Peacemakers need to work fast and furious

Following the 6th meeting between Naypyitaw’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the ethnic armies’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), Lt-Gen Myint Soe, head of the Burma Army’s Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) #2, reportedly told the media the long-awaited Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) could be signed by 1 August.

Perhaps not to be outdone, the NCCT’s Dr Lian Hmung Sakhong responded by saying it could be done earlier, probably by May.

Since then the two sides had met again from 5-8 April when they successfully worked out a single text document for the NCA. Dr Lian later said both found each other 50% in consensus.

However when the NCCT met again on 28-19 April in Chiangmai, they found too many wordings both were in disagreement (such as whether to designate the non-Burman armed opposition “Ethnic Armed Movements” or “Armed Ethnic Movements”) plus a few but serious differences in principles (such as disagreements between the two sides will be arbitrated by the government’s most powerful organ, National Defense and Security Council (NDSC)), popularly known as “Ka-Long”.

Simple people like the writer and the rest may scoff and say, “What’s in a name?” But for the NCCT, made up by members some of whom are well-versed in legal matters, words and names do matter. “We concluded that we would need to focus more on the concepts rather than the wordings themselves,” Dr Lian told SHAN. “If we find out that both sides share the same concepts, then a rose by any other names would smell just as sweet.”

The NCCT is reportedly holding a last minute meeting in the Kachin resistance capital of Laiza to finalize its proposals to the planned 8th UPWC-NCCT meeting on 19-20 May, which has been postponed to 21-22 May.  It is not known whether the UPWC is having its own meeting in the meantime.

But judging from the situation, it is unlikely the NCA could be signed anytime soon unless and until, as Naypyitaw’s chief negotiator U Aung Min said, both sides are ready to meet halfway with each other.

Part of that halfway should preferably be to push most of the political issues (such as adherence to federalism and the 2008 constitution) to where they should be i.e. the next stages: negotiations for framework for political dialogue and most particularly the political dialogue itself. That would save a lot of space and time for the NCA.

Another important point is that the two sides, instead of meeting once or twice a month, should meet every day to work out the NCA together. That will at least help ease well-founded fears that either each is or both sides are deliberately trying to forestall the much-anticipated political dialogue.

Now we all wait for the upcoming meeting in Rangoon on Wednesday, 21 May, in suspense.

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Peace Process in Burma: Beware of new Cold War

Call it KMT aggression. Or call it War on Drugs, if you like. Or both. But the 40 year war between successive Burmese governments and their people from 1949 to 1989 when the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) was overthrown by its Kokang, Wa and Mongla forces, wars also part of the Cold War that was fought between the world’s superpowers.

The country and its people had paid an enormous price for allowing itself to become a battle field:

  • From the richest country in Southeast Asia, it became the poorest, from which it is still struggling to be free
  • From a burgeoning democracy on its way to a vibrant federalism, it became a unitary state under one of the world’s most vicious military dictatorships
Just to name a few.
The country, under President Thein Sein’s leadership, is now at least seemingly back on the road to becoming a nation governed by the will of the people, one that is peaceful and fraternal among each other, and, if possible, prosperous too.

War is still being fought, yes. But, compared to our immediate eastern neighbor, we are at least talking to each other too, bowing to the wish of our people who are demanding peace.
Here, we should realize, from our 1949-1989 bitter experience, that peace in our country does not depend only on the mutual goodwill among ourselves but also the “live and let live” benevolence by our neighbors, especially the superpowers.

Today China is expanding on every front, with India and Japan watching and preparing in concern. America is back with its Asia pivot program under President Obama.

Under these circumstances, miscalculations can send us back to the 1949-89 situation, or worse.

Showing undue favor to either the US or China, even outwardly or privately, by our leaders can be disastrous.

SHAN therefore hopes Burma’s leaders today, both government and non-government, will exercise their wisdom, prudence and resourcefulness to the utmost to give peace a chance both during our lifetime and for our sons and daughters.

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The curse of Shan unity/disunity

tiger-as-editorLast 9 April, 3,663 Shan monks together with elders from 52 townships in Shan State sent a signed appeal to 4 major Shan movements – 2 of which are political parties and the other 2 armed groups – urging them to merge into one single party and one single army.

Two other demands are that all 4 share one single political goal and uphold one single basic law. “Non-compliance will mean non-support from us,” it warns.

This unwanted historic heritage has been commented by several scholars, both Shan and non-Shan, among whom was Sir James Geoge Scott, former Commissioner of Shan States.
The Shans, he wrote, possess “the national characteristic of a liking for small communities, in confederation with others of their race, but steadily averse to subordination to one central power, which would have given them the stability and the conquering force which might have made them masters of all Indo-China, to say nothing of possibly the hegemony of China itself. The Burmese have been given the reputation of having devised the sagacious policy of splitting up the Shan States, and so ruling them with ease, but the truth is that they would have had much more difficulty in persuading the people to submit to the rule of one or two chiefs of greatly extended territories.”

Surkhanfa, 1291-1364 (Portrait: Harthai)
Indeed, another scholar W.W.Cochrane wrote that “A prince of Mao (Surkhanfa, 1291-1364) was the only Shan that ever united these squabbling states into one solid kingdom.” Since then, one after another, several Shan leaders have successively tried to forge unity among them mostly without success, and if successful was brief. One of the historic instances was the unity at the 1947 Panglong Conference to join hands with the Burmans for independence.

Since then, everything has been downhill for the Shans.

No wonder to many, the Shans appear to be through, finished. The old ones are sick and the young ones are weaklings. As a result, the wolves and the buzzards are coming, each for a piece of its own. And in the end, nothing will be left for the Shans.

