Burma’s ethnic conflicts: A mission without an answer?
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Burma’s ethnic conflicts: A mission without an answer?

Another round of talks between the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has ended withou progress.

A delegation of KIO led by Sumlut Gam and Maj-Gen Sumlut Gun Maw had their counterparts from government on May 13  in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state. The government’s side was led by Minister U Aung Min, with the support of his staff from the Myanmar [Burma] Peace Centre, a government-backed body funded by the European Union and the Norwegian government.

Some representatives from the Chin National Front (CNF) and Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) and the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) also attended the talks as observers. Mr Wang Ying Fan, a diplomat from China, and Ms. Mariann Hagen, the assistant for Office of the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Myanmar [Burma], also attended the meeting.

Both sides reiterated their earlier commitment to seting up a “conflict mediation team” consisting of five members from each side. In fact, it is part of the joint monitoring mechanism that was agreed on October 10, 2013. The statement also highlighted false reports from some media that dented mutual understanding.

In his speech, Union Minister U Aung Min, vice-chairman of the work committee, stressed the need to take simultaneous action on the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement and a peace process between the government and KIO, according to the New Light of Myanmar Daily. He highlighted the importance of a ceasefire between the government and KIO, calling for a restoration of the trust needed to achieve this.

The meeting was aimed at seeing no more clashes and effective implementation of the agreements both sides have, he added. He stressed the need to build a mechanism to produce solutions and proposed pilot projects for formation of a joint monitoring committee and resettlement of IDPs.

While heavy fighting is ongoing in southeastern Kachin state since early April, this was the first time the two sides met for talks.  There was no major breakthroughs during the May 13 talks, as Lt. Gen. Myint Soe, the representative of the military, did not attend the meeting. Although the meeting was arranged as a two-day conference, it lasted just one day.

The government should review the mistakes of the past leaders of the nation if it wishes to find a peaceful outcome. The current President Thein Sein and the higher-ranking select few of the military should sincerely review the political aspiration of the ethnic communities. The late dictator Ne Win, who seized power in a military coup in 1962, did not agree with sharing equal power with the respective ethnic representatives-elect, and it remains the same today.

It is a fair demand asking to guarantee self-determination of the respective ethnic minorities. The military-backed government should not use guns to govern the ethnic minorities. The guns will not unite the union of Burma. If we look back to 1960-61, many leaders from the ethnic states criticized the weakness of the constitution as well as the government’s failure to realize the political autonomy of the ethnic minorities.

“All the armed forces in the union shall be under the command of the Defense Services,” says the section 337 of the 2008 constitution. This means the ethnic armed troops are not allowed to be independent but must be under control of the central government’s Defense Services as secondary forces.

At the first meeting of the Central Committee of Union Peace-making Central Committee held in July 2012, President U Thein Sein delivered a speech in which he underscored the ‘Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Citizens’. As every national race owns the Republic of the Union of Myanmar [Burma], equitable treatment and opportunities should be granted, he emphasized. It was noteworthy that the President deemed firm political reforms were compulsory for the success of economic reforms.

“And the end of ethnic conflicts is also needed for firm political reforms. It is needed to ease ethnic conflicts and distribute political and economic opportunities equitably,” U Thein Sein said.

To carry out political and economic reforms, ethnic conflicts need to be considered. Only when such reforms are carried out will national reconciliation be achieved and ethnic conflicts be ended, U Thein Sein said.

However, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Burma Army have clashed on numverous occassions since violence broke out again in June 2011. A negotiated settlement still  still looks a long way off.

True KIO has been calling for a true political dialogue to end the decades-long warfare. But the U Thein Sein government has been shying away political talks since its key interest is to sign a nationwide ceasefire accord rather than solving the root causes of the conflict.

Although the President said ethnic conflicts bust end to pave the way for firm political reforms, his commander-in-chief has turned a deaf ear to his explanation.

During his speech at Union Peace-making Central Committee meeting, he pointed out a paragraph from the constitution. Section 348 in Chapter (8) Citizen, Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Citizens of the 2008 constitution states, “The Union shall not discriminate any citizen of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, based on race, birth, religion, official position, status, culture, sex and wealth.” Section 347 states, “The Union shall guarantee any person to enjoy equal rights before the law and shall equally provide legal protection.”

On the contrary, various ethnic leaders declared that they don’t have faith in the new 2008 Constitution made unilaterally by the previous junta. They say that it will not create a genuine federal union which will authorize equal political and economic rights to ethnic people in the future.

Thus, the end of ethnic conflicts is not as easy as the President might hope form, and real political reform will require a genuine political dialogue supporting political impartiality or self-determination. As a result, many analysts believe that the effort to stop the Kachinwar in Burma is a mission without a solution.