As renewed heavy fighting erupted since almost one month ago, between the Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Burma Army or Tatmadaw in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone, in addition to the on and off skirmishes with members of the Northern Alliance-Burma (NAB),  the Chinese Ambassador to Burma, Hong Liang urged all the other non-signatory Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), so that the war along the Burma-China border could be stopped and normalcy returned.

NAB is an ethnic military alliance made up of Arakan Army (AA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), MNDAA and Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which has unleashed a counter-offensive on November 20 last year, in Muse Township, northern Shan State, that took the Tatmadaw by surprise. While the alliance has now withdrawn its offensive, saying that it was just a “limited strike” to show its military capability and send the Tatmadaw a strong message that they are a force to be reckoned with, the fallout from the conflict lingers on with sporadic skirmishes taking place until today.

China wants ethnic armed groups in northern Burma to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in order to ease fighting near the Sino-Burma border, China’s ambassador to Burma said in an interview with the state-run New Light of Myanmar on February 12.

“By signing the NCA, battles can be avoided and there can be guarantees for peace and stability along the China-Myanmar border,” Ambassador Hong Liang recently told  the state-run New Light of Myanmar, adding that in order to stop the conflict, “respective parties need to be well convinced of each other.”

Against this backdrop, stakeholders are busy maneuvering or fine tuning their political footwork so that the unfolding scenario would work to their benefit, each in its own way.

Lately, important development that should be taken into account are the Kachin-Karen Laiza Joint Statement, Wa's non-signatory ethnic leadership gathering, State Counselor-United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) scheduled meeting, and the Chinese involvement in the peace process.

KIO-KNU Joint Statement

Another extraordinary occurrence that happened was that the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Karen National Union (KNU) meeting in Laiza, the Kachin headquarters, and the release of a joint statement, pinpointing some paragraphs from the “Deeds of Commitment” signed during the tenure of ex-President Thein Sein, that armed engagement wouldn't be used to settle political disagreement.

The Kachin and Karen seven point joint statement of February 16 pointed out the need to adhere to the peaceful negotiation, all-inclusiveness and rejection of the Tatmadaw calling the KIO and NAB as below:

·         Article No. 3 of the  Deed of Commitment signed on 12 February 2015, by the KNU, Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS),  Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA),  Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army Peace - Council  (KNU/KNLA-PC) and  the  Government  of  Myanmar,  the Tatmadaw (Defense Services), the Union Parliament, 19 State/Regional Ethnic Affairs Ministers  and  55  political  parties,  committed to not  use  force  to  resolve  political problems  but resolve political problems through political means.
·         Article 5 of the Deed further committed the signatories to not engage in armed conflict or  engage  in  matters  that  can  disrupt  the  peace  process  during  the period  peace negotiations are taking place.
·         Chapter  1  (g)  of  the  Nationwide  Ceasefire  Agreement (signed  on  15  October  2015) is committed “To  convene  political  dialogues  with all  relevant participants based  on ethnic peoples’ desires and wishes towards long lasting peace.”
·         (We) further urge that until peace is achieved, all ethnic armed organizations engaged in the peace process, not be considered terrorists but rather as partners in the search for peace.
Two advisers from Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) were also present at the meeting.

It was remarkable, as the KNU leader Mutu Say Poe has been at odd with KIO leadership after its signing of the NCA, together with other seven EAOs that later lead to the suspension of the KNU membership on its own initiative from the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), which it has been a part, when it was formed in February 16, 2011.

Before that speculation were rife that the KNU delegation lobbied Chinese authorities to pressure the KIO into signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), according to a source close to the KNU. But the KIO-KNU seven point joint statement dispelled such speculation, as the KNU was in fact agreeing to the UNFC nine point proposal saying that it would make the existing NCA stronger.

According to Myanmar Times, the KNU official Padoh Saw Ta Doh Moo said, “Though we have signed the NCA earlier, it would be good to have the nine point proposal by UNFC because it would strengthen the ceasefire than now it is.”