It would certainly be a sad story, because the Shans will be sinking within sight of their own next of kin: Laotian and Thais, who are independent, together with Ahoms, Dai, Zhuang, Yi and Tai who are dependents in India, China and Vietnam. And, inevitably, with the Shans’ demise, they would be next in line.

However, there is still one hope and that is the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU) formed last year by the said four movements with the lofty aim to speak in one voice with the country’s rulers. Their goal is to achieve the Right of Self Determination, meaning not independence as dreaded by their Burman masters, but having its own government, legislature and judiciary within a federal union.

Like Scott said, even without outsiders’ machinations, the job will be a full time one. But if successful, it will be for the good of everyone, both Shan and non-Shan alike. Indeed, what good has the Divide and Rule policy of successive Burmese governments brought, except war and worsening poverty?

SHAN therefore hopes everyone concerned, at least for one’s own sake, will chip in and help Shans restore their unity that has shunned them for so long. Give unity a chance.

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The way to peace: Practise what The Buddha preaches

The 16th of April is regarded as the New Year for most of the people of Burma who are Buddhists, although Buddhist scriptures have not mentioned April as New Year. Indeed, for real Buddhists, the New Year begins with the end of the Full Moon Day of the Kasone (The 6th Lunar Month for Shans) that falls either in May or June, when the Buddha passed away into Nirvana.

The event epitomizes, one may say, the time-honored weird custom of the Buddhists of Burma to revere somebody without observing his/her teachings.

The Buddha has taught that one has three duties:

  • To strive for one’s own enlightenment
  • To strive for the good of one’s community
  • To strive for the good of the world
At the same time, He has indeed maintained that supporting one’s community as one of the highest blessings.

But ever upholding the Middle Way, he has never said one should only love one’s community and hate others. On the contrary, He has urged His disciples ‘Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own life, even so let one cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings.’ (From What The Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula)
He had also warned them not to form excessive attachment to one’s own community.

However, while most of the people of Burma are proud of being Buddhists, few of them can claim to be following in His footsteps. That is, one may say, one of the reasons why the country has being at war with itself for the past 66 years. One may even say that is the fruit of being a nation of hypocrites.
Water Festival (Potrait: U Ba Kyi)

The answer therefore is simple: Let us all listen and follow His teachings of loving-kindness starting with our leaders:
  • Reduce our extremist nationalism
  • Love all the people of Burma, whether they be Bamars or non-Burmars, Buddhist and non-Buddhist
Then we are sure to witness a peaceful and prosperous nation that rises out of turmoil just as a lotus rises out of a marshland before long.
A Happy Burmese New Year!

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2008 constitution and Wa call for statehood

If Wa wants a separate from the Shans, it is not by antagonizing them, but by waging a charm offensive, according to the military-drawn constitution.

The Wa, together with PaO, Palaung, Kokang and Danu, has been granted a Self Administered statues with 6 townships in Shan State, of which 4: Pangwai, Mongmai, Napharn, and Panghsang (Pangkham) are under the control of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and 2 (Hopang and Markmang) under the Burma Army.

In addition, the northwestern part of Mongyang township (designated Mongpawk sub-township by Naypyitaw), and some parts of Mongton and Monghsat townships on the Thai-Burmese border are effectively under Wa control.


Map: Wa and Mongla controlled areas

Moreover, Mongla that has demanded an Akha Self Administered status, if approved, will virtually become a Wa vassal.

So what does the 2008 constitution has to say about this?
Article 53 has outlined the following procedure:
  • The first step is prior consent of the electorate residing within the (affected) township (s) must be obtained. More than half of the total number of the electorate will be necessary
  • The second step is consent of three-quarters of the total number of representatives of the state/region legislature concerned. The President shall then “de-lineate the territorial boundary of the Region or State concerned”
  • In the event the state/region legislature concerned has decided against the delineation, the resolution of the Union Panglong must be obtained
Since only 15 out of 55 townships in Shan State enjoy non-Shan self administered status, it is quite clear the Wa can win this battle only by blarney and not by brawn, unless they have a higher authority to appeal to.

But since 2 April, the UWSA’s 171st Military Region, known as its southern command, has crossed the Salween to the west bank under the Shan State Army (SSA)’s sway to set up outposts that would guard its gold dredging activities on the river. Inevitably, an armed confrontation has taken place.

Loi Taileng, the SSA headquarters, says it has notified both Panghsang and Naypyitaw to observe the ceasefire that had been concluded since 2011. So far neither the UWSA nor the Burma Army appears to have taken notice.

2008 constitution or not, one thing seems to be certain if this sad deterioration of relationship between the Wa and the Shan continues: The Shan can forget their struggle for greater autonomy and the Wa their struggle for a statehood. Because the ultimate winner can be no other than the Burma Army leaders who still cherish their dreams of establishing the 4th Burmese empire.

