To Hopeland and Back: Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD)

This trip took me 12 days, from November 14-25, 2015. The purpose was to attend the Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) which would ratify the military Code of Conduct (CoC) and the TOR (Terms of Reference) for the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committees (JMCs), as well as later meetings for the Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD).

Day One, 14 November 2015

When who talks big captures a deer
And the seducer finds a maiden who sleeps soundly
(A Shan saying)

Six days have passed since 8 November, when the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi, resoundingly won the country’s first free and fair general elections since 1990. But judging by the euphoric comments made by my taxi driver, the country’s high isn’t over yet ¾ or about to end soon.

“If you ask me, I can’t even remember the name of the guy I voted for,” he says. “All I know¾and care ¾ is he’s from the party of the peacock (the NLD’s logo). I’m sure many others were like me.”

I don’t say much. And I don’t have to. Because all the way to the hotel from Mingladon Airport, he’s bubbling over with infectious excitement.

Supporters of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, cheer as they watch poll counts in Yangon after the election on November 15. Photo: AFP

“With legions of problems, accumulated throughout the decades, I doubt even Amay Suu (Mother Suu) will be able to resolve them soon,” he concludes as our car nears Green Hill Hotel. “But we all assumed that nothing’s going to be worse than it is now, and, most of all, we are thoroughly sick of the present government and its predecessors.”

Soon after I’ve checked in, childhood friends arrive to welcome me. As to be expected, the conversation inevitably drifts toward politics and elections.

One and all, they are NLD supporters and members. Significantly, none of them are Shans.

“If the elections have proven something,” one of them tells me, “it’s that ballots have beaten bullets.”

“It has also proven that Ma Ba Tha (the Buddhist fundamentalist movement) couldn’t do anything against this rising tide,” he continues. “Neither was the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signing on 15 October a vote booster.”

Which reminds me of what U Aung Min, who lost in Shadaw in Kayah/Karenni State to an NLD rival candidate, said before the poll: There are ways to woo the voters which are far more effective than the NCA. Only I’m not using them.

“The USDP (the military’s Union Solidary and Development Party) is like a rapist who is asking his victims whether or not they love him. And this is our answer,” another friend remarks.

I later visit my “comrades-in-peace” to discuss tomorrow’s agenda, which includes attending the President’s meeting with political parties.

They tell me a Chinese scholar, who visited them earlier, had told them China is most displeased with Burma. “How can such an undersized country dare to defy us?” they say. “The previous government had already agreed to projects on the Myitsone (confluence of the Maikha and Malikha Rivers, where they become the Irrawaddy), the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone and the Kyaukphyu-Kunming Railway. How could they call them off? This country must be taught a well-deserved lesson.”

I’m not sure about its validity. However, I’m quite sure that it won’t be hard to convince the people of Burma, if it is publicized.

Day Two, Sunday, 15 November 2015

Dad, how do soldiers killing each other solve the world’s problems?
Bill Watterson

At 09:00, many of the EAOs (Ethnic Armed Organizations) are off to the Rangoon Region Legislature, where the President is due to meet representatives from political parties, both winning and losing ones. Among them are the NLD’s U Nyan Win and the SNLD’s Sai Saw Aung.

And, of course, U Aung Min. He shakes my hands, saying: “I thought my friends on the border (he names them) loved me much. I have found out that they don’t. I didn’t get even a single vote from their people.”

In time, the President arrives. In his usual smooth, calm and sing-song voice, he promises smooth transfer of power to the winners.

It is followed by short speeches by the political parties:

·         Signing of the NCA on 15 October
·         Holding of largely free and fair elections

Calls to do more
·         Fighting in Kachin and Shan States that has made tens of thousands homeless
·         Worsening drug problem
·         Amnesty for political prisoners especially the student activists
·         Myitsone Dam project, not only suspension but permanent cancellation

·         To call on our neighbors to honor the Bandung principles of non-interference

Myanmar President Thein Sein, front left, greets political party representatives during a meeting on Election Day in Yangon.
We decide to leave early without waiting for the lunch hosted by him. Traffic in Rangoon is notorious: it takes at least one hour to get to the airport from the hotel, if you’re lucky. If you’re not, you’ll be stuck in a traffic jam for another hour.

At 15:30 we’re off to Naypyitaw. On our plane, but in a difference class, is the President.