Prior to the meeting and making the joint statement public with the KIO, the KNU leader was said to have met the Chinese authorities at their invitation in Kunming.

China's role

The active Chinese role in Burma's peace process is indisputable, since the Kokang conflict erupted in February 2015, when Pheung Kya-shin's MNDAA troops tried to wrestle back the power of  Kokang Self-Administrative Zone from the Burma Army's installed administration. The conflict produced thousands of refugees fleeing to China and also caused deaths and wounded to some Chinese citizens by stray bullets and artillery from the Burma Army. The Chinese reacted strongly to the point that it even pulled out a massive military, live ammunition, exercise for a few days at the border to shock and awe the perpetrators.

But since then, China has quietly corrected and calibrated its policy of non-interference, its shock and awe approach in the case of Kokang conflict, to an approach of “creative involvement”.

Recently, Chinese authorities have invited the KNU leader Mutu Say Poe to Kunming, where the parties should have discussed matters relating the upcoming peace conference. The meeting that followed between the KIO and KNU also touched on the same theme, as the joint statement that came out shortly after indicated.

Apart from that, reportedly, China's special envoy for Burma would also meet the UNFC on February 25, in Chiang Mai Thailand, following the UWSA initiated EAOs leadership meeting, after which a scheduled meeting between the State Counselor and the UNFC would take place sometime within early March.

UWSA meeting

Meanwhile, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) planned EAOs leadership meeting just started on February 21 and is said to go on until 23, where the UNFC and as well the NAB are invited for the gathering. The meeting is believed to map out on how to deal with the upcoming second 21st Century Panglong Conference.

In May and November last year, the UWSA organized two summits among ethnic leaders in Panghsang to strengthen coordination and team building. Again in March, UWSA hosted another coordination meeting between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Shan State Army - South (SSA-S) over their territorial dispute.

According to Ms Yun Sun, a well known analysis on Burma-China relation, China backs UWSA efforts to enhance its leadership role among ethnic groups, hoping that the group could emerge as a centripetal force to rein in and manage various ethnic minorities.

Aung San Suu Kyi and UNFC meet

After weeks of negotiation, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi sent official invitation to meet the UNFC at its request, according to Zaw Htay spokesperson for the presidential office in March.

Tun Zaw, UNFC joint secretary confirmed that the meeting is fixed for March 1 and already confirmed by the government side, according to the report of RFA in its February 20 report.

The 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC) was said to be rescheduled although the exact date could still cannot be determined, as the KNU would be holding its Congress to elect its new leadership every four years, apart from the national-level political dialogue to be held in Chin State still under preparation and Arakan State also pressing to be allowed to do the same.

According Frontier Myanmar recent February 20 report, Zaw Htay said the union conference or 21CPC would be delayed until the end of March, meaning it would be sometime in April.

Regarding the UNFC, it is only interested to discuss policy matters and push through its 9 point proposal to be incorporated into the NCA so that it could sign it and participate in the 21CPC. It has made itself clear that it is not interested to attend the conference either as observer or any status that would be lower than the fully-fledged participants.

Outlook and perspective

There is no doubt that politicking or political maneuvering footwork are intensely going on among the stakeholders as 21CPC is geared to restart soon.

But let us ponder a bit more to see what different stakeholders would likely be having in their mind.

·         The State Counselor would like to push through her rigid time-frame agendas and driving hard to be able to include all non-signatory EAOs;
·         China is also flexing its muscles to indicate that it is now ready to upgrade its sympathetic, supporting bystander stance to become a co-player, if not as an authority for a new set of game;
·         The Tatmadaw is enduring bad press and tarnishing more than ever its own image by committing gross human rights violations in Arakan State and armed conflict ridden Kachin and Shan States, and at the same time, not knowing how to go about on whether to accommodate democratization further or put a stop to it, so that it could continue to maintain its political edge;
·         The UNFC is trying to push through its nine point proposed agenda, in order to be able to achieve a level playing field so that it may not be handicapped in peace negotiation process;
·         The UWSA, together with the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), are worried that if the UNFC could make a deal and enter the 21CPC, they will be left out and won't be able to further their aspirations of upgrading their administrative statuses; and
·         The NAB primary is worried that its members would be left out from the peace dialogue process and would continue to be targeted by further military onslaught.

