Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Naypyidaw Shelves BGF to Prepare for Ethnic Peace Talks

The Burmese government has stopped pushing its Border Guard Force (BGF) plan to instead concentrate on peace talks with separate ethnic armed groups in a new tactic ordered directly by Naypyidaw, claim rebel sources.

The latest attempt by President Thein Sein's administration to achieve peace talks was to approach the Shan State Army-South (SSA-South) ethnic armed group via the Thai authorities, according to local rebels.

Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, SSA-South spokesman Sai Lao Hseng said that they told the Thai authorities that the group was willing to hold peace talks with the government if they receive an official offer.

A group-by-group approach by Naypyidaw’s delegations has been accelerated since a government announcement on Aug. 18 which encouraged ethnic rebels to contact their respective state or division authorities as a first step.

The government delegations held talks with the United Wa State Army and its ally of the Mongla Group—also known as National Democratic Alliance Army—in September and temporarily dropped its calls to adopt the BGF.

Similarly, other state-level delegations comprised of Christian and Buddhist leaders have approached Karen rebels such as Karen National Union (KNU) and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.

An observer who recently accessed Karen rebel-controlled areas said that that Naypyidaw does not bring up the BGF plan at the moment, but let its delegations hold several general talks with Karen rebels. The delegations did not talk about the BGF but only a plan to make peace.

A different government delegation in Mon State also separately approached the New Mon State Party (NMSP) for peace talks, while other Naypyidaw representatives in Tenassarim Division told members of the local Karen community that they would be willing to hold peace talks with KNU Brigade 4 based in nearby Tavoy.

The NMSP has also formed a “peace mission” and is expected to hold ceasefire talks with the Mon State government in mid-October.

Government MP Han Bi, an ethnic Karen who represents the Union Solidarity and Development Party in Tenassarim Division, told the local Karen community in Tavoy that the plan for group-by-group peace offers came directly from Naypyidaw, according to Eh Na, the editor of Thailand-based Karen news organization Kwekalu.

But critics claim the move by Naypyidaw to enter peace talks with the NMSP while continuing to fight the Kachin Independence Army, KNU, SSA-South and SSA-North is creating misunderstanding, distrust and division among ethnic groups.

Observers said that Naypyidaw blatantly ignored calls by ethnic groups for an alliance talk involving all ethnic rebels and the government, and kept talking with certain ethnic armed groups to cause divisions by approaching each independently.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst who focuses on military affairs on the Sino-Burmese border, said attempts by Naypyidaw to hold peace talks with ethnic rebels separately is its way to divide the armed groups.

However, leaders of ethnic armed groups also said that they are cautious when dealing with the government delegations and wanted to talk directly with Naypyidaw to achieve ceasefires.

Ethnic groups claim they will only convey to the government delegation that the offer of peace talks is welcome, but the talks themselves must be held between Naypyidaw and an umbrella organization of ethnic armed groups, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).

KNU General Secretary Zipporah Sein said that group-by-group meetings with the state-level authorities could lead to divisions between ethnic armed groups. However, all the UNFC members agreed to firstly meet with the state-level authorities individually to push for direct talks between the Naypyidaw and UNFC.

“We would like to say that political conflicts should be solved with all ethnic groups,” said Zipporah Sein.

Observers, however, have said that both Naypyidaw and ethnic armed groups are merely “testing the water” at the present time.
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