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Naypyitaw makes latest proposal tantalizing

Call it whatever you like, “a big bait” or “a real change of heart”, but the government’s latest Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) draft, reportedly drawn up by the military is a long way off from its hang-tough original that was dished out to the armed resistance movements (ARMs) last November, according to some of its excerpts that recently came to SHAN.
No longer in it are:

  • Previous agreements (made between the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee and the 14 ARMs) that are in line with existing laws will be approved
  • The ARMs must abandon their armed struggles
Instead, one reads the following surprising set of propositions:
  • To enact a military Code of Conduct (COC) within 30 days after the NCA signing
  • To agree and implement on the Framework for political dialogue within 60 days
  • To set up a mechanism for lodging complaints on human rights violations
  • Political dialogue should be aimed at establishing a Pyidaungsu (Union of states) system acceptable to all national races
  • Apart from The Three Causes (ie. Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Unity and Perpetuation of National Sovereignty), every issue is negotiable
  • Participation by women representatives at “appropriate proportion”
A seven-point roadmap has also been proposed:
  • Nationwide ceasefire
  • Drafting framework for political dialogue
  • Implementation of ‘security-related reintegration’
  • Holding of Political Dialogue
  • Convening of National Peace Conference
  • Signing of National Peace Accord
  • Ratification by Union Parliament
No doubt, many will welcome the latest draft as a sign of the military coming around to “our way of thinking”. Meanwhile, many others, “once too many bitten, twice too many shy”, will be doubly careful about it and start looking in it for a catch.
At this point, the words of Chinese sage (Shan, according to some researchers) Lao Zi will be worthy of consideration:
Quick promises mean little trust
Everything easy means great difficulty
Thus for the sage, everything is difficult
And so in the end, nothing is difficult
(Chapter 63, Dao De Jing)
Note    At the 9-10 March meeting, the NCCT was presented with 3 drafts: from 1. Myitkyina, 2. post-Myitkyina and 3. Defense Services (Army). The one discussed here is the third draft i.e. from the Army.

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President’s Myitkyina speech needs support especially from the Army

Last Sunday, 16 March, President Thein Sein made an unprecedented visit to Myitkyina, capital of the Kachin State. Unprecedented because he was accompanied by the defense chief Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who was with him when he delivered his address to the Kachin Baptist Federation.

President Thein Sein addressing people of Kachin State in Myitkyina, 16 March 2014. (Photo:

The following are the highlights of his speech:
  • The day to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) has drawn near. We hope the Kachin State will also join the peace process.
  • Whatever differences there are in race and religion, our common goals are stability, peace, unity and prosperity. It is important to build up Unity in Diversity and transform diversity into a collective power
  • Political round table long desired by all the national races will immediately follow the NCA
  • No one, not just the KIO/KIA, can be left behind in the peace process
That the Army is on board is not just an idle argument this time, according to the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC). During the 9-10 March meeting between the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC):
  • 4 lieutenant generals (Myat Tun Oo, Myint Soe, Thet Naing Win and Kyaw Swe) had participated
  • Myat Tun Oo, Chief of Staff, was in touch with his superior by phone every hour
  • It was the Army that took the lead in the meeting on the government’s side, by presenting a sanitized version of the NCA draft that had caused “confusion” at Myitkyina and suggesting that a single text document approach be adopted
“Clearly, the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) has good intentions,” said an MPC member. “Only their wordings may be different from us.”
A case in point is its latest 6 point “wish list” to the ARMs:
  • To genuinely desire peace
  • To keep one’s promises
  • Not to take advantage of the peace process
  • Not to be a burden to the local populace
  • To strictly observe existing laws
  • To uphold The Three Causes (Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Solidarity and Perpetuation of National Sovereignty) by adhering to the 2008 constitution in the democratization process (The Burmese version is not clear here — Note)
“The six-points should be presented as a proposal for both sides to consider and adopt, instead of as a one sided demand,” commented an ARM source. “Because all of them are violated more by the Tatmadaw than the resistance movements.”

All in all, the President’s tireless efforts must be lauded and supported by all. However, at the same time, the President should not forget to keep reminding himself (we don’t want him to feel let down either) that people are still taking his words with a large pinch of salt. And that what they want are deeds not just words.

Whatever he had said, is saying and is going to say, people are certain to measure them with the results on the ground. Because, as always, actions speak louder than words — or images.

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The peace process: One/Single Text negotiation

One of the good news that came out of the latest meeting between the Armed Resistance Movements (ARMs)’s Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and Naypyitaw’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC), 9-10 March, was that the “one text” also known as “single text” negotiating technique would be reactivated.

The technique was introduced by the newly established Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue following the deadlock between the two sides reached in November in Myitkyina. The PI’s suggestion that the “one text document” technique should be given a chance was accepted. The result was the report by both sides, after meeting again on 15 December, that they were 50% in agreement. Two weeks later they met again and found that they were 80% in agreement.

However, since then there had been no mention of the “one/single text document” by either side. The result was the negotiators were unable to report little headway about their talks—until now.

For those who are unfamiliar with the technique, the following excerpt may be useful:

“A single-text negotiating strategy is a form of mediation that employs the use of a single document that ties in the often wide-ranging interests of stakeholders in a conflict. Parties to the conflict add, subtract and refine the text, which represents a “placeholder agreement” and is intended to be the foundation for a final ratified agreement. However, since all parties must agree to the final document and offensive entries may lead to a cessation of the process, disputants must also be sensitive to how their changes to the text will be perceived by the other parties… “The advantage of this model,” Scott McCreary suggests, “is it encourages parties to talk to...focus on each other's interests instead of drafting competing documents that meet only the interests of smaller coalitions.”” (M. Shane Smith)

A successful example of the one text negotiation was the Camp David Accord signed between Israeli Prime Minister Begin and Egyptian President Sadat on 17 September 1978.

The next meeting between the NCCT and UPWC has been scheduled at the end of March.
Let us therefore hope it turns out right.

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Burma’s peace process: No time to lose

As Sao Aung Myat, the Chief Minister of the Shan State Government, has mentioned earlier (on 4 March 2014), there are altogether 14 armed resistance movements (ARMs) that have concluded ceasefires with Naypyitaw.

