ARMED ETHNIC INSURGENCY GROUPS IN MYANMAR AND THE GOVERNMENT’S EFFORTS TO FIGHT AND MAKE PEACE WITH THEM

ARMED INSURGENCY GROUPS IN MYANMAR

Myanmar has suffered decades of armed rebellion along its borders, and no government has ever controlled all of the nation's territory. At one time there were 15 private armies fighting against the Myanmar military government. Many of the insurgencies were closely linked with drugs. Within these armies and in addition to them there were a number of factions and militias with tied to different ethnic groups, tribes, religions, and language groups.

The motivations for the groups have been as numerous as the groups themselves. Some have wanted independence or at least more autonomy and relief from persecution and discrimination. Others have wanted to control certain resources and commodities---namely drugs and gems---and control of the trade of them. The groups that have prospered have done so by controlling commodities, again namely drugs and gems. The Karen and Mon have set up governments in exile.

Hannah Beech wrote in Time: “Desperate for autonomy or even independence, dozens of ethnic militias declared war on the Burmese government, fueling some of the world’s longest-running insurgencies, particularly in Karen, Shan and Kachin states. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic villagers are internally displaced in Burma today because of fighting between the national army and various ethnic militias.

Minority rebels have fought for varying degrees of autonomy since independence from colonial rule in 1948. Relations between the government and ethnic groups worsened after the military seized power in 1962. According to Human Rights Watch: “There are several dozen non-state armed groups in Burma, and each year sees the creation of one or two more. Burma's non-state armed groups vary greatly in size, numbering from a few dozen soldiers to several thousand. Exact numbers are difficult to establish because some groups greatly exaggerate their size, while others treat the information as secret. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) is widely believed to be the largest in fighting strength, with some analysts estimating their troop strength as 20,000 or more. No other group is generally believed to field over 10,000 troops; several are likely to fall in the 1,000 to 5,000 range, with many numbering under 1,000. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 **]

“Prior to 1988 non-state groups controlled a large proportion of Burma's land area, but this has since been greatly reduced by Tatmadaw inroads. Beginning in 1989 with the UWSA, the majority of armed groups have made ceasefire agreements with the state. Under these ceasefires, the non-state groups retain their arms and partial control over territory, but the agreements do not establish any new political structures and in some cases do not even exist in written form. Over 10 groups are still fighting against the Tatmadaw, but of these only the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and Karenni Army (KA) number over 1,000 troops. **

"Ceasefire groups" and "non-ceasefire groups" alike rely on local civilian populations to a large extent for resources, and most are engaged in business activities, so there are advantages in having more troops who can exert de facto influence over more villages-provided the group has the resources to arm and equip them. Even ceasefire groups want enough troops to defend themselves against rivals, and against the Tatmadaw should the ceasefire break down. Finally, greater troop strength is also used to claim greater legitimacy and rights to inclusion in political negotiations. All of these factors motivate some groups to seek expansion through forced or voluntary recruitment, while others recruit simply to maintain their present strength and position, particularly if prevented from expanding by lack of weapons, ammunition, and equipment. **

Each of the past 10 years has seen the creation of several new non-state armed groups, some by splitting off from existing groups and others newly created. In some cases these are factions breaking away in order to negotiate a ceasefire with the SPDC, while others have broken away from ceasefire groups in order to resume fighting. Either way, new factions or groups usually seek rapid expansion through recruitment in order to protect themselves and gain legitimacy. **

Child Soldiers in Armed Insurgency Groups in Myanmar

According to Human Rights Watch: “It is safe to say that most of Burma's non-state armed groups have at least some child soldiers in their ranks, but they differ greatly in how these children are recruited and treated, and in their willingness and efforts to stop using child soldiers. All of them are much smaller in troop strength than the Tatmadaw, and even taken in combination their numbers of child soldiers do not begin to compare with the large numbers of child soldiers in the Tatmadaw. Different groups have been ignoring or confronting the issue in very different ways. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 **]