This time we are all given accommodation at the Ingyin Villa, Horizon Lake View Hotel, said to be owned by Asia World.

Already installed there are EAO representatives who, together with their counterparts from the government, have been finalizing the TOR for the JMCs at different levels: Union, State/Region and Local.

Day Three, Monday, 16 November 2015

“How come we play war and not peace?
Too few role models (for peace)”
Bill Watterson

Today the EAOs hold their own Joint Implementation Coordinating Meeting (JICM) to review the situation and what to discuss at the JICM with the government’s side tomorrow.

Everyone agrees the situation has changed what with the landslide—some dubbing it avalanche—win for the NLD.

Attendees shake hands at a Joint Monitoring Committee meeting between the government and eight ethnic signatories to the ceasefire agreement at the Myanmar Peace Center in Yangon on October 29. Photo: MNA
“We need to finish our Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) in time (by 14 December) but also keep it flexible,” says Dr Lian Hmung Sakhong, Secretary to the Union Peace and Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC).

Sai La from the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) who represents his boss, Sao Yawd Serk, sums it up: “Until today, we, both the government and the EAOs, were strong. Now neither one is,” he says. “The one who’s strong is yet to get on board. And we all need to get it on board.”

Topics discussed today include:
·         The Arakan Liberation Party/Army (ALP/ALA)’s JMC-S (State Level) status
·         Whether appointment of officials in the JMC should be published in the government gazette
·         Participation by the NCA non-signatories in the Political Dialogue
·         International involvement in the JMC process (as agreed in the NCA)
·         Political prisoners
·         Parliamentary ratification of the NCA

At 19:30, I run into Colonels Wunna Aung and Kyaw Soe Win from the government’s side of the JMC-U (Union level). “Everything you’ve proposed has been approved by the War Office,” one of them tells me. “Apart from changing of wordings and spellings, the draft has sailed through. All we need now is the adoption by the JICM.”

Meanwhile, the war goes on unabated in Kachin and Shan States, leaving EAOs, both signatories and non-signatories, wriggling in their seats.

By Sai Khuensai / Director of Pyidaungsu Institute and Founder of Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)

All views expressed are the author’s own.

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Shan Groups: International Community Ignores War Crimes in Shan State

Yesterday a coalition of over 30 Shan community-based organizations (CBOs) called for the international community to take action on the current offensive in central Shan State by the Burma Army.

Press conference held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand ( FCCT )
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok, Sai Khur Hseng, of the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization, questioned the “silence” of the international community regarding ongoing fighting which has displaced 10,000 civilians since early October.

“Why don’t they say anything about it?” said Sai Khur Hseng. “Or do they think that Shan State is not part of Burma?”

“[They] were happy with the election and the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signing, but they ignore the current conflict in the country,” he added.

Despite the presence of previous ceasefires, the war re-started on October 6 between the government military and the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N). Since then, central Shan State has only experienced four days without clashes.

Map of displacement caused by Burma army offensive in central Shan State
“Keeping silent about Naypyidaw’s latest attacks and war crimes is giving the green light to these atrocities,” said Nang Charm Tong, a Shan human rights activist and a spokesperson for the coalition of CBOs at the conference.

The Shan coalition urged international governments to condemn Burma government action against civilians, and to immediately end both military reinforcement and offensives in the ethnic areas.

They should not solve the problem with the armed forces,” said Sai Khur Hseng. “When there is fighting, the civilians are the victims—not only Shan people but also other ethnic groups like Ta’ang, Lisu and others.”

“The government must responsible for the loss of the citizens’ property,” he added.
The statement released by the CBOs also highlights growing economic and strategic ties with Burma’s military power holders as a reason for inaction by the international community, despite the Burmese government’s aggression against ethnic people.

The event was attended by representatives from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), media agencies the Thai and the Shan community.

By SAI AW / Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)

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Military checkpoints and curfews enforced in central and southern Shan State

Local authorities have erected security checkpoints to search passing vehicles in Mong Hsu, Kesi, Laikha, Namzang, and Loilem Townships in central and southern Shan State, where tensions remain high between the Burma Army and the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N).

Trucks bringing donation to IDPs lined up at Mak Lung village checkpoint in Laikha Township on November 23

According to Sai Than Sein, a member of Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) in Namzang, security has been tightened throughout the region. Entrance gates to each town in the region are now forced to close at 6:00 p.m. and are allowed to re-open at 6:00 a.m.