They have so far agreed upon 3 stages of negotiations:

  • Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)
  • Frame work for Political Dialogue
  • Political Dialogue
On 9-10 March, the ARMs’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) are going to meet again to discuss the ARMs’ NCA draft that emerged from the 20-25 January Law Khee Lar Conference.

SHAN has no crystal ball to inform you in advance what the outcome will be. What it can tell you is this much:
  • The bad news is that the government is unhappy about the NCCT draft’s chapters 4 (Military matters) 5 (Military Code of Conduct), 6 (Joint Monitoring) and 9 (Transitional arrangements). The ARMs are also unhappy about recent clashes in Kachin and Shan states.
  • The good news is that both sides have people who really want peace.
The NCCT has also been empowered by Law Khee Lar to make adjustments as they see fit except for the basic principles.

So what will happen after the NCCT-UPWC meet?

The NCCT will probably hold another summit meeting of top ARM leaders to report back and discuss how much they can agree upon the 9-10 March meeting results.

If it turns out well, another meeting with the UPWC will then be held in Pa-an to finalize the agreement and fix a date for the official signing. (Hkun Okker, a member of the NCCT, later added public consultations will be held before the signing to seek their approval.)

The signing will then be followed by negotiations for the framework and the actual political dialogue.

The worry here is that we don’t have all the time in the world. By May 2015, election campaigns will be in full swing and the peace process has only a little over 13 months to go before taking a reluctant break.

If there were, say, 10 topics to discuss at the political dialogue and they have just finished, say, 2 topics, we may be able to see an agreement saying the remaining 8 topics will be negotiated after the new president is installed in his/her office in 2016.

SHAN thinks that will be our best hope. But if worse comes to worst, and both sides are still stuck with the NCA negotiations in April 2015, the concern is that the new administration that succeeds the present government might be “afraid” to continue with the peace process. (We will naturally need guarantees from all the presidential candidates that whoever becomes president will not give up on the peace process)

The ARMs as well as the political parties and civil society organizations including the media must therefore work hard to see that whatever changes take place in the country, the peace process goes on until peace returns to it and its people.

(Adapted from remarks given by SHAN advisor Khuensai Jaiyen on 4 March 2014 at the Ethnic Media Conference #2 in Taunggyi)

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Shans watching Scotland’s referendum

When Shans think about Scotland, 3 men come into mind:
The first is William Wallace (with the face of Mel Gibson, who played him in the Oscar winning Braveheart in 1995) whose 13th century revolt against the British beat the path for Scottish rebels who followed him later.

Mel Gibson, playing William Wallace in Braveheart (1995)
The second is Robert Bruce who is immortalized in the King and the Spider story, which goes like this: Bruce was taking refuge in a cave after being beaten time and again by the British. He was thinking of giving up the struggle, when his eyes were caught by a spider that had fallen down from the cave’s ceiling. It climbed laboriously up but again it fell back to the ground. Fascinated, Bruce watched the spider that refused to accept defeat but went back to his struggle every time he fell back, until at last he succeeded. Fired by the spider’s example, Bruce returned to the resistance against the British until he too won.

Later on Scotland became a member of the United Kingdom, not unlike Shan State, through a treaty signed between it and England.
Robert Bruce and the Spider
Now 8 centuries after Wallace, many Scots that included Sean Connery, famous for his role as the lady killer British spy 007, are pushing for Independence despite London’s decentralization policy.

The result is that on Thursday, 18 September, all Scots over the age of 15 will be offered the choice between “Yes Scotland” and “Better Together” aka “OK UK” in the referendum, according to 1 February report by the Economist.

Many are still undecided, but the “Yes Scotland” Scottish National Party (SNP) is devising several enticements to induce them, “such as a package of council-tax benefits a month”. According to The Economist, it also “will try to drag the debate onto the free market evils of the London government.”

Sean Connery
So what does it augur for the Shans? No doubt there are at least half of the Shan population, reeling after the Burmese Army’s bullying, who are for an independent Shanland as proven by the short-lived but overwhelming support given by exiled Shans to the Interim Shan Government (ISG) when it declared Independence in 2005.

But the Burma Army and its leaders need not panic in a hurry, if its intentions to form a federal union (as outlined in the latest Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement draft) are pure. It must also change its ways: from a burn all-kill all-rape all war machine into a help all-love all-and gentle to all movement for peace.

Both separation as well as unification has its pros and cons. What an enlightened government needs to show is that there are more pros than cons in a union for all. Remember and implement what Aung Sun said: The right to secede must be given. But we must do what we can to make them not want to secede.

But if the Burma Army refuses to stop being the bully boy, whatever results there are will be the Burma Army’s  own doing.

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Shan State Day or Shan National Day?

It is just like the debate on Burma and Myanmar:

On the one hand are those who follow the official line and those who believe 'Shan Nation/National' means only Shans, who insist 7 February should be Shan State Day, that speaks for all Indigenous peoples in the state, which includes, apart from the majority Shans, PaO, Palaung, Wa, Kachin, Lahu Akha, Kayan, Danu, Intha, Kokang etc.

On the other hand are those who rightly claim that since it was officially name Shan National Day in the first place by the Shan State Council but was unilaterally countermanded by the coup leaders after 1962 without the benefit of consultations with those concerned, the original name should be kept until the matter is carefully deliberated and resolved by those concerned.

SHAN would say both sides have its pros and cons. For instance, while it is true the President of Shan States Council who signed the proclamation designating 7 February as 'Shan National Day' was a well educated Palaung prince, who must have known what he was doing, it cannot be denied that for most of the ordinary non-Shans, Shan State Day would be a preferred label.

