Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Weekly Highlights: Armed Conflict Jeopardizes Prospects for the follow-up 21st Century Panglong Conference



Armed Conflict Jeopardizes Prospects for the follow-up 21st Century Panglong Conference

Peace discussion held on Sunday in Naypyidaw. Photo credit: Htet Naing Zaw / The Irrawaddy





As a new year begins, offensives and human rights violations by the Myanmar[1] Army continue to plague ethnic areas and see no sign of abating. With the second 21st Century Panglong Conference a matter of weeks away, local communities' faith in the peace process is reaching an all-time low.

Retaliating to attacks in Mong Ko, Shan State in November 2016, ramped-up military onslaughts throughout December 2016 by the Myanmar Army in Kachin and northern Shan States against ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that formed the 'Northern Alliance' - namely the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army and the ethnic Kokang, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army - have brought increased destruction and displacement. In the operation to take the key KIA positions of Gideon Hill and the KIA 3rd Brigade in Waingmaw, thousands of local people, already living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps due to armed conflict, were forced to flee again as shells dropped near the camp sites. The massive offensives against the Kachin over the Christmas period are particularly galling as many ethnic Kachin are Christian. In northern Shan State, attacks in TNLA areas have displaced thousands more. The restricted access by the authorities for the provision of humanitarian aid is only exacerbating a desperate situation for the IDPs.

Human rights violations committed by the Myanmar Army are terrorizing local populations. After the Northern Alliance briefly held the town of Mong Ko in November, journalists visited the area to report on the conflict that occurred there. Two ethnic Kachin pastors who aided journalists in their reporting after the Mong Ko offensive have been missing since they were summoned by the Myanmar Army on Christmas Eve. On 28 December, a member of the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), U Min Htay, was detained by the Myanmar Army in Kachin State and remains in custody. The ABSDF is a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and with this action, the authorities are attempting to drive a wedge between signatories and non-signatories, especially the Northern Alliance, thus isolating them politically.

Such incidences of armed conflict and abuse of local populations are puncturing an already damaged peace process. As Moon Nay Li of the Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT) stated, "Even though they [the government] held peace talks and is working on the NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement] process, there are more offensives in our areas. They keep sending more troops to our area. So, how can we trust that peace process, the NLD government, or the military?"  

Yet the Myanmar Army is remaining uncompromising and stubborn. Worse still, it has been attempting to drum up public support by organizing public rallies and marches in several cities, including Yangon, in which messages of support for the Myanmar Army are displayed. Such marches have been sharply criticized by ethnic communities for being insulting, with the Kachin Youth Group calling it a "charade." Furthermore, the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Army, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing blamed leaders of EAOs for the continuation of the conflict, accusing them of being 'narrow-minded.' These words and demonstrations, along with recent branding of the Northern Alliance as 'terrorist' organization, are part of a pattern to attempt to legitimize the actions and behavior of the Myanmar Army, despite it being one of the most abusive and violent militaries in the world. And while much faith has been put in the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a recent meeting in which ethnic youth supposedly had the opportunity to relay their concerns and ask pressing questions to her only bore frustration due to evasive answers on key points such as the actions of the Myanmar Army and the limited time allocated for the event. This is in addition to the event being organized in a rush, which contributed to the lack of inclusive participation of diverse youth groups, especially from conflict affected areas.

The second 21st Century Panglong Conference is due to be held in February 2017, as part of the six monthly process that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is leading. Part of this process is input from civil society - a vital component in any peace process - through a series of consultations and a national forum. But this has been beset by problems as the Myanmar Government-led process is imposing limitations on the topics that the civil society organizations (CSOs) can discuss while also stipulating that the national forum be held in Naypyidaw which CSOs object to as it is the home of the Government.

The peace process is evidently becoming even more stuck. The complete lack of political will to engage in a genuine dialogue by the most powerful armed actor – the Myanmar Army, the lack of inclusiveness in the process, the continued offensives and human rights violations, the reluctance by the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led Government to condemn such actions, and the top-down process to involve civil society are blocking the path to peace. As always, it is the communities on the ground that are suffering, such as those living in IDP camps who face daily food shortages and access to aid. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi pledged that the peace process would be of the utmost priority in the National League for Democracy's Government, yet the Myanmar Army continues its intransigence. More drastic change is needed, including starting a process of bringing the armed forces under civilian control and amending the 2008 Constitution that entrenches their power. A first step to regaining the lost trust would be to condemn the murderous actions of the Myanmar Army, and lift all restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid to IDPs – this would at least offer a glimmer of hope regarding the intentions of the Myanmar Government.



[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term 'Myanmar' in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of 'Myanmar' rather than 'Burma' without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten.




Myanmar 2016 – New Leadership, Old Problems

By Progressive Voice

About Progressive Voice


Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 the same day that Progressive Voice was formally established. For further information, please see our press release "Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice."


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