Can Burma’s President complete his peace plan?
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Can Burma’s President complete his peace plan?

A peacemaking meeting was held between the United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFC) and a government peacemaking team led by President’s Office Minister U Aung Min on 8 September in Chiang Mai, Thailand. U Aung Min’s true intention was selling the Burmese government plan to ethnic armed groups to join in October’s nationwide ceasefire signing ceremony, according to sources close to the ethnic federation.

However, the UNFC was reluctant to agree since its members had already signed a state-level ceasefire accords which the Burmese government army didn’t always abide by.

In fact, the government should declare a nationwide ceasefire including the government armed forces, before a nationwide negotiating period, the Karen National Union’s Joint Secretary (2) Padoh Mahn Mahn told the media. It seems there is still a big question to tackle the deployments of both sides’ armed troops.

To be frank, the 8 September meeting was unproductive one. It seemed rather presenting a bad perspective for the future talks as U Aung Min’s wordings this time are more similar a threat than a peacemaking. On the other hand, the UNFC stands firmly on their political stance that is political dialogue should be held first.

In contrast, Burma’s President U Thein Sein also said that political demands have to discuss in the parliament after nationwide ceasefire. According to President, the ethnic armed groups need to establish respective political parties to contest in the elections. Then, the ethnic representatives-elect would have the right to talk about the ethnic equal rights in the parliament. Most ethnic armed groups dismissed such a vague blueprint suggested by the president.

Burma 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 governments 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/Myanmar’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 resolve 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 misunderstanding is the successive military regimes’ antagonism towards a democratic federal union. The late dictator, Ne Win, who seized power in a military coup in 1962, opposed sharing equal power in order to allow self-determination to respective ethnic minorities.

Burma’s Military Council headed by Ne Win declared that the military coup had taken place because of the “Federalism,” which he said could lead to the disintegration of the nation. When Ne Win seized power, he demolished the 1948 Constitution and dismissed the Panglong Agreement, which promised autonomy of the ethnic states.

The result of the 1947 agreement reached nowhere after 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, Gen. Ne Win made a military coup on 2 March in 1962 and all ethnic states had been occupied by the treacherous Burma armed forces.

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 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.

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).

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 assert that they do not believe in the new 2008 constitution. They consider that it will not create a genuine federal union since the 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.

Speaking ahead of an imperative ‘Shan Conference’ held on 26-28 November,2012, the leader of the Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) Lt-Gen Yawdserk said the way to lasting peace in Myanmar is a federal democratic system, according to the Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.).

“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.”

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 option to honor self-determination of the ethnic population since the military shows no consideration on the subject.