How Real is Thein Sein's Reformation in Burma, and what it means to the Non-Burman Ethnic Nationalities

There couldn't be a greater blow to all ethnic nationalities than when Britain offered to train the Burmese dictatorial army; and hearing the news that The British government has approved arms export licenses worth over US$5 million (£3.3 million) to Burma, even though it is considered a country of “serious human rights” concern and continues to be the subject of an EU arms embargo.

By following and studying the behavior and mentality of members of the Burmese military/political Institution for many decades, can anyone blame me if I am skeptical of the promises made by any of these members? Bertil Lintner wrote in his article, “The Military's still in Charge”: “It is too often forgotten that Thein Sein came to power through the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the name for Burma's military regime. ---.” His positions included General in the Burmese army, First Secretary of SPDC, and later Prime Minister (a position he held up until he became president).

“At no stage in his career did Thein Sein display any political independence or initiative. He was a loyal soldier, hand-picked by then-SPDC chairman and prime minister, Than Shwe. Thein Sein always said and did what he was told”.

During the two years of Thein Sein's “civilian” government, no doubt, things are better, and have improved in big cities, but the opposite is true in the internal regions of the Shan and other ethnic states. Although there has been cease-fire agreement between the Thein Sein Government and many of the ethnic resistance armies, warring and committing crimes against the Kachins and Rohingya are still continuing. The Burmese soldiers are still attacking the Shan army bases, recently there were three clashes in a day. Villages are being set on fire, and a Shan Buddhist monastery was burnt down to convert it into an army base, making the monks homeless. Many villagers are also still fleeing from their own homes, while those who had fled to foreign countries during the past decades should be returning to their homelands, are still scared to return.

The transition to civilian rule is supposed to be making steady progress, yet power still lies in the same hand, the military dictators. Burma is still ruled by dictators, with the full apparatus intact. In areas where non-Burman ethnic nationalities dominate wars seem to be non-stop, and large number of military battalions are advancing on ethnic areas, while the Thein Sein Government and the ethnic leaders are supposed to be discussing the peace process.

One after the other, all the Shan, Karen, Karenni, Arakan, Kachin, Chin and Mon, without exception, each by turn had a full share of the evil of this war. The effect has been tragic: people are suffering and hurting. Countless have died, women and girls have been raped and children have become orphans and many have grown up without education. Their countries' resources and the environment have been vandalized and depleted.

It is hard for the non- Burman ethnic nationalities to be optimistic as their dream of freedom from the control of the dictatorial army, regaining their ethnic rights, equality and genuine democracy seem to be further away. The dictatorial army, with the power of weapons is still shaping the politics of Burma.

As the world's superpowers are experienced in dealing with many dictators and authoritarian governments, the Shan and other ethnic nationalities thought they could rely on them to do the right thing. On the contrary, they seem to be promoting dictatorship rather than democracy.

The speed with which the international community moved to relax sanctions, and hastened to engage with the Thein Sein Government came as a shock to many ethnic nationalities and their advocates.

There couldn't be a greater blow to all ethnic nationalities than when Britain offered to train the Burmese dictatorial army; also with the news that “The British government has approved arms export licenses worth over US$5 million (£3.3 million) to Burma, even though it is considered a country of “serious human rights” concern and continues to be the subject of an EU arms embargo.”

Ta Emi commented:” I think the present British Government is very shortsighted, and ignorant of what is really going on in Burma. The Burmese dictatorial army, who is noted for its heinous crimes against humanity is being encouraged and spurred on by the government to continue to remain as an army of the country, as if they were the heroes. In order to have a credible central army to defend and protect the whole Federal Union, the present army will have to be dissolved. A new Army will have to be formed by recruits from all ethnic nationalities of Burma”.

Paul Hubrich says:

July 18, 2013 at 7:05 pm

“I lived in Myanmar for a year and I can promise you that this is the worst idea one could have. The Myanmar military is not only in control of Thein Sein, it is a melting pot of rapists and criminals. For further question I want to suggest to read the conflict barometer of the Heidelberg Institute of Conflict Research where you get an overview over all the military activities in Myanmar during the last year. The systematic killing of Karen and Kachin is a crime against humanity and is supported by the British government. Congrats, well done guys”

If the British really want to help Burma towards peace and progress, it should make it a priority to put pressure and advise Thein Sein to settle the fifty year old political crisis, instead of concentrating on what it can get out of Burma, and trying to be on the right side of the President, and rewarding and praising him for every superficial reform he makes. Peace will not come to Burma as a result short fixes, or even widespread economic development, but it can be resolved by the removal of the greatest obstacle, the powerful dictatorial army. When the dictatorial armed forces are withdrawn from all the ethnic states there will be instant peace. As in all democratic countries, the new military formed should be the real protector of the country and its people, not the enemy of the people nor be above the law. It should be accountable to the democratically elected Government.

This could be followed by a dialogue between the Thein Sein Government and other stakeholders. The Federal System, which is the root cause of the fifty years old conflict, should be debated and discussed. It is the only thing that can iron out the dire political crisis in Burma. All Western Governments, especially Britain should encourage the adoption of the Federal System in Burma and not try to avoid and back away from the topic.

The contributor is the daughter of the ruling prince of Lawksawk and the author of “My Vanished World”.


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