By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
Renewed and intensive fighting between the Armed Forces and the KIA, Marginalisation of the UNFC, rigid and inflexible stand of both Tatmadaw and China supported FPNCC and increasingly open intervention by China in the cease fire process- these sum up the state of the peace process in Myanmar.
First, the Fighting in the North:
Fighting between the Armed Forces and the KIA intensified in the north with both sides unwilling to accept the status quo. According to the Army, the KIA launched fresh attacks with heavy and light weapons on Jan 31 and Feb 3, 2018 on the Army headquarters, posts and patrols in Myitikyina and Mogaung townships. The KIA said that the attacks were intended to slow down the offensive of Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) and that only frontier posts controlled by the Army in the two townships were attacked.
Earlier heavy fighting took place between the KIA and the Army in Sumprabum and Tanai townships in January. Fighting in Tanai was particularly severe with over 2000 residents trapped in the town.
It is now learnt that the Chinese arranged a meeting between the KIA Chief Gen N’ban La and the Chief of the Bureau of Special Operations 1, of the army delegation in the town of Dali, (Yunnan province) to find ways to stop the fighting in that area. Leaked documents indicate that the Myanmar Army demanded the closure of the KIA bases in Tanai Township (Battalion 14) and other nearby outposts of some of their brigades. The Tanai area has rich amber mines that are the primary source of revenue for the KIA.
The meeting did not produce any substantial results but both sides agreed to hold further talks.
Around the same time, clashes between the Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) another constituent of the FPNCC erupted in several remote villages of Kutkai townships in Shan State resulting in many villagers fleeing the town and the neighbouring townships. According to the TNLA, Myanmar’s armed forces had directed air strikes at their positions and started ground offensives in the first week of February.
One wonders why the KIA area is being specially chosen for continued fighting. The KIA is the second largest ethnic armed group after the UWSA. The Wa State for all practical purposes is an independent State- an area that is very close to the Chinese border and populated by Chinese speaking people. It is a barren area that is of no use to anyone except for drug cultivators. The Wa State can therefore be left alone for the present.
On the other hand, the Kachin area is rich in natural resources- with its gold, copper, jade, ruby and amber mines that are the world’s best besides having immense hydro power potential. Control of these rich mineral laden areas is important both for the Myanmar Army and the Kachins. Cease fire or no cease fire, sporadic fighting will continue as both sides are keen to grab more areas on the ground!
To me, the Kachin is the key to any long term solution to the ethnic problem. It is a pity that the Kachins were driven to the lap of the Wa group thereby to the Chinese too and now it is the Chinese who are talking on behalf of the Kachins.
It looks that the Kachins have strengthened themselves with more arms and two more brigades(9 and 10) have also been formed in addition. While Brigade 9 will remain in Kachin State, Brigade 10 is being positioned in the northern Shan State. The latter is a very significant development. One ethnic affairs analyst has rightly pointed out that “unless and until civil war is stopped, trust is built and ethnic issues are solved, all those involved in the fighting will build up their military strength. It is unavoidable.”
On Feb. 5, the new chairman of the KIO, Gen. N’Ban La made an important speech while taking over that reflected the group’s official policy and its future agenda that appeared to be conciliatory. The points he made were:
- Oppression, inequality and broken promises of the 1947 Panglong agreement were the reasons for the Kachin rebellion and its demand for independence.
- The Kachin people are not yet ready for total independence which at present is unrealistic.
- The Bamar people are not the enemies and there is a historic legacy of fighting together against foreign invasions and in future in a federated union if it happens again they will fight together.
- The true enemy is the repressive ruling clique in the top echelons of power.
- There are potential solutions and important props to that solution that include pragmatism, primacy of political negotiation, establishment of a federal system based on Panglong agreement, equality, self-determination, self-autonomy, self defence and of unity among ethnic groups.
In a message to the Tatmadaw he asked them not to fight the KIO/KIA as they fight foreign invaders but to solve the problems at the table since it is a political problem.
The thrust of the speech was that the problem is a political one that can be negotiated not by the Kachins alone but by all the ethnic groups.
This is the time to grab the opportunity and both the government and the Army should seize this moment for a serious dialogue with the KIO/KIA and wean them away from the group led by Wa. India should also be interested in this as Kachins have a very long border with India though the area is sparsely populated and mostly inaccessible. Surprisingly there is hardly any interaction between the people on both sides of the border and hardly any infra structure for communications.
Two more ethnic Groups Sign the Cease fire agreement
In what is considered as a breakthrough, a win for the Peace Commission and two years and four months after the first eight armed organizations (EAOs) two groups from the former
UNFC signed the Nationwide Cease-fire agreement on 13 February 2018 in the presence of 18 representatives from the government, the legislature, the Army as well as representatives from China, India, Japan, Thailand, the European Union and the United Nations.
The groups that signed the agreement were the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and both are very insignificant groups that will alter the overall state of the cease fire process. It is significant that the ceremonial events marking the signing of the agreement was the absence of the seven member Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) led by the United Wa State Army (supported by China). It would not have been difficult for China to persuade through its representative Sun Guoxiang for some symbolic presence if only it was interested. The seven member bloc as we know seeks a different narrative for the cease fire process which the government is unwilling to concede.
The UWSA will now dominate the Peace Process
The significance of the ceremony is not in the two groups signing the agreement but in the potential end of the once powerful UNFC (The United Nationalities Federation Council). The UNFC was founded by 12 ethnic armed groups and the aim was to strike a deal with the Army and the government for finding a long-lasting solution to the ethnic problem that has plagued the country since its inception. It is now left with only two insignificant members who have no clout in the peace making process. It is a sad end of a group that started with lofty ideals for establishing a genuine multi-party system and its future was sealed once its powerful member the KIO/KIA left the organisation to join the Wa group.
It is said that Japan was instrumental in persuading both the LDU and NMSP to sign the agreement and the remaining two groups may also follow suit. By this thoughtless action, the field is now thrown open between the government on one side and the seven party alliance led by the Wa group supported by China. Virtually it is up to China now as to how the cease fire process is to be taken through as the UWSA with its drug lords will now dominate the Peace Process!
The Government is now at the Opposite End
The Government on the other hand continues to harp on all groups signing the agreement. Suu Kyi in her address during the signing ceremony, said that the government would “strive to bring all organisations under the NCA umbrella and urge them to participate in the political dialogue.” The Army Chief in the same meeting also declared that signing the NCA is the only way of resolving political issues peacefully.