“I think they wanted to check people entering and going out of the town,” he said. “People are afraid to go out at night.”

Locals are now staying in their houses after 6:00 p.m., he added, noting particular difficulties for traders who normally travel overnight within the region to sell and buy their goods each morning. Many have had to put their work on hold.

Sai Kyaw Ze Ya, an elected MP from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) in Laikha, also told SHAN that the Burmese authorities placed time restrictions on the opening and closing of the town gate when internally displaced people from Mong Nong first fled to Laikha in early November. There are now an estimated 700 IDPs there.

Trucks which were filled with clothing and food donations for the displaced were halted and checked at near Mak Lung village in Laikha Township on November 23 by the 64th Battalion said a volunteer with local aid groups.

“Five trucks were halted and checked. We were stuck there from 8:00 a.m. Youth and monks from Laikha came to vouch for us, and we passed the checkpoint by 11:00 a.m.,” said Sai Kham, a volunteer. “Unfortunately, that day the telephone network was blocked,” he added.

SHAN first reported on new checkpoints on November 18, in Mong Hsu Township, where an MP said he was stopped from visiting 1,500 internally displaced people whom no one had been able to contact for over ten days. .

On November 24, SHAN reported that a displaced villager from Mong Ark, in Mong Hsu Township, had been attacked by Burma Army soldiers while returning to his farm to complete the annual rice harvest.

Since fighting broke out on October 6, central and southern Shan State have only experienced four days without clashes. Over 10,000 civilians have fled their homes and 17 schools have been forced to close.

By SAI AW / Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)

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Doubtful political transition, ongoing internal conflict and incomprehensible peace process

Three crucial topics have been dominating Burma's political arena, since the National League for Democracy (NLD) won with a landslide in the nationwide elections. They are if the transition from quasi-civilian regime of Thein Sein to Aung San Suu Kyi led NLD government would be smooth or problematic; whether the wars in Kachin and Shan States could be resolved; and the interconnected nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) or peace process structure and procedure would be accepted by the incoming NLD regime, as formed and headed by the Thein Sein regime.

First, let us ponder on the development of transitional aspect that have been worrying the NLD leadership and the people at large, who are still fearful that the 1990 post-election scenario could be replayed or repeated, when the then State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), military regime refused to hand over power to the landslide winning NLD.

Doubtful transition

U Ye Htut, spokesman of the President and the information minister, in answering the doubtfulness of handing power to Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party, stressed that President Thein Sein aimed to leave a good tradition for the country's young, budding democracy. He said that peaceful power transfer would be the “final victory” of the government.

He told The Irrawaddy: “What we are trying to do now is to establish a good democratic tradition. A government formed by the result of the election transferring power to another elected government peacefully has never occurred in our country's history, since independence in 1948. As a reform, final duty of our government, we are going to do this. And it will be our last victory.”

He showed his irritation for the doubtfulness from some quarters by saying: “I will tell you, (people) didn't believe in President Thein Sein's reform process of 2011, call for peace process and free and fair elections. But he has done it according to his promises. Transferring (of the power) will also be done.”

When the NLD's tsunami-like landslide win were made known, Aung San Suu Kyi requested for a meeting with the President, Commander-in-Chief and House Speaker, but so far she has only managed to meet the House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann on 19 November, where both agreed to work for a smooth transition.

Following the meeting,  a statement released said: “They will peacefully implement the desire of the people that emerged from the election on November 8, in order to ensure people’s joy and to improve the image of the country. They will continue to implement the hopes of the people in line with the principles of the Parliament: the people’s voice is Parliament’s voice and the people’s desire is Parliament’s desire. They vowed to work together with trust and respect for one another on matters of national reconciliation and unity for all ethnic groups. They agreed to discuss the means to organize parliaments in accordance with the law.”

Deputy Speaker of the Lower House Nanda Kyaw Swar, bill committee chairman T Khun Myat, minister of commerce Win Myint, Zaw Myint Maung from the Rule of Law and Stability Committee and Director General Kyaw Soe from the Union Parliament also attended.

Perhaps to alleviate international and as well, the people at home of their doubtfulness of his government transfer of power to the election winning NLD, President Thein Sein told the 27th Asean Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on  21 November that he would abide by the results of November 8 election and conduct the transition peacefully.