While it might seem that accommodating such a variety of wish list and aspirations could be really daunting and a mammoth task, all the stakeholders or parties do have one thing in common, which is the absence of war and achievement of peace that would foster reconciliation and political settlement, followed by much needed development in all socioeconomic sectors.

To be able to do this, as time and again been advocated, all parties concerned must first have an unwavering “political will” buttressing it with “trust-building”, a term frequently used by all contenders but rarely put into practice.

As such, the best place to start the realization of political will, which is the achievement of “peace”, would need to create an atmosphere of “trust”. In turn, in order to be trustworthy an act of “trust stimulation” is needed. And this is none other than to stop the war of offensive initiated by the Tatmadaw first and foremost.

If this could be pulled through by the Tatmadaw in good faith, all the rest would eventually fall into line. In other words, the earnest peace process negotiation within the mold of 21CPC could follow, which until today is still in a limbo. Otherwise, we all will continue to be bogged down in the vicious circle of violence and disagreement unable to resolve our differences as civilized human beings should be doing.

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Ethnic politicians call for guarantees ahead of NCA signing

Several ethnic politicians have voiced the opinion that the Burmese government must offer greater guarantees if ethnic armed groups are to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), and say such proposals must be laid out at the second round of peace talks which are scheduled to be held in mid-March.

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) soldiers march on the 20th anniversary in the Headquarters Pangsang in 2009.

Sai Kyaw Nyunt, one of the joint general secretaries of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) who also serves as the secretary of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), said, “The ethnic groups have been cheated for more than 60 years. That’s why we always have doubts. For us to sign the NCA, we must have solid promises.”

He emphasized that all sides need to talk and build trust with one and other at the upcoming peace talks in Naypyidaw, widely dubbed the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference, or 21CPC.

“I want all political parties and ethnic armed groups to attend this upcoming 21st Century Panglong Conference,” said Mon National Party (MNP) Chairman Nai Ngwe Thein. “Those who are responsible [for logistics] should ensure this happens. They should also consider what decisions can be made at this meeting.”

The ethnic Mon leader said that armed conflict is ongoing at a time when they are trying to building peace; therefore, suspicions and doubts must exist on all sides. He called on the Burmese Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hliang to bring about an end to the fighting.

Nai Ngwe Thein said that if the Tatmadaw [Burmese military] declared a cessation of hostilities, then the ethnic groups would follow suit.

According to Saw Kyi Lin, the general secretary of the Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party (Myanmar) based in Karen State capital Hpa-an, it is impossible for just one side to stop the conflict. He said both warring parties must meet to talk peace.
To date, only eight ethnic armed groups that have signed the NCA: Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA); Karen National Union (KNU); Democratic Karen Benevolent Party (DKBA); Karen National Liberation Party-Peace Council (KNLA-PC); Chin National Front (CNF); All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF); Pa-O National Liberation Party (PNLA); and Arakan Liberation Party (ALP).

Another 13 ethnic armies are included in the talks but are yet to sign the accord.

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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Heal: Do Not Wound

"Let us continue the pilgrimage to peace – not return to war.” His Eminence Cardinal Charles Bo makes a plea for peace and an end of conflict in Myanmar.

Myanmar is passing through some of the most agonizing moments in her history. With our hands reaching out, we appeal to all: Please heal – do not wound.

The people of Myanmar are deeply saddened by what looks like a relapse into darker days. Myanmar needs the world’s attention to strengthen its fragile journey to democracy.