Non-state groups differ from the Tatmadaw in that they recruit in far smaller numbers. Many child recruits tend to be volunteers, either because their families cannot support them, they want to participate in armed struggle, or because they are seeking to fight back against human rights abuses that have affected their families and villages. Some armed groups impose recruit quotas on villages, and families called upon to supply a recruit often send a child under 18-either to retain the older, more productive family members needed for family survival, or because they have no children over 18. The greatest test of the policy of a non-state group, and where policies against child recruitment often break down in practice, occurs when confronted with underage volunteers who may be homeless orphans, or child recruits sent by a village to fulfill its recruit quota. **

After recruitment, it appears that most of these armies treat their soldiers more humanely than the Tatmadaw does, though they do not provide much in the way of salary, and living conditions are often difficult. Some groups deploy child soldiers in combat situations, while others restrict them to office or rear-area duty. Desertion does occur, and many groups say that they do not have the capacity nor the will to pursue or recapture deserters. **

Without firm policies yet in place, newly established groups are particularly prone to recruiting children. Even long-existing non-state groups have only recently begun seeing child recruitment as an issue, or previously considered childhood to end at a younger age such as 15. Some, including the Karenni Army and the Karen National Liberation Army, have taken extensive measures to try to bring their practices into line with international standards. Others are wary of engaging the international community on this issue, including the Shan State Army-South, which appears to have taken some measures on its own but is reluctant to allow outside monitoring, and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which considers accepting children into non-combat roles in the Army as a form of foster care for vulnerable children, and insists that it will continue to deal with the issue without outside involvement. Finally, some groups flatly deny having child soldiers despite clear evidence to the contrary, or demonstrate no concern over the recruitment of children, including the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the Rebellion Resistance Force in KachinState, and the United Wa State Army. These examples and others are discussed in more detail below. **

An Alliance of Ethnic Groups and Civil War?

Patrick Winn wrote in Global Post: “With ethnic minorities making up about 40 percent of the population, the outbreak of a full-scale civil war would have disastrous economic, political and humanitarian consequences. Some 600,000 ethnic minority people have already sought refuge in neighboring countries. Long besieged by the army, Burma’s minority ethnic groups are warning that the election will be followed by a coming offensive to incapacitate their militias. In early November, six major ethnic armies agreed to amass fighters and battle as one force if the military begins a fresh campaign. [Source: Patrick Winn, Global Post, November 8, 2010 >>]

“We see a sort of alliance emerging between these groups,” said Donna Guest, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific program. “The new government, which they’ll claim was elected legitimately, may feel they have an increased mandate” to crackdown on armed ethnic groups. Altogether, Burma’s ethnic groups could potentially put up an effective force of skilled fighters, said Tim Heinemann, a retired U.S. Army colonel and head of Worldwide Impact Now, a non-profit that assists oppressed peoples. >>

“If you put them all together, they’re a sizable aggregate force with the ability to cause a lot of headaches,” he said. But the ethnic armies are heavily outnumbered by the more than 450,000-man force wielded by the Burmese military. “The military may assassinate [ethnic groups’] leaders. If you took out the head, they’d be left with a flopping body.” Despite muted optimism in some camps that the election could signal change in Burma, the country’s ethnic minorities can only anticipate more violence, Heinemann said. “The election doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s like putting the facade of a church on a whorehouse.” >>

Human Rights Violations by the Myanmar Military Against Minorities

The military regime’s campaigns of forced labor and child slavery were most cruelly targeted at ethnic peoples. Brutal military counter-insurgency tactics have including rape, torture and the murder of villagers . The Myanmar military has swept into Karen, Shan and Mon villages and seized people for forced labor. In defending its actions, the Myanmar regime has said it is in a battle against separatists and terrorists.