Ye Htut, spokesperson for the president, told the Daily Eleven: “The president again promised to follow the election result and to transfer power peacefully. Asean leaders talked extensively about the election. They praised and congratulated us. They acknowledged our development.”

War in Kachin and Shan States

The war in Kachin and Shan States, which have been going on and off, escalated after the elections.

On 6 November, two days before the election, the Burma Army (Tatmadaw) launched a major offensive against the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) which had signed bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government at both State and Union levels.  In spite of this, the Burma Army unleashed ground offensive operations backed by air raids, against the SSPP/SSA.

The Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) declared in its November 14 statement that Burma Army offensives escalated after the partial-ceasefire signing, dubbed as NCA with 8 ethnic armed  organizations (EAOs). Battles continue almost daily between the TNLA and Burmese Army troops in northern Shan State.

According to the TNLA News and Information Department, on November 21, at 0935 hours, a recent battle took place between troops of TNLA Battalion 717 and Tatmadaw Division 77, at a place between Tot-san and Nuaung-bin-hla villages in Kyaukme Township, Brigade 2 area, Ta’ang Region. There was no casualty on the TNLA side. Two were killed on the Myanmar Tatmadaw side. The head-on battle took place, because Myanmar Tatmadaw troops had been closely following and launching attacks in the place, where TNLA was active.

On another front, one of the heaviest battles since the renewed war of 2011 between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese Army took place in south-western Kachin State, just days after the widely hailed 2015 elections.

A statement was released on 22 November by the SSPP/SSA regarding its delegation's departure for Yangon to hold talks with the military and the regime.

Earlier, Sai Naw Leik central executive committee member of the SSPP met U Khin Maung Soe of the Union Peacemaking Work Committee and agreed to meet again on 23 November to negotiate about the more durable truce.

While armed clashes are going on and off between the Burma Army and KIA, TNLA, a proposed  truce was not achieved, even though the SSPP/SSA has appealed that refraining from the act of hostilities should be reached, while its five man delegation was on its way to thrash out a ceasefire, according to one of the SSPP/SSA front line commander.

The recent SHAN report of 23 November wrote that while the SSPP/SSA delegation was negotiating with the regime's UPWC in Yangon, fierce battles were fought in Mong Hsu Township and has been ongoing at this writing.

On 23 November, 08:00 hours, SSPP/SSA camp near Wan Lwe, Mong Ark villages, Mong Hsu Township, Loilem District was attacked, besides shelling it with artillery from Burma Army bases of Pang Wo, Loi Yu, Kui Mawk Khao from four sides, according to a front line commander.

“According to U Khin Maung Soe's invitation, (SSPP/SSA) is negotiating to restart peace process. (We) heard that it started at 08:00 hours, have a short break and continues again. But (the fighting) at this side has not stopped and still shooting. (We) don't know from which units, but they all arrived together. From what we know, they are from Military Operation Command (MOC) 2 and 17, supposedly under the Eastern Command. (They are) attacking fiercely. No air-plane has been sighted,” said Captain Sai Mong.

While talks on ending hostility are conducted, the war rages on, adding more problems to the already deteriorating situation as the government has reportedly demanded the withdrawal of SSPP/SSA forces from the route connecting Mong Hsu with the garrison town of Mong Nawng.

Ethnic endorsement of the NLD 

The incoming NLD regime has been endorsed by the ethnic political parties, EAOs and ethnic population for all were convinced that Aung San Suu Kyi, the party leader could fulfil their desire of peaceful co-habitation, with rights of self-determination, equality and democracy.

The three armed alliance of Myanmar National Democratic Army (MNDAA) known also as Kokang, TNLA and Arakan Army (AA) released a statement saying that it is solidly behind the NLD.

Likewise, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an eleven ethnic armed groups alliance, stated that it is ready to work with the incoming NLD regime. In the same vein, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the strongest of all the ethnic armies numbering some well-armed 20,000 troops,  also expressed the same sentiment.

United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), a twelve ethnic political parties alliance that had worked closely with the NLD for decades, would also meet with the NLD soon, which would touch on and cooperate on how to end the internal armed conflict and formation of a genuine federal union among others.

On 24 November, U Nyan Win, the NLD spokesman confirmed to the media that the meeting would take place soon, although no fix date has been mentioned.

NCA deliberation

The NCA structure has Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) at its top. The two committees that were formed are the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC) – the word ceasefire is not initialled – and Union Political Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC).