Three major events are disturbing the people of Myanmar. The report published by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on 3 February is heart-breaking and profoundly disturbing. The United Nations reports brutality and other grave human rights violations by Myanmar’s security forces in an area north of Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State. The UN High Commissioner portrays such inhumanity and barbarity that it is hard to read about, and hard to believe.

Over the past five years, Myanmar has experienced many positive changes and has become a more open country. My country men and women believe that it is a dawn of hope.  The opening of the economy and media, a functioning democracy, a smooth transfer of power – all pointed towards a new Myanmar of hopes and dreams.

We pray earnestly that this may not become a false dawn. Merchants of hatred are in full swing. Hatred against others of different races and religions has intensified to a very alarming level. What happened in Rakhine state needs to be stopped once for all.

The situation in Kachin and northern Shan states is equally of deep concern to me, particularly with the arrest of two Kachin Christian pastors, Nawng Latt and Gam Seng, in Mong Ko, following the bombing of a Catholic church. I pray for their trial, that justice will be done and they will be released. I pray too for the thousands displaced by recent military offensives in northern Myanmar.

The tragic assassination of U Ko Ni just over two weeks ago was another step backwards for Myanmar and a blow to our hopes of democracy and peace in our country. I send my heartfelt condolences to his family and friends, and my prayers for his family, and for all those with whom he worked and who continue his courageous efforts to move towards the constitutional reform so needed in Myanmar.

I call on the government of Myanmar to bring an end to the military offensive against civilians in Rakhine state. Peace with justice is possible and is the only way.

I call on the government of Myanmar to bring an end to the military offensives in Kachin and northern Shan states.
I call on the government of Myanmar to allow unhindered access to all parts of Rakhine state, Kachin state and northern Shan state for international humanitarian aid agencies, media and human rights monitors.

I call on the government of Myanmar to work with the international community to investigate the crimes reported by the United Nations, in a truly independent way that results in justice and accountability.

And I appeal to the international community to be vigilant. You have welcomed positive changes. People of Myanmar seek peaceful and positive change. Merchants of hatred who lived by spilling the blood of brother against brother are active again.  Myanmar needs the world community to extend all support to the present democratic government with clear understanding that violence against any population is not acceptable.

I offer my prayers and solidarity to everyone in Myanmar – and especially at this time in Rakhine state, Kachin state and northern Shan state – who is bereaved, vulnerable, fearful, homeless, hungry, sick and to all the orphans and widows, the victims of rape and torture.

Let the UN’s devastating report serve as a wake-up call for us all.

Let us work together to end violence and terror in our country, and to build a Myanmar where every man, woman and child of every race and religion born on Myanmar soil is recognised both as our fellow citizen and as our brother and sister in humanity.

Let us build a Myanmar where hope is not an illusion, and where we can join hands, regardless of ethnicity or religion, in peace and solidarity. I pledge to renew my efforts to that end, and I extend my hand to any of my brothers and sisters of any race or religion who will join with me. Peace with Justice is possible. 2017 has been declared a year of peace by the Catholic Church.

Let us continue the pilgrimage to peace – not return to war.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo is Archbishop of Yangon and became Myanmar’s first ever Cardinal in 2015. He has long been a foremost advocate in the country for human rights, religious freedom, inter-religious harmony, peace and justice.

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Advocacy Group Calls for Reform of Burma’s Drug Laws and Policies

RANGOON — The Drug Policy Advocacy Group (DPAG) has called for a reform of Burma’s drug laws, demanding new policies focusing on the rehabilitation of drug users.

“The 1993 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law focuses on punishment. But what then, after a drug user is given imprisonment?” asked Dr. Nang Pann Ei Kham, coordinator of DPAG, during a Thursday panel discussion in Rangoon on addressing Burma’s drug problems.

According to Burma’s 1993 narcotics law, anyone found guilty under the statute “shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend from a minimum of 5 years to a maximum of 10 years and may also be liable to a fine.”

