Panglong Initiative alone can make peaceful Burma
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Panglong Initiative alone can make peaceful Burma

Speaking ahead of an imperative ‘Shan Conference’ to be held on 26-28 November, the leader of the Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) Lt-Gen Yawdserk said the way to lasting peace in Burma is a federal democratic system, according to the Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.).

“The country needs to adopt a federal system, genuine democracy and the right of the people to have a say in the amendment of the constitution,” he told SHAN on Monday. “Amendment should not be the exclusive prerogative of the 75 plus percent.”

Burma will have to celebrate its 65th anniversary of independence in 2013. The country gained its independence by overthrowing the British colonial rule on 4 January 1948. In fact, Burma’s independence is a consequence of the ‘Historic Panglong Agreement’ between General Aung San and the leaders of Chin, Kachin and Shan ethnic groups pledging an authentic federal union of Burma. However, Burma’s consecutive decision-makers have ignored the political treaty between Burmese and the ethnic leaders of independence.

Even with the President Thein Sein government, the treaty has been put aside since the cabinet is dominated by ex-generals. Moreover, Burma’s new 2008 Constitution distributes many troubles for political parties, ethnic cease-fire groups and exiled dissident factions seeking some common initiative between ethnic groups and the current government.

To clear up the interconnected ethnic problems, the existing government must review the mistakes of past rulings and the political aspirations of the ethnic communities. The original argument of the nation’s ethnic political mayhem is the successive military-backed governments’ antagonism to a democratic federal union. The late dictator, Ne Win, who seized power in a military coup in 1962, opposed sharing equal authority in a series of heated debates in the then legislative body.

Ne Win supported a unitary state over a genuine federal union. The Military Council headed by Ne Win declared that the military coup had taken place because of the “federation topic,” which he said could lead to the disintegration of the nation. Equality of ethnic minorities with the Burmese majority was to him out of the question. When Ne Win seized power, he demolished the 1948 Constitution.  At the same time, the Panglong Agreement, which promised autonomy of the ethnic states, was broken and nullified.

The result of the 1947 agreement proved unconstructive when it reached ten years in 1958, after gaining independence from the British in 1948. Many ethnic armed rebellions broke out to stand up for autonomy. The 1947 constitution had granted the right of secession to Karenni and Shan States.

Despite the fact that the Supreme Executive Council of the United Hill Peoples was making an effort to amend the union constitution in 1961-62 to reconstruct a true federal union with the Premier U Nu’s Government of Burma, Burma Army led by Gen. Ne Win made a military coup on 2 March in 1962 and smashed the Panglong agreement. In that way, all ethnic states including Shan had been occupied by the treacherous Burma Army.

In actual fact, it is a fair demand for self-sufficiency among the respective ethnic minorities. No government should use guns to govern ethnic minorities. If one looks back to 1960-61, many leaders from ethnic states criticized the weakness of the constitution as well as the government’s failure to provide room for the political autonomy of the ethnic minorities.

They pointed the finger at the central government for not allowing the representatives of ethnic states to manage their own affairs in areas of economy, judiciary, education, and customs and so on. The central government ruled the ethnic areas as vassal states.

According to the military drafted and approved constitution’s Article 436, most of the provisions can be amended by a vote of more than 75% of the representatives of the joint Upper and Lower House assembly (666 seats). The military occupies 25% of the seats in each house (110, 56).

Lt-Gen Yawdserk told SHAN on Monday that any peace dialogue must begin with Panglong, the 1947 treaty between pre-independence Burma and Shan-Chin-Kachin areas, collectively known then as Frontier Areas.

“We are of the same mind as the Kachins. Any dialogue for peace must begin with Panglong”, he said. “Because all the problems we are facing now started with someone reneging on it. We must take a look at it first, and if we find there is need to improve on it, we do it.”

Without addressing and honoring the ethnic people’s demand for self-determination, the latest parliament-based government seems unable to stop political and civil strife throughout ethnic areas. In reality, ethnic people’s demand for equal rights is not a new one but already mentioned in the 1947-Panglong agreement.

Many ethnic leaders asserted that they don’t have faith in the new 2008 constitution. They consider that it will not create a genuine federal union since the Burmese armed forces take 25 percent of all seats in the existing parliament. So, the current constitution will not grant the democratic freedom and the fundamental rights for the ethnic groups of the nation. In brief, if existing government sincerely wished for proper peace, it must begin with Panglong initiative which is accepted by mainstream ethnic people.

The President has pledged during the presidential inaugural ceremony that he would mainly work in support of good governance, national reconciliation, poverty alleviation and establishing a long-lasting peaceful society.  However, he looks as if he has no chance to honor self-determination of the ethnic population since the military shows no consideration on the subject.