JIMC is formed with 8 members each from EAOs and government side, while JMC is formed with 10 each from both quarters, with another 6 from civil society organizations (CSO) are earmarked to be included later.

The UPDJC has 16 members each from the EAOs, the government and the political parties, making it a total of 48 members in all.

The JMC is concerned with monitoring ceasefire issues, while UPDJC is to draw up framework for political dialogue (FPD) and responsible to begin the actual political dialogue (PD).

Apart from the seemingly problematic governmental transitional problem, the harbinger of NCA structure and formation of various committees could also become a cause of political tension, between the USPD-Military clique and the to be formed NLD government that has quite a different outlook, on how to go about with the whole peace process.

All-inclusiveness is the key and the Thein Sein regime has just signed partial-ceasefire agreement and refusing certain groups like MNDAA, TNLA and AA to be part of the peace process.

Other than that, even the formation of JIMC and JMC would become problematic, as they are   manned only with 8 and 10 representatives from 8 EAOs, together with equal number of representative from the government side,  when actually there are 21 EAOs operating within the whole country, which have not yet signed the NCA with the government.

The UPDJC which sought to draw up a framework for political dialogue could also become a source of problem, as legitimately elected political parties should have a priority, rather than picking representatives, as it is now, from political parties that either have poor showing or not winning even a seat in the elections.

The formula used  to elect for the political parties are: NLD – 2, USDP -2, SNLD – 1, ANP- 1, UNA- 1, FDA-1, NBF-1 and  7 elected from other parties, according to the insider sources

True, the UPDJC is including 3 umbrella ethnic groups like UNA, Federal Democratic Alliance (FDA) and National brotherhood Federation (NBF) giving each a representative seat in the 16 members representation on behalf of some 80 registered political parties, which seems to look like quite an appropriate distribution.

But Dr Yan Myo Thein, a well known political commentator, in an article titled “Has peace process being monopolized?” published by 7 Days Daily, on 24 November writes: “It seems in order to give one representative each to FDA and NBF, UNA has been given a direct representation. In reality, allowing one direct representative each for the three ethnic alliance parties could be analysed as not appropriate. It could be termed as a political aggressiveness for involving the Federal Union Party, Chin Democracy League, Palon-Sawor Democrtaic Party, National democratic Front and Democracy and Peace Party, which have all decisively lost and having to bite (endure) the zero outcome.”

He further stressed that out of the 16 representatives in UPDJC, 8 is allotted to the election winning parties and the other 8 to those who have lost it. Thus, it is against the desire of the people for involving the non-elected parties in the UPDJC.

Meanwhile, on 23 November,  joint-secretary of SNLD Sai Leik who attended the NCA meeting said that two representatives, one each for UNA and SNLD have been selected to participate as political parties representatives in the UPDJC.

It was said that this is to facilitate better understanding between the incoming NLD regime and the military, like as it is now between the USDP and the military, according to Sai Leik.

“There is harmony between the present government and the Tatmadaw (military). Only if harmonious, hand-in-hand (atmosphere) could be continued with the Tatmadaw, can the reform issue be continued. The hope for peace be kept (alive). That is why, in order Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Tatmadaw could steadfastly join hand for peace process, and with the aim to work hand-in-hand with the ethnic nationalities, (we) have given the name list.”

The UNA representative selected is Angela Thaung and for the SNLD Sai Kyaw Nyunt is endorsed.

Sai Leik added that despite such deliberation, it would all depend on the incoming NLD government, whether the UPDJC work would be taken as it is or push for changes in personnel and as well the contents. However, the task of the UPDJC is to primarily draw up the FPD and see to that the PD actually started before the Thein Sein regime's legislature period ended in a few months.

U Win Htain of NLD confirmed the speculation on 24 November, during the selection of 16 representatives for the political parties meeting in Yangon, that it would be the Aung San Suu Kyi's peace process, which she would lead through political means, to establish a genuine federalism.

Summing up

To sum up, the angst of the people, the NLD, stakeholders and all those concerned with the well-being of Burma, regarding the transfer of political power from Thein Sein to incoming Aung San Suu Kyi's regime is well-founded, but it will definitely sail through, even if it would have to come across some nasty hurdles.

Points to ponder among them are complaints of irregularities to the Union Election Commission (UEC) during the election period; Aung San Suu Kyi's statement that she will rule as a figure above the president; irregular election campaign spending accusation of the NLD; and the reluctance of President Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, in a timely manner.

