Today, 17 April, is New Year’s Day in Burma. Burmese New Year, also known as the Thingyan festival, is an is a happy event where people splash water on each other as a symbol of washing away the bad luck of the previous year.
President Thein Sein spoke in a radio address broadcast to mark a traditional New Year holiday, AP News said. In his message, Thein Sein said, “We have achieved successes that we had not hoped for and also experienced shocking and saddening events we had not expected.” But “during this long road toward democracy, we have to sustain our successes and take lessons from the losses, and be prepared to face the challenges ahead,” he said.
People of Burma have been hoping for a new dawn of democracy in this New Year, as the charismatic democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been working in the parliament together with other ethnic and democratic parties to transform the country into a promising free state.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the NLD, was, along with 43 parliamentarians, elected in by-elections in April 2012. Suu Kyi has said one of her priorities as an elected parliamentarian is to advocate an amendment of the 2008 constitution, under which 25 per cent of the parliament seats are reserved for unelected military officials.
In frequent media interviews, Suu Kyi expressed her ambition to work together with the new government towards reducing social difficulties of the grassroots people. Well-informed sources close to the government also said that the government wants Suu Kyi and members of her party sitting in parliament to give itself more legitimacy.
Suu Kyi is spending her New Year holidays in Japan in order to meet with Japanese leaders as well as hundreds of her supporters living there.
She said the constitutional drafting committee must be well-regarded by the citizens and its work must be crystal clear. She added that the the Burmese people must have the right to reject any articles in the constitution that they disapprove of.
According to Aung San Suu Kyi, the existing constitution must be revised prior to the 2015 general elections to ensure free and fair polls. Although the 2015 ballot may be free, it will not be fair under the current undemocratic 2008 Constitution, Suu Kyi said.
Another big problem in Burma this New Year is the continuing violence involving ethnic minorities. Recently, 13 groups of Kachin civil society organizations based in Burma issued a statement criticizing Chinese government’s intervention in the peace process , according to the Kachinland News. The Kachin public sees Chinese government intervention during a meeting between KIO and Burmese government on March 11-12 as an obstacle for progress in peace dialogue.
As a result of ongoing civil war that has been waged for more than 60 years, Burma has become a largely dilapidated country in the region. Civil war in Burma has taken place since the country achieved its independence from British colonial rulers in 1948. Regrettably, the country lost its liberty in 1962 since the military led by the late dictator Gen. Ne Win seized power and cracked down on all democracy institutions, including free press in Burma.
Furthermore, consecutive military regimes never change their war policy against the ethnic rebels who defend just for their self-determination. Those military rulers have no intention of building a democratic federal union state; instead they ordered the ethnic armed-groups to surrender.
At present, brutal warfare launched by the military-backed President Thein Sein government goes on and on mainly in ethnic areas, especially in Kachin State.
According to the Kachinland News, on April 8, KIA’s 2nd Battalion under 4th Brigade fought against Burmese army’s 136th Light Infantry Regiment near Man-Lau-Bum in northern Shan State. Another battle occurred on the same day between KIA’s 36th Battalion under 4th Brigade and a combined force of Burmese army’s 242nd LIR and 507th LIB under 16th Military Operation Command at a mountain located between Lai-Lawm and Man-Se-Pa in northern Shan State. On April 10, a combat took place between KIA’s 1st Battalion under 3rd Brigade and Thein-ni-based government’s 240th Light Infantry Battalion between Mansi and Nazaret.
Much of the recent fighting between the Burma Army and the KIA has occurred in areas where large-scale natural resources and infrastructure projects are carrying out, including the controversial Myitsone Dam which was suspended at present. Besides, the most important Chinese project – 771-kilometer-long gas-and-oil twin pipeline across Kyaukphru in Rakhine state to Ruili on the China border – also passed through the northern Shan State under KIO controlled region.
The development of these large-scale natural resource and infrastructure projects has exacerbated the decades-long conflicts between Burma Army army and ethnic Kachin armed groups that seek greater autonomy under Pang-long Agreement. Burma Army is trying to control over these areas to exploit the natural resources and to catch the attention of larger foreign investment.
Due to China’s ravenous claim on development-projects in Burma, several people doubt whether China involved in Kachin war by some means. Some analysts believe that the Burmese government has been escalating military pressure on the KIO to reduce their contradictory view concerning natural resources and the dam-projects in Kachin State.
Notably, President Thein Sein received Zhang Guoqing, who is the President of China North Industries Corporation- NORINCO, at the Presidential Palace in Nay-Pyi-Taw, on 24 December 2012, according to the state-run media. Zhang Guoqing’s visit seemed closely related with the country’s natural resources which China is keen to exploit. The government mustn’t allow China to put its oar in the country’s internal affairs.
Most clashes occurred in ethnic territories today are not because of the political question but because of money-making concentration in reality. On the other hand, the root question of armed conflicts in this country is intertwined with the constitutional imperfection. Many analysts see the conflicts as unbalanced distribution of power between major ethnic communities and the ruling military-dominated regime.
Ethnic minorities have been suffering through five decades of immoral military operations in the name of national disintegration. There is a constant demand from Burma’s ethnic groups to enjoy equal political, social and economic rights. The Constitution must guarantee the rights of self-determination and of equal representation for every ethnic group in the Parliament. It is also required to include provisions against racial discrimination.
Hence, the government needs to declare nationwide general amnesty with cessation of hostilities and rush towards an all-inclusive peace conference allowing all opposition groups to take part. To start a genuine reform, in this Burmese New Year, Burma critically requires revising its military-favored constitution in quest of true democratic social contract without delay.