Like other matters, for instance, 8 or 14 states, it is high time each side lay its cards on the table and try to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. Or they can all just forget democracy as well as federalism, the causes they have been claiming to be fighting for.

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Shan National/State Day: Gateway to Union Day

Two things happened in Panglong on 7 February.
The first was the combined Chin-Kachin-Shan meeting which having concluded that their freedom “would be achieved sooner through the cooperation with Burmese,” had set forth the following conditions, among others:

  • Same status, rights and privileges as enjoyed by the Burmese on democratic lines
  • Participation in the Burmese government on the precondition that they (Chin-Kachin-Shan) “would be responsible for their respective internal affairs and would jointly be responsible for common subjects eg. Defense, Foreign affairs, Railway, Customs etc”
  • The right to secede “if and when we choose”
  • Formation of Supreme Council of United Hill Peoples (SCOUHP) to negotiate with the Burmese government
The second was the united response by the Shan ruling princes and the people’s representatives, backed by a mass meeting in the evening, to boycott the British-led Federated Shan States Council and supplant it with the Palaung-led Shan States Saophas Council (later renamed Shan States Council). Which was, to all intents and purposes, a declaration of Independence—a parting of ways with the British.
The two events had paved the way for the 9 point Panglong Agreement with the Burmese representative General Aung San 5 days later:
1-4. A member of the SCOUHP shall be appointed Counselor (Minister) for Frontier Areas, with two others as his deputies.
5. Full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas
6. A separate Kachin State
7. Rights and privileges regarded as fundamental in democratic countries
8-9. Financial autonomy
Kip Kho Lian, who presided over the Chin National Conference late last year, had said, “Whether the 2008 constitution is amended or rewritten, the yardstick will be Panglong.”
Julian Gottinger, a highly respected Swiss social scientist, has also outlined another 6 point yardstick for Federalism:
  • Separate constitutions for constituent states
  • Independent state judiciary
  • At least two levels of elections (federal and state)
  • Central government’s powers derive from the states
  • Top-down relationship as well as horizontal relationship between central and state governments
  • Equitable share of wealth
The new government headed by U Thein Sein, during the past three years, has done a good though agonizingly slow job of delivering the goods. Now it’s time to really speed up, so that nobody can later undo what he has been doing. And we’ll all live happily ever after.

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Mutual trust key to implementation of drug agreement

tiger-as-editorMeeting Sao Yawdserk of the Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) on 30 December in Chiangmai, U Aung Min, Vice Chairman #2 of the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) suggested that the way to speedy implementation of the 28 October 2012 agreement signed by the RCSS, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and government representatives in Tachilek on the joint drug eradication project was for the SSA to reduce the number of and avoid clashes with the Burma Army.

To which the RCSS/SSA chief replied that it was not fair to place the ball in the SSA’s court alone. “The Burma Army moves into the countryside without notification and opens fire as soon as they see us,” he said.

His sister organization Shan State Progress Party / Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) has meanwhile maintained that as long as the Burma Army continues carry out its territorial security-territorial clearance-territorial control operations, clashes are bound to continue. Both have already fought some 150 clashes each with the Burma Army since they signed ceasefire with Naypyitaw two years ago.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, well known military analyst on the Sino-Burma border, as well as several other resistance sources have quoted intercepted messages by the Burma Army’s high command instructing their forces to keep on fighting until “the insurgents are completely exterminated.”

Yawdserk, during a previous meeting, had also told U Aung Min, “The Burma Army needs to trust us a little more.”

The fact however remains that there is still very little direct contact between the two militaries. The Karen National Union (KNU), the only group on good terms with the Burma Army and its chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, had, two months back, suggested to him for a face-to-face meeting between him and the SSA boss. But the Senior General merely replied he would consider it, according to the KNU.

SHAN, meeting Burmese generals on at least 2 occasions, has also mentioned that while most of the armed resistance movements place little trust in the Burma Army, it is the other way round when it comes to the RCSS/SSA. The Burma Army has unfortunately yet to say why it entertains such distrust.

But, whatever it is, it is quite clear the distrust cannot be done away with by refusing to meet and sort it out with the RCSS/SSA.

SHAN therefore hopes both the Senior General and his deputy Vice Senior General Soe Win will see fit to accept the KNU’s suggestion soon.

Nothing is settled by fighting. It’s high time we all realized winning without fighting is the best course.

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Wanted: An Eisenhower for Burma’s ethnic leaders

“Hell, I know I’m a prima donna,” said Patton to his superior Bradley. “I admit it. What I can’t stand about is Monty (Montgomery, Patton’s British rival fighting against Germany during World War II) won’t admit it.”

Both were brilliant soldiers. Field Marshal Montgomery was of course known as the general who licked Rommel, the Germans’ prima donna, at Al Alamein. But at the same time, he was also criticized as the guy who only fought “set piece” battles, meaning he went to battle, only when he’s ready, when everything was to his liking.

Patton, the American general, on the other hand, trained his men to be ready for the unexpected and plunged ahead with available troops when an opportunity arose.
Both of course were successful soldiers.

What is said little about them was the fact that they had SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces) as their center of gravity and “Ike” Eisenhower who knew how to handle his prima donnas.

Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley and George S. Patton (Photo:

No, this is not a movie review, although “Patton” is one of the films I love to watch at least once a year, not least to deflate my own ego, however small it is.

It’s because the movie reminds me of our own prima donnas among the non-Burman armed and unarmed opposition.

