Repentance and political will key to Burma’s peace process

By Sai Wansai
Monday, 19 August 2013

After reading a recent piece, dated 16 August, written by Harn Yawnghwe, in DVB, titled: “Can President Thein Sein be trusted?” two crucial points raised, need to be emphasized. One is “engaging the Bama or Burman” and the other, the need to learn from our “past mistakes”.

Sai Wansai
In his closing remark, Harn Yawnghwe writes: “Can we learn from our mistakes? Now, as then, conditions are not ideal. Will we wait for ideal conditions or will we make the best of the situation and try to make them better?”

I really don't think Harn Yawnghwe should worry about the non-Burman ethnic nationalities for not engaging the Bama or political power holder of the day seriously enough.

The hard fact is that most of the ethnic armed movements have showed their enthusiastic appreciation and even signed initial ceasefire agreements with the Thein Sein government, responding to his peace and reconciliation calls shortly after he came to power in the early 2011, although ironically, the armed clashes still continue to these days unabated. To date, more than a hundred fire fights have been registered and the count is increasing with the ongoing armed clashes in Shan State, since the signing of ceasefire agreements between the government and both, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) and Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) two years ago, and even not to mention the continued armed engagement with Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) in northern Shan State and Kachin State, despite an agreement signed two months earlier to deescalate the armed conflict with the Burma Army.

The first reason for such continued armed engagements is due to Burma Army's military occupation of the ethnic homelands and treated them as its colonial possessions, employing almost all of its available armed forces. Secondly, it’s so-called "area clearance and control" policy of continued military operations to subjugate the non-Burman ethnic nationalities, which pushed them to militarily engage the Burma Army in self defence.

Politically, most of the armed ethnic groups are still engaged in peace and reconciliation talks with the quasi-civilian Thein Sein government, although substantial outcomes and concrete results are still out of reach. In short, it is somewhat like a form of “talking, while fighting”, but nevertheless it is an engagement on both fronts, politically and militarily.

I totally agree with Harn Yawnghwe on the fact that the conditions are not ideal and that we should make use of the existing chance or situation to open up a dialogue that might lead to a better solution.

My take is that the non-Burman ethnic nationalities, particularly groups’ members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), are in fact enthusiastically making use of the less than ideal situation to engage the Burmese generals, who are on active duty and as well, the retired-turned politicians.

The UNFC statement on 02 August 2013, following the Ethnic Conference for Peace and National Reconciliation just merely spelled out their political position and in no way should be seen as rejecting the dialogue process.

It is also true that the rebuilding of the new union should not be left alone to the Bama. But the fact is that the ethnic nationalities need a basic cooperation from the powers-that-be in Naypyitaw, plus the Burmese military, that they are ready to revert back to the original promise of the federal form of governance, which have been agreed on the eve of the independence from the British, at Panglong, in 1947, without any deviation.

Harn Yawnghwe has openly said that first the ethnic nationalities must accept the 2008 Constitution and the Thein Sein government as a pre-condition to engage in reconciliation talks. But the problem is how the ethnic nationalities could abandon their political goal of rebuilding a genuine federalism, if they have to yield to the present, presidential unitary system. This will amount to the abandonment of their long struggle to regain their rights of self-determination, democracy and equality, within the mold of "unity in diversity". One could hardly give up your political commitment or goal by accepting the opposite or contrary political system anchored in presidential unitary form of government. To put it differently, the ethnic nationalities could not surrender their political rights and aspiration of a genuine federalism and accept a Bama-dominated unitary, central control system, without question.

In short, engagement on an equal term should be accepted and promoted, but definitely not the “negotiated surrender” trend in any form.

Certainly, we can all learn from our mistakes, provided one has a "political will", accept the real course of history and has enough courage to "call a spade a spade".

Tragically, the agreed principle of building a genuine federal system of government has never taken off from the ground, as all the architects, General Aung San and his cabinet members, gearing up to form a new political entity, based on federal structure, were all assassinated before it took place, on the 19 July 1947.  All know that the non-Burman ethnic nationalities have joined the union, voluntarily and in good faith.

If there is anything we could learn from our past mistakes, it is to honour Panglong Agreement in words and deeds. The rejection of building a true federal union, from the part of the Burmese military, and hijacking of the country’s political power for itself have to be accepted as a cardinal sin and failure, if real reconciliation is to be started. There is a saying in Burmese that “if one doesn't know the real illness, appropriate medicine cannot be found”. The same goes for the political and ethnic conflicts in Burma.

In short, the Burmese military and the Thein Sein regime must embrace the fact that the successive military regimes have trampled upon the Panglong Agreement and its spirit and sought to build a unitary, centralized, Burman-dominated State for more than half a century, without success. And to end all these woes, the present regime must have the "political will" to repent on its past failure of political hijacking and a genuine desire or commitment to rebuild a true federal system of governance, envisioned by our founding forefathers of independence era.


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