In October 2007, Human Rights Watch reported: “The Burma army's expansion is ongoing, and Burma army camps are in abundance throughout Burma, even in areas far from any armed conflict. Where there is no fighting, the troops work to restrict the activities and movements of the civilian population and make demands on them for forced labor and money. In areas where there is still armed conflict, the army attempts to undermine the opposition by destroying civilian villages and food supplies and retaliating against the local civilian population every time fighting occurs. Civilians in these areas are routinely forced to work as porters, guides, and unarmed sentries for Burma army units on military operations, and even walk in front of troops in areas suspected of landmine contamination (atrocity demining). Many of them are children, and many are wounded or killed in the process. This direct use of civilian children for military functions has been documented widely by Human Rights Watch and other organizations, and is not covered in detail in this report. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007]

Describing the tactics used by Myanmar military against Karen insurgents, Pascal Khoo Thwe wrote in “From the Land of Green Ghosts,” "People who were obviously civilians began emerging from the jungle into the clearing in which the [Karen] headquarters stood. They came out in pairs, chained together and clearly in a state of abject terror. They were civilian porters, kidnapped like the others we had seen and forced to carry munitions and walk ahead of the troops through minefields ... The first pair stumbled on to a landmine. There was a huge explosion, the dull boom of which echoed through the jungle ... severed body parts - hands, eyes, legs - of the sacrificial victims flew instantly into the air mingled with a cloud of dust. But the chain that bound them was unbroken, so their trunks collapsed on to the ground with a hollow thud, while arms, feet and fingers were scattered among the bushes." [Source: From the Land of Green by Pascal Khoo Thwe]

Rapes by Myanmar Security Forces in Ethnic Areas

Francis Wade wrote in The Guardian: “At least 13 women, including teenagers, have been subjected to prolonged rape by Burmese security forces in a remote village in the western state of Arakan. Human rights groups have warned that the incident threatens to trigger further violence in a region where several waves of ethno-religious rioting since June last year have killed more than 1,000 people. The women all belong to the Muslim Rohingya minority, which has borne the brunt of fighting between Muslim and Buddhist communities. One victim, an 18-year-old girl who cannot be named for security reasons, described how a group of uniformed soldiers from Burma's border security unit, known locally as NaSaKa, entered her house in northern Maungdaw township shortly after midnight on 20 February. [Source: Francis Wade, The Guardian, February 26, 2013 ><]

"They took us separately to different places and tortured and raped us," she said, referring also to her mother and younger sister, 15. The ordeal lasted until dawn, she said. "They came in and out of the house at least 15 times. They also beat my mother with a gun and dragged her outside to the road and beat her to the ground." According to the victim, 13 people in the village were assaulted. Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, which has monitoring teams in Maungdaw township, said she had separately confirmed that at least 11 people were raped that night. ><

“The incident comes eight months after the rape of a 26-year-old Buddhist woman by three Rohingya men triggered fierce rioting across Arakan state , and a state of emergency remains in place. Arakanese and Rohingya communities have clashed a number of times. Animosity toward the Muslim group is widespread among Arakanese, many of whom consider them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. "Sexual violence by Nasaka against Rohingya women has been documented for many years," says Matthew Smith, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, adding that prosecutions are rare for rapes committed by security forces. ><

“Khin Ohmar, founder of the Women's League of Burma, said that such ordeals terrorise the community. "I've heard of cases where rape survivors are kicked out of their village because the village head is so scared of retribution if they complain to the Burma army." She said that incidents like these happen "every time the army moves into remote areas", and that punishment is normally just transferral to another area "where rape continues but with different women". She thinks that the 20 February incident probably had its roots in "ethno-centric chauvinism and hatred" of the Rohingya. Following the attacks, villagers fled into nearby forests and across the border into Bangladesh, said Lewa. The victim told the Guardian that she and the other women had received treatment at a local clinic. The extent of their injuries is unclear, although one 19-year-old woman is believed to be in a critical condition. ><

Minorities Say Myanmar Army Continues to Uses Rape as Weapon of War

Esther Htusan of Associated Press wrote: “A soldier in full uniform saw the 7-year-old in her front yard soon after her parents left to tend to their rice paddies in Myanmar's restive state of Shan. She said he ordered her inside the family's bamboo hut. "He hit me and told me to take off my clothes," the girl told the tightly packed courtroom in a whisper, as her alleged assailant, Maung Win Htwe, looked on, stone-faced. "Then ... he raped me." [Source: Esther Htusan, Associated Press, January 15, 2014]