It might seem that the outgoing regime's functionaries are laying stones along the way, to frustrate the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi, but in the end this will all be cleared up for Thein Sein reportedly  is committed to pull through his reform process to the end, as repeatedly promised. He recently iterated this in Kuala Lumpur during the ASEAN meeting and also told President Obama that he would hand overpower in due course. On top of it, he also told Obama that he would meet Aung San Suu Kyi.

Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hliang in his recent interview with the Washington Post said the meeting could take place in December, after the UEC finishes its job. The NLD only needs to be a bit more patient.

The war in Shan and Kachin States are being viewed as a desperate attempt by the ethnic nationalities and democratic political parties that the military is paving way for emergency rule, so as to create a two-tier society: a relatively free community with democratic rights in Burmese heartland and a military occupied and suppressed ethnic states in a primitive, old style colonial setting.

As the constitution also allows to impose military emergency rule, the military only needs to create an atmosphere of war in ethnic areas, through deliberate military provocation or staging fake battles, as is the case in Mong Nawng and Mong Hsu Townships.

There is no other viable explanation for the military's ongoing offensives to justify its military aggressions.

Besides, ending the war in Kachin and Shan States would be more problematic, due to the differing views on how the notion of sovereignty and national unity is viewed by the Tatmadaw and the EAOs.

As time and again been stressed and explained, the Tatmadaw views that it is protecting the nation's sovereignty and sees that the EAOs are encroaching and violating it and thus, has to be fought and eliminated. But the EAOs view that they are entitled to shared-sovereignty, as the independence from the British in 1947 is also a co-independence. And since, the promise of equality, rights of self-determination and democracy anchored in a real federal union is denied by successive Bamar-dominated mostly military regimes, they have fought back to regain their birthright legacies.

Thus, they reject the assumption of sovereignty monopoly by the Bamar-dominated regimes and demand for shared-sovereignty through armed struggle. It is clear to all that this conceptual differences could only be ironed out politically and not militarily or occupation of more ethnic territories in by the Tatmadaw.

Because of all these, the Tatmadaw's accusation and conducting territorial winning wars in ethnic areas neither solve the underlying political problems nor make the reconciliation peace process easier. It is now up to the Tatmadaw either to show good will and tone down the offensives and stop them or continue with its warpath rhetoric, but it should keep in mind that only political dialogue and settlement could resolve this ongoing ethnic conflict and nothing else.

Another corresponding issue, closely connected to the notion of sovereignty is the concept of “national unity”. But before one even starts to mention this, those concerned would need to consider if there is already an accepted common “national identity”.

From the independence of Burma in 1947 to this very days there has been no commonly accepted such identity, but only various ethnic identities that still need to be merged into a “national identity”. The reason is that there has been no awareness-building, corresponding to the power and resources sharing within the mould of a genuine federalism. In other words, the making of a voluntary, accepted common national identity has never occurred, other than the imposed “Myanmar” identity, which neither is consented nor adopted by the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities and minorities. And this again is due to the lack of the said political power and resources sharing, for without which a common national identity could not be forged or developed, much less to foster and nurture it. Thus, the military's notion of protecting the national unity just  resembles a dominant ethnic group trying to protect its occupied and colonized territories. Of course this has to be corrected and again a political give-and-take is the only way out and not suppressing and occupying the ethnic homelands.

And finally, the handling of the NCA process should be conducted in a way that the Thein Sein regime instead of rushing and pushing all the procedures and formation according to its liking, lopsidedly manned more by its own people, with the hope that the incoming regime has no other choice but to follow only, it should instead invite, cooperate and coordinate with the NLD and other elected ethnic parties' functionaries, so that the peace process could be carried on smoothly when the new regime comes into being. This kind of approach will definitely benefit all the people in the country.

For now, the contemporary political setting calls for at least a calculated compromise, if not fully-fledge, from all stakeholders: the USDP-Military regime, the Aung San Suu Kyi headed NLD party and the whole spectrum of ethnic nationalities, armed or unarmed. Any failure to successfully link these three major actor groups to compromise for a political settlement would lead to end of a true, democratic, reform process and push all those that have been achieved back to the square one, which nobody wants to see happen.

 The Contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SUD) - Editor

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Peace committee meeting in Yangon, renewed military offensives and IDP abuse in Shan State

While Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) representatives continued meeting with government officials in Yangon yesterday regarding ongoing armed conflict, the Burma Army renewed attacks near the group’s headquarters and abused a returned IDP.

