But we needed to wait and see how much unity exists among UNFC members. If only one of the UNFC members breaks away from the group and start cease-fire talks, then it will impact the group’s effectiveness.

The government appears unwilling to meet KIA/KIO demands. For now, there is little hope for peace. Probably, the fighting between the two sides will continue politically and militarily, adding one more civil war to the ongoing civil wars in other parts of Burma.

http://mizzima.com/edop/commentary/5810-when-will-the-kiakio-burmese-government-conflict-end.html
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