Rights activists in Myanmar say the army continues to use rape as a weapon of war nearly three years after President Thein Sein's nominally civilian government ended a half-century of brutal military rule. The Women's League of Burma released a report documenting more than 100 rapes, almost all in townships plagued by stubborn ethnic insurgencies. Nearly half were brutal gang rapes, several of the victims were children, and 28 of the women were killed or died from their injuries, said Tin Tin Nyo, the league's general secretary. She warned that there is little hope for change until the government amends Myanmar's constitution, which gives the military the right to independently administer all its affairs. The report said most of the attacks occurred in border areas, particularly in the states of Shan, where the 7-year-old lives, and Kachin. Perpetrators are rarely, if ever, punished.

Though it handed over formal control of the country, the army continues to heavily influence almost all facets of government, and holds a quarter of all seats in parliament. Few prominent officials have criticized the military over sexual violence — not even opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent more than 15 years under house arrest under the former ruling junta. Last month, at a press conference in the main city of Yangon, Suu Kyi was asked if she was concerned about the lack of accountability when it comes to the use of rape as a weapon of war. Instead of criticizing generals, she pointed out that insurgent groups also are responsible for sexual violence. "This has to do with rule of law. And that has to do with politics, and the position of the army as it is in a particular political structure," she said. "I think you are well aware of the fact that military armed groups which are not official armies also engage in sexual violence in conditions of conflict." The U.S. State Department said it was aware of the report, and urged the Myanmar government and military to investigate and prosecute all allegations of rape and sexual assault. Spokeswoman Marie Harf said that despite "tremendous progress" in Myanmar in the past three years, "significant challenges remain, including further improving the country's overall human rights situation."

Tin Tin Nyo said the cases her group was able to document are "just the tip of the iceberg." She said the information gathered for the report comes almost exclusively from victims or witnesses dared to speak out, and that researchers were unable to reach some areas because of security concerns. The league's report, compiled by 12 member organizations spread across the country, said in most cases attacks were carried out by soldiers who were carrying weapons and dressed in uniform. They included officers — such as captains, commanders and majors — and at least one major general.

Many of the rapes were carried out in front of the woman's husband or others, seemingly as a way to make communities too fearful to support ethnic militias. "These crimes are more than random, isolated acts by rogue soldiers," the report's authors wrote. "Their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern: Rape is still used as an instrument of war and oppression."

The report said most cases never make it to court, and those that come before military tribunals usually result in immediate acquittals. The alleged Nov. 11 attack on the 7-year-old is an exception. The soldier accused of raping her, Maung Win Htwe, was ordered to go to trial in a civilian court.

Lawyer Brang Di said the first witnesses appeared at Lashio District Court last week, including the girl, her parents and neighbors in a tiny Shan village near Thein Ni town. Brang Di said authorities agreed to try Maung Win Htwe in a civilian court only after a loud public outcry. "We are trying our best to have a fair judgment," he said.

Peace Treaties with the Ethnic Groups in Myanmar

By 1996, the government had signed peace treaties with 11 of the countries 12 ethnic groups. Even the country's largest drug kingpin and warlord, Khun Sa, had made a deal with the government by then. The only remaining major guerilla group was the Karen National Union.

The Shan State Army, the United Wa State Army, and the Kachin Independence Union all signed peace agreements with the government. The agreement promised the ethnic groups more autonomy and allowed some to grow opium unmolested.

The treaties were far from final resolutions to the insurgency problems. Even though the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) signed a peace treaty with the Myanmar government in 1994 the group refused to give up its arms and retained bases in the jungles. An agreement with Karenni broke down in 1996 in a disagreement over resources. After Khun Sa made a deal with the government some of his fighters continued fighting.