The fighting occurred on two fronts within five miles of Wan Hai, the SSPP/SSA-N base in Kesi Township. For four hours yesterday morning, ground troops engaged in an offensive near the neighboring Mong Hsu Township villages of Mong Ark and Wan Lwe, while artillery was fired from Pang Wo, Loi Yu and Kiu Mawk Khao.

The villages are located in between Mong Hsu and Kesi’s Mong Nong sub-township, territory which the Burma Army allegedly ordered the SSPP/SSA-N to abandon on November 19. The area was once home to 6,000 civilians, many of whom have fled, contributing to the current displacement of more than 10,000 people in Shan State.

Some speculate that the attack was aimed at clearing the area, rather than destroying specific targets.

“The Burma Army shelled indiscriminately,” said one SSPP/SSA-N soldier who witnessed yesterday’s siege.

Sai Mong, an SSPP/SSA-N officer based in the conflict area, admitted that he could not identify which group the Burma Army soldiers represented. He suspected they were a combination of those from battalions within the military’s Eastern Command and from within Za-Ka-Ka, the Military Operation Command, a government armed wing which SHAN reported had fired on a known IDP site in Kesi Township on November 10.

“They attacked us in large numbers, but we didn’t see any airplanes,” Sai Mong added; eight Burma Army air attacks have been documented in the area in less than two months, as well as over 40 ground offensives.

At the same time as the attacks occurred, SSPP/SSA-N representatives were engaging in a second round of talks with members of the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC) in Yangon. The first discussion was held on Friday, when an informal ceasefire was also negotiated and then broken three days later.

Although official statistics on injuries or casualties is not known, at least one IDP returned to Mong Ark yesterday afternoon, following the three-day lull in fighting. Lung Bee, 32, had fled to an IDP camp in Kesi Township and came back to his farm alone to harvest his rice.

He told SHAN that he was approached and questioned by Burma Army soldiers, who allegedly bound his hands with rope, beat him with sticks, and interrogated him about possible connections to the SSPP/SSA-N, an allegation which he denied.

Lung Bee, an IDP beaten by Burma Army soldiers, reveals wounds he sustained to his head. (Photo: Citizen Reporter)

“I told [the Burmese soldiers] I escaped like the others did. I thought the war was over, so I came to do my harvesting,” Lung Bee said.

He escaped later that night and returned to an IDP camp, where he is recovering from his injuries.
Since fighting in central Shan State began on October 6, the area has only experienced four days without clashes: November 8—the day of Burma’s general election—and November 19-21, when an informal ceasefire was agreed between the SSPP/SSA-N and the Burma Army. During this time, the Burma Army allegedly reinforced its troops in Mong Hsu, and on the evening of November 22, the offensive started again. 

By SIMMA FRANCIS and ZAAI ZAAI LAO MURNG (Shan Herald Agency for News / S.H.A.N)

Reporting by NANG HOM and SAI YIPHONG (Shan Herald Agency for News / S.H.A.N)

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IDPs “dare not go home” as Burma Army reinforces troops during informal ceasefire

The Burma Army allegedly reinforced troops and military equipment to central Shan State on Friday night after agreeing to an informal ceasefire with the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) on the same day.

A meeting was held in Yangon on Friday between government representative U Khin Maung Soe—who is the current Minister of Electric Power and a member of the Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC)—and an SSPP/SSA-N delegation. It was decided that they would form a working committee for peace in the region, where Burma Army offensives have been ongoing since October 6, displacing more than 10,000 civilians. 

A government delegation including U Khin Maung Soe meets with SSPP/SSA-N in 2013 (Photo: Sai Hak)
Sai Nor Lek, an SSPP/SSA-N representative who attended the meeting, said that they were able to negotiate an informal ceasefire with the Burma Army through U Khin Maung Soe.

But later that evening, an SSPP/SSA-N information officer based in the armed group’s headquarters in Wan Hai, Kesi Township, said that he witnessed more than 30 Burma Army trucks heading from Taunggyi, Shan State’s capital, to Namzang Township and Mong Nong sub-township; meanwhile, military tanks were transported from Mandalay into Lashio, in northern Shan State.