DPAG has been working to develop an advocacy platform for “non-punitive, evidence-based drug policy changes” in the country. The group was formed in 2014 by “likeminded” organizations and individuals, and supports a global campaign to rehabilitate and reintegrate drug users into society under the theme “Support, Don’t Punish.”

The group networks with both domestic and international groups, such as the National Drug Users Network Myanmar (NDNM), Myanmar Opium Farmers Forum (MOFF), Myanmar Anti-Narcotics Association (MANA), Medicins du Monde (MdM), Save the Children, Transnational Institute (TNI), HIV/AIDS Alliance and the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission.

“The 1993 law is out of date, and what’s more, is that it has not been a successful law [in terms of] drug elimination,” said Dr. Nang Pann Ei Kham.

The key recommendations raised by DPAG included decriminalization of drug use and of small-scale poppy farming by those with limited sources of livelihood.

The group also recommends voluntary treatment for drug addiction, and the assurance that drug-related laws and policies demonstrate respect for human rights.

Other recommendations included a greater focus on the prevention and elimination of organized crimes, large-scale drug production and human trafficking, and inclusion of civil society organizations (CSOs) and vulnerable populations in the policymaking process.

The group also called on the government to provide greater support for development projects in ethnic areas where poppies are grown.

Dr. Mi Mi Khaing Zin from MANA also spoke out in favor of a new drug law that respects human rights and focuses on the rehabilitation of drug addicts.
“The 1993 law focuses on punishment rather than the health problems of drug addicts,” said Dr. Mi Mi Khaing Zin.

According to the governmental anti-drug body the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC), a working group comprised of several CSOs and government ministries reviewed Burma’s 1993 narcotics law in order to adopt a new policy with a treatment-oriented response to drug addiction.

Burma is currently the second largest producer of raw opium in the world, after Afghanistan, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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ENAC hosts forum to discuss federal union policies

Members of the Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Centre (ENAC) are hosting talks with Burmese government representatives to discuss the nine ethnic affairs points drafted to support ambitions for the establishment of a federal union in Burma.

Civil society groups and members of the public have also been invited to the two-day forum, branded the ENAC Policy Field Consultation Workshop, which began yesterday in Shan State capital Taunggyi.

ENAC describes itself as an independent organization that supports the peace process and the development of democratic institutions in Burma.

Sai Nyunt Lwin, a member of ENAC’s board of directors and general secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), said that the aim of this workshop is to clarify the policy recommendations so that they may be included in the drafting of a new constitution.

“Nine points were drafted on policies, including education, health, trade and investment, natural resources and taxation,” he said.

According to Sai Nyunt Lwin, ENAC previously held similar workshops in Yangon, Mon State’s Mawlamyine, Karen State’s Hpa-an, eastern Shan State’s Kengtung township and northern Shan State’s Lashio township. He said that they will continue to host forums in other parts of Burma in order to draw suggestions from the public.

“We aim to host such conferences in the areas where we have not already done so,” he said. “The next workshop may be in Chin State or Rakhine State.”

“We want to reach out to the public to hear their voices on this drafting policy,” he added.

Founded in July 2013, ENAC has been conducting trainings and workshops on the issues of economics, politics, security, land rights and resource management to civil society groups, ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and political parties. 

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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Commentary on "Relatives barred from Padoh Mahn Sha statue ceremony"

Reminds me of our meeting with Padoh Mahn Sha, together with David Tharkabaw, Saw Sarkis and my wife some two years before he was assassinated.

Through correspondence with him, I came to know on how he was thinking in terms of ethnic struggle for self-determination and national unity.

His wisdom is that in order to achieve self-determination rights for the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities, they need to work in unison militarily and politically. Besides, the ethnic should and must seek cooperation and coordination with the like-minded democratic elements from the Bamar masses, political parties and even from the Burma Army.

