To Hopeland and Back (Part II) #4

Day Three (11 June 2013)

Naypyitaw is big, looks big and quite deserted. For 2 days we were driven around from one place to another, passing by big buildings which looked uninhabited, including the Parliament, which was not in session at the time of our visit.

They appear to have been designed by someone who’s an expert in psychology and knows how to impress innocent rebels coming from the remote hills and jungles. If they are in awe of how big you are, maybe they won’t push too hard on a bargain.

The Parliament

Then, we passed through the only place teeming with people and home-like houses. I asked the driver what it was and he said, “It’s Kyat-Pyay, the original village.”

Apart from sight-seeing, a series of meetings took place.

The RCSS delegation discussed land, mines (mineral not land), national IDs, census 2014 and drugs with ministerial department officials concerned, assisted by the MPC.

One of the sticky questions discussed at length was on issuing ID cards for an estimated 500,000-1,000,000 Shans working, some legally but mostly illegally, in Thailand. Naypyitaw officials had pointed out that they, with assistance from Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), had been able to provide IDs and household registers with One Stop Services for 300,000 Karens.

However the difference is that while most Karens are IDPs and refugees, their Shan counterparts are illegals in Thailand. Without cooperation from the Thai government plus huge funding, the hope of getting them back in time for the 2014 census seems dim.

Compared to it, getting IDs and household registers for unregistered people living in the countryside across the Shan State seems like a piece of cake. Even for it, a task force would be necessary to see that the operation runs with as as few hitches as possible, said MPC’s U Hla Maung Shwe.

According to him, the retired Senior General is taking no part in the running of the country these days. On 24 August 2010, after naming successors for the post-election administration, he had instructed that no one disturb his privacy for a year.

Also according to him, at least some leading members of the ruling party seem to think that amendment of the constitution should focus on the legislative lists — to see that enough power is devolved from the union to the states — and not the main text. Which, of course, is not in line with what the opposition is thinking. The Lady, for instance, has suggested that the amendment should begin with Chapter 12. Amendment of the Constitution which stipulates that any attempt to change the charter must be supported by “more than” three-quarters of all the members of the Union Parliament, a quarter of which are military-appointees.

Waiting for Vice President Sai Mawk Kham to arrive: (left to right) Yawd Serk, Hla Maung Shwe, Soe Win, Aung Than Htut and Aung Min. (Photo: Jastin Minn)

During the evening, we had a surprise meeting with Deputy Senior General Soe Win, deputy commander in chief of the armed forces and commander of the army, and Lt-Gen Aung Than Tut, who oversees military operations in Shan and Kayah states.

According to them, 97 clashes had taken place between the Burma Army and the Shan State Army (SSA) South since the Kengtung meeting on 19 May 2012, over a year ago, because the SSA had not abided by the ceasefire agreement.

I informed them that there appeared to be different interpretations of the three agreements that have been signed so far. The Burma army rendered that the SSA’s freedom of movement with arms is limited to the two sub-townships along the Thai border: Homong and Mongtaw. Hence, any movement outside the two must be notified to the Army. The SSA South meanwhile has stuck to the original verbal agreement with U Aung Min at their first meeting in Chiangrai, on 19 November 2011. According to it, the SSA would remain in areas where its forces had arrived and would move no further. They would also not attack any Burma Army positions both in towns and cities, and along the main thoroughfare. Had not it been for that, the ceasefire agreement on 2 December 2011 wouldn’t have been signed.

Besides, Homong and Mong Taw were designated only as locations for the RCSS/SSA administrative offices, and not as areas where all of its forces far and near should be brought in.

The two sides, after 1 hour and 10 minutes of informal discussion, agreed that army-to-army communications must be established to deal with military matters. In the past, it had been almost always through U Aung Min. Lt-Gen Aung Than Tut, who says he is a half Shan from Phyu (near Rangoon), was designated as the SSA’s contact number.
Both sides then went to the dinner party hosted by Sai Tip Awn at his Tungaburi Restaurant.

Gen Soe Win, I was informed, was only 53 and, being next in line to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, it would be better for the non-Burman armed movements to cultivate close relationship with him.

It wasn’t a bad idea and the RCSS/SSA would do well to hold a meeting with the Burmese military, I thought as I prepared for bed. There was also matters of the military backing the militias against the SSA and not taking action against their drug involvement. And since the government has no say in military affairs, one cannot do worse by dealing with the Burmese military directly.


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