On Saturday, government officials informed SSPP/SSA-N representatives that the Burma Army had changed their stance and was calling for the retreat of the SSPP/SSA-N from central Shan State’s Mong Hsu Township and Mong Nong sub-township; some interpreted it as an order for the ethnic armed group to isolate themselves in Wan Hai.

“U Khin Maung Soe replied that he can do nothing,” said Sai Nor Lek.

According to those assisting the region’s internally displaced population, the news came as a disappointment to IDPs who have been anxious to return to their farms to complete the annual rice harvest and secure their food supply for the next year.

“The civilians were happy to hear the news that they would have a chance to go back home again. But today it has changed,” said Sai Nor Lek.

Sai Harn, a volunteer working with IDPs in Mong Hsu Township, said that a pause in fighting on Thursday, November 19 had made many people hopeful that the conflict was coming to an end.
“The IDPs saw that the conditions were good, so they prepared to go back home to harvest their rice,” he said on Saturday. “But yesterday they heard about the government military increasing troops, and now they dare not go back home.”

A second meeting between UPWC members and SSPP/SSA-N representatives was scheduled to take place today in Yangon. The outcome of the meeting was not available at the time of reporting.

By SIMMA FRANCIS AND ZAAI ZAAI LAO MURNG (Shan Herald Agency for News / S.H.A.N)

Reporting by SAI YIPHONG (Shan Herald Agency for News / S.H.A.N)

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Little aid, no contact: Shan State’s IDP crisis

Shan State’s 10,000-plus internally displaced people (IDPs) are now dispersed between more than ten locations in six townships, according to data collected by the Tai Youth Network (TYN), a group of local volunteers worried that the basic needs of the displaced are not being met.

Children displaced by fighting in Shan State eat rice and cabbage in an IDP camp in Mong Hsu Township. (Oum Mwe: S.H.A.N)

“No organization is helping them,” said Sai Hseng Murng, of TYN, after visiting Wan Wa, a Kesi Township village now hosting nearly 1,000 IDPs. The aid that has reached the IDPs has been collected and distributed through community-based relief networks rather than international organizations, local sources explained.

“Cold season is coming and they need more help,” he added. TYN delivered 300 bags of rice and 500,000 kyat (almost $400 USD) to the informal camp yesterday.

Concerned about conditions at Hai Pa, an IDP host site in Mong Hsu Township, Sai Thurein Oo, an MP representing Namzang in the Shan State Parliament, intended to travel to check on those displaced there—an estimated 1,500 people. 

“The local people told us, ‘don’t go,’ because the Burma Army won’t let anyone through,” he said. “No one has been able to contact the Hai Pa IDPs since November 8.”

Burma Army checkpoints on area roads are also allegedly blocking the transport of any large amounts of rice to Mong Hsu, according to local merchants, in order to restrict the amount of aid that reaches IDP camps.

Also the site of repeated clashes, Kesi and Mong Hsu townships were previously host to a total of 6,000 displaced civilians, a number which increased by 40 percent after the current wave of offensives began more than one week ago, on November 10, two days after Burma held its first general election in 25 years.

In the past week, the crisis has extended to new locations, as IDPs have also sought refuge in Laikha, Mong Yai, Namzang Townships and northern Shan State’s Lashio.

Today marks the third day of escalated Burma Army offensives near the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) headquarters, according to a statement released today in Burmese by the SSPP/SSA-N.

 “They attacked with artillery and fighter jets and reinforced their troops,” the statement read. “The refugees are increasing day by day. They have lost their property and they have had to leave their homes and flee. The farmers cannot harvest their rice. The children cannot attend school.”

On November 16, the Burma Army once again attacked the village of Wan Saw, formerly an IDP safe haven, with helicopters and fighter jets, displacing the civilians who remained or had returned after an artillery attack there six days earlier.

Major Sai Su, spokesperson for the SSPP/SSA-N told SHAN that civilians from five villages surrounding Wan Saw fled when they saw the jets on Monday, adding to the number of area IDPs.
Fighter jets reportedly dropped bombs near the SSPP/SSA-N Wan Hai base on November 17. Ground forces continued this attack in the early morning hours today from Kyu Mawk Khao, a Burma Army base; this was reportedly carried out through the repeated use of heavy artillery, a tactic documented regularly since the Burma Army initiated military offensives in central Shan State on October 6.

By SIMMA FRANCIS / Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)

Reporting by NANG HOM and SAI YIPHONG / Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)

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