They used to have the Working Group for Ethnic Coordination (WGEC) that served as a clearing house, where they could meet and sort out their differences until last June. Then all of a sudden that center of gravity was no more. And each is blaming the other for going its own way.

There was some hope of reviving it in another name at the Laiza conference, 30 October-2 November. However the meeting only resulted in forming a Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), whose tenure expires when the nationwide ceasefire is signed. It went short of setting up a political supervisory team.

And until we have one, the peace process will be rudderless at least on the non-Burmans’ side.

The solution is obvious: We all need a big deflation of our egos or we’d better find an Eisenhower fast and furious, or we may all find ourselves shouting “Heil Hitler” to a new Fuhrer in our country.

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Tips from Sun Tzu for civilian leaders

Last month, SHAN was up on the border talking to students about Sun Tzu (also written Sun Zi) and his all-time classic The Art of War.

The Chinese warrior-philosopher, who flourished between BC 551-467, was opposed to war, according to commentators, as proven by this cardinal advice: To win without fighting.
That doesn’t mean leaders of a country could afford to be ignorant of military matters, as “Military action is important to the nation – it is the ground of death and life, the path of survival and destruction.” (Chapter One) Moreover, in times of crisis, it is imperative to move the people “to have the same aim as the leadership, so that they will share death and share life, without fear of danger.” (Chapter One)

Chapter Three also warns:

So there are three ways in which a civil leadership causes the military trouble. When a civil leadership unaware of the facts tells its armies to advance when it should not, or tells its armies to retreat when it should not, this is called tying up the armies. When the civil leadership is ignorant of military affairs but shares equally in the government of the armies, the soldiers get confused. When the civil leadership is ignorant of military maneuvers but shares equally in the command of the armies, the soldiers hesitate. Once the armies are confused and hesitant, trouble comes from competitors. This is called taking away victory by deranging the military.

All these sayings appear to go hand in hand with the military-drawn2008 constitution’s Article 59 (d): (The President and the Vice-Presidents) shall be well acquainted with the affairs of the Union such as political, administrative, economic and military.”

But, before you get angry, please take a breather. The charter doesn’t say a wannabe is required to be a former serviceman (or servicewoman) in the armed forces, only to be “well acquainted.”

One may say that’s a reasonable requirement for anyone who is expected to become the country’s supreme leader.

However, Sun Tzu didn’t seem to be satisfied with that. He went on to say, in Chapter Ten:

Therefore, when the laws of war indicate certain victory it is surely appropriate to do battle, even if the government says there is to be no battle. If the laws of war do not indicate victory, it is appropriate not to do battle, even if the government orders war. Thus one advances without seeking glory, retreats without avoiding blame, only protecting people, to the benefit of the government as well, thus rendering valuable service to the nation.

Which of course will bring one into mind the Burmese military’s refusal last year to obey the order from the President to call off the fighting in Kachin State. But one should not forget that, unlike Sun Tzu’s civilian ruler, the Burmese military is separate from him and his government. He doesn’t have the power either to appoint or fire the Commander-in-Chief.

One may also recall an episode in Burma’s history where a Burmese general who was punished for accepting a truce with the Chinese forces when the latter was actually getting the worst of it, because he knew like every non-Chinese commander in history, no neighboring nations had the enormous resources that the Chinese enjoyed and thus would be unable to successfully wage a war with it in the long run.

All these doesn’t mean SHAN is against The Lady becoming our President in 2016. But everyone reaching for the star should bear in mind all the odds against him/her and try to find ways to overcome them.

Not to forget, that’s one of the things Sun Tzu taught too:

To be beaten or not is in oneself
To be victorious or not is in the opponent

SHAN therefore hopes both the Lady and her advisers pay special heed to his counsel, because SHAN will be one of the saddest if the star just slips away while within her reach.

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‘Learning’ old dogs new tricks: How one can become more than a Shan

My late American friend used to tell me: It’s hard to ‘learn’ old dogs new tricks.

What he said is still true today. But it doesn’t mean old people like us should give up learning. We may be slow but the fact is that nothing can get in the way of persistence.

I found that out during the 3-days I was with young people attending a workshop on federalism last week.

Asked what my expectations were, I told the workshop I was looking for an answer to my ever recurring bee in the bonnet:

In a federal country, I’ve been informed that a person has at least two identities: his/her born ethnicity and being part of the whole union. For example, a friend I know who’s born of Chinese parents in the United States feels, looks and acts Chinese in several ways but at the same time his general outlook and spirit are American, as he himself unabashedly admits. Moreover, he feels comfortable living a twin existence.

On the contrary, we in Burma don’t have that kind of dual identity. If one is Shan, he/she is just that, no less no more. The same goes for Karen, Mon, Chin and others.

Burmans (Bamars or Burmese) may think they have it. However, instilled with the notion that this country is a Union of the Burmans, whoever feels differently, to them, is disloyal to both the Burmans and the Union.

So how do we do to become more than being Shans, Karens, Burmans etc? Tireless indoctrinations that our common identity is Myanmar obviously doesn’t work. Because to all non-Burmans, Bamar and Myanmar are synonymous, like calling an Indian “Babuji” and a Chinese “Paukhpaw”.

What I found out at the workshop was like light from a lighthouse during a dark and stormy night. It grabbed at what had been in the back of my mind by the collars and put it on the table for all to see.

Of course, the resource persons used fancy words like “accommodating” non-Burmans’ aspirations but also “celebrating” them. But the well-phrased dictum “Self rule, Shared rule” was enough for me.