A bold initiative at that time, as the ethnic groups only understood that the Tatmadaw or Burma Army was an evil entity and must be avoided or gotten rid of it but never to be considered as an alliance in the ethnic struggle for self-determination.

No doubt, his progressive thought has found the way, not even in the KNU but also into other ethnic resistance movements, finding large acceptance on how they should go about with their struggles.

Padoh Mahn Sha's political legacy will live on for a long time to come.

Link to the story : Relatives barred from Padoh Mahn Sha statue ceremony

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Commentary on "Preparing for the next Panglong conference"

It is a time tested conclusion that the Tatmadaw, and also the Aung San Suu Kyi headed NLD regime for that matter, cannot go it alone.

The wishful-thinking of that the Tatmadaw's military pressure to break the will of the ethnic resistance into accepting the watered down version of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) version, which is not accompanied by ending the Tatmadaw's offensives in Shan and Kachin States, lacks all-inclusiveness participation and equitable, level playing field, will remain an illusion or pipe dream only.

As for Suu Kyi, coercively sticking to her rigid time schedule would eventually bring in the NCA-non-signatory ethnic armies is also equally an impoverish way of thinking, likely following the Inter Mediate's, a policy think-tank that supervises Suu Kyi, suggestion, according to a knowledgeable signatory ethnic armed organization.

It seems Suu Kyi is employing a paternalistic attitude, by probably thinking and believing that: "She is grabbing the non-signatories of NCA by the collars and forcibly putting them into a paradise-like atmosphere - literally Nat Pyi in Burmese, where the latter complained that it is too high and instead jumped down".

What a pity that the situation has been misinterpreted by the Tatmadaw and as well Suu Kyi.

Link to the story:

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Commentary on " Dialogue or despair: Two futures for the peace process"

What Aung Naing Oo pointed out is most crucial to the continuation of peace process dialogue.

His suggestion of "Unnecessary restrictions must also be removed. Flexibility must be prioritized. Negotiators must be provided with proper policy direction and communication," or key words like “restriction, flexibility,and communication” are most important to keep the process going.

In plain words, for example the issue of "restriction", like Paragraph 17/1, Association with Illegal Organizations Act that could cause personal security concern for the ethnic resistance leaders should be waived, if not abolished it all. The detention of one All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF) leader, whose party is a signatory of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), is still detained with the Burma Army initiative, is the case in point. In the same vein, a dozen or so soldiers of Ararkan Liberation Party (ALP), also an NCA signatory are detained and their weapons confiscated, citing trespassing their designated areas, and still are under detention.

"Flexibility" in this period of ongoing peace process should mean looking the other way or turn a blind eye for the sake of a bigger picture or goal-setting. In this case, it is the achievement of the political settlement through negotiations. The Tatmadaw is just doing the opposite, by imposing its own rule of being a sole protector of the national sovereignty, when in fact this is the very notion that has been the bone of contention for adversaries and all parties involved in the peace process.

It should be clear that while the Tatmadaw wants to be the sole owner of the country's sovereignty, the ethnic nationalities see it as their ultimate goal to wrestle it back, in the form of a "shared-sovereignty". It is a political demand and they are risking their lives so that the political equation is changed into a form of federal union system of governance. In other words, this should be negotiated at the peace conference and not already taken for granted by the Tatmadaw, as it is now doing and acting with implementation that isn't helping the peace process to be fruitful at all.

Regarding "communication", especially with concern to JMC or ceasefire joint-monitoring procedure, it is not at all working, seen from several firefights with the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) or the Shan State army - South, which is also an NCA signatory.

All in all, it is the “political will” and sincerity that is badly needed from the part of the Tatmadaw to end its offensive wars in Kachin and Shan States, in the name of safeguarding the country's sovereignty, and come down from its moral high horse of being the sole protector and owner of the national sovereignty and national unity, using sheer military might, which has failed to work, after employing the said policy for decades.

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