Monday, October 3, 2016

Weekly Highlights: Burma Army Displays Blatant Disregard for 21st Century Panglong Peace Process


26 September - 3 October, 2016

Weekly Highlights

Burma Army Displays Blatant Disregard for 21st Century Panglong Peace Process

The Burma Army continued to launch offensives throughout Karen and Kachin States this past week. Since the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire in 2011, the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have engaged in regular conflict, with attacks by the Burma Army increasing after the conclusion of the 21st Century Panglong Conference in August 2016. As the fighting in Kachin State intensifies, the Burma Army's military campaign in Karen State has grown considerably during the month of September 2016. In cooperation with the Border Guard Force (BGF), the Burma Army has also launched a number of attacks against a splinter group of Karen State's Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), calling itself, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.

While a complete tally of internal displacement is not yet available, the consequences of the military offensives in Kachin and Karen States are likely to be dire. On 23 September, intensified heavy weapons conflict resulted in the displacement of 2,000 rural villagers in Kachin State. Further, more than 5,000 villagers from Mae Thawaw area in Karen State have been displaced to Myaing Gi Ngu town, prompting a humanitarian response from local community organizations such as the Karen Women's Organization and organizations such as the Myanmar Red Cross Society and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Worsening matters, the Burma Army has allegedly been pressuring internally displaced persons (IDPs) into returning back to their origin in Karen State, despite their concerns that conflict is still active in those regions. It has also been reported that the Burma Army ransacked IDP camps in Kachin State and interrogated their inhabitants and that the Burma Army and the government authorities have restricted humanitarian aid delivery in conflict-affected areas.

Karen Rivers Watch, a coalition of civil society organizations that monitor the impact of development projects in Karen State and throughout Burma, recently released a report questioning the motives behind the Burma Army's military campaign in Karen State. The organization alleges that the Burma Army is instigating conflict as a means of exacting control over regions abundant with valuable natural resources, such as the Hatgyi Dam region. The report suggests that the Burma Army has long sought after control of the dam site, stating, "Tensions surrounding the Hatgyi Dam between the KNU/KNLA and the Burma Army have remained high, with Burma Army and BGF camps in the Hatgyi Dam area being reinforced periodically in the years following the 2012 ceasefire. These actions clearly reflect a lack of commitment on the part of the Burma military to the national peacebuilding process."

The militarization of the Hatgyi Dam region threatens to exacerbate tensions between the Burma Army and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), who had previously laid claim to territory in the same region. The KNLA vice commander-in-chief is therefore correct when he stated that further militarization would "contradict the terms of the [Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)]," which prohibits the movement of armed troops without prior consent.

The Burma Army's ongoing campaign against the KIA in the north will also likely disrupt relations and undo any trust building between the Burma Army and Government, and non-signatories to the NCA. This is especially true as the KIA have always demonstrated a willingness to engage in the peace process, as evident in their participation as observers during the 21st Century Panglong Conference. If anything, the recent actions of the Burma Army further justify the call from ethnic armed organizations to have the Burma Army placed under civilian control.

The Burma Army has repeatedly and flagrantly violated the country's fragile peace process. The ongoing military campaigns in Kachin and Karen States – along with other ethnic regions – suggest that the Burma Army has little regard for both the NCA and the need for greater trust-building with ethnic groups as a means of reaching and sustaining an eventual peace agreement. If the Burma Army is genuinely committed to the peace process, it must begin by halting all ongoing offensives, refrain from militarization in ethnic areas and around natural resources, and agree to its eventual transfer under civilian control.

ANNOUNCEMENT:  Given the changing political and civil society landscape since the reforms started in 2011, the concept of Burma's democracy movement has transitioned to a more diverse and broader scope, and thus the mandate and work of Burma Partnership to mobilize support for and amplify the voices of Burma's democracy and human rights movement in the Asia region and internationally has come to an end.

To celebrate the efforts of coordinating a regional solidarity movement for democracy and human rights in Burma and to mark the end to this decade of work by Burma Partnership, a press conference will be held at 2pm on Monday, October 10, 2016 at the Green Hill Hotel, Rangoon. In addition, there will be a launch of a new participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice, which is born out of Burma Partnership. The new organization will draw on Burma Partnership's existing strengths and networks, as well as the changing political and civil society landscape to fill the need for a rights-based policy narrative on Burma that reflects voices from the ground. 

Thus, as of October 10, 2016, the work of Burma Partnership will formally end and in its place, Progressive Voice will be established. Therefore, this week's 'Weekly Highlights' blog will be the last weekly commentary under the name of Burma Partnership and as of next week, this blog will come under the name, 'Progressive Voice.'


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