To live a twin existence in Burma, non-Burmans should not be satisfied with “self rule”. They must also call for and work for “shared rule”.

The Burmans must also be ready to allow the non-Burmans to take a share in the rule of the country. As long as there are only Burmans in the driving seat, they cannot expect their Three Main National Causes to become more than just slogans.

What is more, the principle of “self rule” and “shared rule” should be taught in schools, both primary and higher learning. It goes without saying that the present education system that enshrines Burman supremacy should be overhauled, that is, if they really want the Three Main Causes to come into life.

I take this opportunity to thank the resource persons and the facilitators who say they are happy to just remain out of the limelight for the time being. Rest assured we’ll remember you when we reach the shore.

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The Peace Process: Knowing the Burma Army

Sun Zi, the warrior-philosopher who was believed to have flourished 2,500 years ago, about the same time as the Buddha, had coined the following much-quoted saying:

“If you know others and know yourself
You will not be imperiled in a hundred battles
If you do not know others but know yourself
You win one and lose one
If you do not know others and do not know yourself
You will be imperiled in every battle”
(Thomas Cleary’s version)

Interestingly, late Zen musician and writer Philip Toshio Sudo (1960-2002) has paraphrased it for partnerships this way:

“If you know yourself and know your partner
Your relation will flourish
If you know yourself but not your partner
The road will be rocky
If you know neither yourself nor your partner
Your relationship doesn’t stand a chance”

In comparison, if Sun Zi had taught us The Art of War, Sudo is sharing with us The Art of Peace.

Thinking along this line, the Burmese military is a partner for those who are crusading for peace. That is whether or not they consider it a partner. And whether or not it still considers peace crusaders as enemies.

If he’s right, in what way does the 70 page minutes of the Burmese military’s first tri-annual meeting increase our knowledge of our partner for peace? (For more details, please SHAN report, 28 August 2013)

There were many lessons the Burma Army had drawn from the Kachin campaign:

  • To capture a Kachin outpost means it must be ready for heavy casualties
  • To kill one Kachin means it must use more than 1,000 round of live ammunition
  • Both the fighting and weapon skills of the Burma Army are at a low level

Accordingly, Naypyitaw has resolved that 2013 would see a series of military exercises for both battalion and division levels.

The minutes also inform the reader of the 4 principal assignment for units, whether they be at war or not, to report at each tri-annual meeting: Military operation, Security, Territorial control and Military build-up.

The minutes not surprisingly found units with paymasters and quartermasters with little knowledge on the art of book keeping. Commanders must put the right man in the right place, it warns.

A long standing problem is that there are few citizens who want to enroll in the national service. Subordinate commanders are warned they are liable for legal action taken against them for not being able to report on new recruits during the past 4 months.

Another no less interesting point. Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in his opening address to the meeting on 28 January, was reported as saying every able bodied citizen in Israel is a soldier. “As for us, we will not be able to do that until we have overcome political intrigues and racial prejudices,” he commented.

Both commanders, Min Aung Hlaing and Brig Gen Aung Soe, Commander of the Northeastern Region Command, based in Lashio, had also stressed the overriding need for the support by the people. The latter also instructed his officers not to commit abuses against the populace, such as beating and torturing them and burning their villages especially after a clash takes place in the vicinity, the army’s usual modus operandi.

We therefore hope that all commanders and the rank and file, on both sides of the conflict, take heart to their counsel when dealing with the people.
Because the day both sides sign the peace agreement will not be the day of peace.

On the contrary, it will be the day when the people whom both claim to be working for no longer suffer from either side. They might or might not be sure whether a peace agreement has taken place. But they will know for sure peace has been achieved.

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U Tin E and Burma’s easy way out curse

tiger-as-editorAccording to the late U Tin E, regarded as one of the fathers of today’s Union, the country might have been cursed with a second nature of looking for a quick cure, known as Say Mee Doe in Burmese, whenever a problem arises.

He traced it to the well known Tagaung legend of Kan Yaza Gyi and Kan Yaza Nge, the princely brothers who were told by their dying father that one who was able to construct a pagoda overnight would be designated his heir-apparent. Kan Yaza Gyi, the elder brother, apparently a simple person, tried to accomplish the task in the customary way. His younger brother, on the contrary, was a sophisticated man and what he did was, instead of ordering his workers to make bricks, he instructed them to weave mats which he assembled into a cone shape. This was in turn painted white and before the dawn broke the pagoda was ready for his father’s inspection and subsequent approval.

U Tun E says this slipshod method, while useful for short term goals, are not worthwhile in the long run. The reason is obvious: it only goes for the symptoms but not the root cause.

Just listen to today’s leaders explaining the reason for the non-Burmans’ uprisings against the majority Burmans. According to them, it is because these hills peoples are poor. Make them richer and there’ll be no more insurrections.

Meantime, other leaders are saying the country needs a strong, modern army to prevent its 135 national races from splitting away to establish 135 independent nations. Simply forgetting that the British conquerors were able to do the job with only a handful of infantry battalions:

  • 9 in Burma Proper
  • 6 in the non-Burman territories*
Which clearly demonstrates that having a big army and holding diverse peoples together under the same flag are totally different subjects. Holding them together requires something for more than having an army to buffaloe them and keep them buffaloed.

Anyone can run a country with guns and killings. But to run it without guns and killings, that takes a man, if SHAN is to paraphrase one of the world’s favorite authors.

So our question to anyone who’s leading the country, either behind the curtain or in front of it, and anyone, who aspires to do so, whether man or woman, is: Are you man enough?

*One noteworthy fact is that, in comparison, the British had less number of units in the Frontier Areas than the Burma Army does today:

Burma Proper        :    Frontier Areas
British days      3   :    2
Today               1   :    4

Why so would be an interesting question for researchers to answer.

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To ethnic leaders: Time to go back to school

Most of the non-Burman leaders today either were born or came of age after Independence, when one of the high school texts was How to win friends influence people, written by Date Carnegie and translated by the late prime minister U Nu.

Carnegie said he had written it because “Dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face,” quoting investigations which found out that even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15 percent of one’s success is due to one’s technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to what he called human engineering.

One of his best quotes used in the book was written by Harry A. Overstreet: “He who can do this has the whole world with him. He who cannot walks a lonely way.

The first rule he taught was: Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
He gave as his examples Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin, both known for their skill in handling people.

The secret of their success?

  • “Judge not, that yet not be judged” (Lincoln)
  • “I will speak ill of no man, and speak all the good I know of everybody. (Franklin)

Carnegie of course also chipped in other quotable and practical quotes:

  • Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbor’s roof, when your own door step is unclean. (Confucius)
  • To know all is to forgive all.

So when one is in the middle two groups of friends who are bitterly engaged in mud-slinging against one another, how does one feel?

“(People) cannot be happy around an agitated man,” the Shans’ foremost scholar today Dr Khammai Dhammasami once said. “If someone is agitated in this room, not yet depressed but simply agitated, then people cannot smile at all.” One can therefore imagine how it will affect the whole room when this someone flies into a rage.

To make things worse, the people who are engaged in this hate filled flak are those who have studied Carnegie and are supposedly working toward Peace and Reconciliation. Which makes one wonder whether they are fighting a war or making peace.

As all know, making war and peace are two different things:*

  • In war, there are those who win and there are those who lose. But in peace, there are only winners and no losers.
  • In war, one tries to divide the other side, so one can defeat them piecemeal. But in peace, one tries to unite all, for unity indeed brings happiness to all.

Now we seem to be doing just we are not supposed to do.
SHAN’s advice to all therefore is it’s time to come to senses and stop this madness.

As Carnegie wrote as he concluded his first chapter, quoting Dr Johnson: “God himself, sir, does not propose to judge man until the end of his days.” Why should you and I?

Indeed, why should we?

*N.D. This is not to dismiss common principles. For instance, according to pros, whether making war or peace, there is a great need to know both oneself and the other side. If you know oneself, but not the other side, for every success gained you will also suffer a failure. Similarly, if you know neither yourself nor the other side, you will succumb in every engagement.

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Breakup of China: Will it be in Burma’s interest?

Burma’s rulers, for as long as we can remember, have adopted a “One China” policy. Which isn’t a surprise, because facing dissatisfactions from the country’s non-Burmans through ill-advised policies of its own making, “disintegration of the Union” is a ever present threat. Naturally, they want a reciprocal response from its giant neighbor of its “One Myanmar” policy.

However, according to an article from Small Wars journal, 12 August issue, “U.S. Geopolitics: Afghanistan and the Containment of China,” it may not be too far fetched to say that the likelihood of their fears coming true is increasing.

In this article, the author, Joseph F. Fallon, formerly a Cultural Awareness Instructor at the US Army Intelligence Center, has confirmed Washington’s return to “The Great Game” by its Containment of China policy.

In order to achieve this aim, it has been promoting “alliances” with countries bordering China, through which it hopes to wrest control of natural resources reserves in these “Rimland” nations, to use the word coined by American geostrategist Nicholas John Spykman (1893-1943), “godfather of containment,” who, for some reason, is not quoted by the author.

“Limit China’s access to those reserves and pipelines and China’s economic growth is restricted,” Fallon writes. “If China’s economic growth is restricted, Beijing lacks financing to modernize and expand her military capabilities. Without increased economic and military power, China lacks the ability to project political influence. It is, thereby, prevented from emerging as a regional hegemon.” Or, worse, world hegemon.

As a side effect, it may even trigger economic crisis inside China, erupting into a social revolution. This may in turn lead to the emergence of separate independent states, as in the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 10th and 12th centuries.

“In the short term,” the author says, “US policy seeking to prevent China from becoming a regional hegemon has not been successful.”

But what if it does in the long run? Will Burma, and especially Shan State, be crushed between the two giants fighting for hegemony, as small countries caught in the middle usually do?

Or will it hopefully survive to become a prosperous demilitarized zone? History of course has provided a precedent. During the 12th century China was occupied by the Mongols and the Middle Kingdom divided itself into several states that were not only fighting against the Mongols but also among themselves.

It was then the famous Three Shan Brothers, taking advantage of the situation, had set up kingdoms in today’s central Burma. Later on, the Shan king of Mao Hso Khan Fa (1211-1264) was able to “recover the land of my forefathers” in Yunnan and establish a mini-empire that extended beyond present Burmese territories.

Of course, that is one eventuality that modern-day Anawrahtas, Bayinnaungs and Alaungphyas do not want to be repeated. If so, what they should do is to find ways to make the people, Shan, Kachin, Karens and Burmans alike, live happily under their rule. It does not matter whether or not it is democracy. After all, human beings used to live happily under righteous kings and princes. Because where there is justice, there is always peace — and happiness.

Explanatory Notes for starters

The following are maxims of two famous geostrategists:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;
Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;
Who rules the World Island controls the World

Sir Halford John Mackinder

Who controls Rimland rules Eurasia
Who rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world

Nicholas John Spykman

Heartland        Eurasia
World Island       Eurasia and Africa
Rimland         Countries along the rim of the Heartland

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