As of 2004, 28 armed insurgencies had entered into cease fire agreements with the government. Twelve of these were factions that had split from several largely defunct groups.

Efforts to End Ethnic Conflicts and Unify Myanmar

According to the U.S. State Department, Human Rights in Burma Report for 2013: “The government has signed ten ceasefire agreements with armed ethnic groups in the past year, including with the Karen National Union with which it had previously been at war for over 60 years. Still, the government’s previously longest running and most stable ceasefire with the Kachin broke down 18 months ago and fighting has intensified in recent months. [Source: U.S. State Department, Human Rights in Burma, February 18, 2013]

"Without a political settlement that addresses ethnic minority needs and goals, it is extremely unlikely there will be peace and democracy in Burma," the Transnational Institute, an Amsterdam-based research organization, said in a recent report. The United Nations has advocated a three-way dialogue among the military government, the democratic opposition and the country's ethnic minorities, but given many of the groups' history of drug involvement, it has been a hard policy to promote in Western capitals.[Source: Washington Post, September 25, 2009 |||]

Referring to the general that ruled Myanmar for two decades until 2010, a Western diplomat told the Washington Post , "When Than Shwe wakes up at night, he isn't worrying about democracy or international pressure...He's worrying about the ethnic groups." ||||

The Washington Post reports: “Over the past 20 years, the Burmese authorities have signed cease-fire agreements with 27 key opposition groups, most of which are ethnically based. The Burmese authorities have called on the cease-fire groups to disband their militias and take part in elections set for next year, but the groups, which have received little assistance from the central government, are loath to give up the leverage provided by their armed wings, although many have said they are not intrinsically opposed to participating in the elections. ||||

The groups seem more inclined to maintain their militias and use them to help force a better deal from the new government. The biggest cease-fire group, the United Wa State Army, is estimated to maintain 20,000 men under arms...The stakes are high. As the Transnational Institute points out, if the cease-fire groups are not defeated decisively, they will simply retreat to the mountainous border territory, where they are likely to resume wholesale narcotics trading to fund a renewed guerrilla campaign, intensifying regional instability. ||||

Resistance by Ethnic Insurgencies to Become “Border Guard Forces”

Under Burma's new constitution, these ethnic groups must give up their arms and agree to reconstitute themselves as part of so-called "border-guard forces." However, nearly all of the ethnic armies have declined to sign on.

AFP reported: “Many groups have previously signed ceasefire agreements with the junta, but tensions have increased after the regime’s attempts to bring ethnic armies under state control as “border guard forces” met with fierce resistance. In the areas where civil war continues, rights groups have accused the junta of waging a brutal counter-insurgency campaign involving the rape, torture and murder of villagers whose homes are routinely destroyed. [Source: AFP, November 8, 2010]

Reuters reported: “Tensions have escalated with a government demand that the groups convert their forces into border guard units under the command of the national army. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the regime's demand for the ethnic armies to join the border guard “would greatly reduce their autonomy and would represent a major concession in return for which they are being offered no political quid pro quo by the regime.” [Source: Reuters, August 31, 2009]

Khin Nyunt and Efforts to End Ethnic Conflicts in Myanmar

Former junta member Gen. Khin Nyunt had negotiated cease-fires with 17 ethnic insurgent groups and was working on a peace deal with the Karen National Union (KNU)—the largest insurgent group in Myanmar—when he was ousted by rival generals in 2004 and replaced by the hardliner Gen. Soe Win. After his ouster talks with the KNU broke down and hard-liners within the ruling junta became stronger and "resulted in increasing hostility directed at ethnic minority groups," U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in its 2006 report.

``The generals are clinging to a military solution, we believe that once they settle their internal affairs, the military will launch more offensives on the ethnic nationalities,'' said, Khur Hsen. spokeswoman for the Shan State Army. They sacked Khin Nyunt because Khin Nyunt pushed for democracy and national reconciliation with ethnic minorities.'' [Source: AP, October 22, 2004 ///]

Associated Press reported: “Soe Win traveled to Myanmar's north to meet with former rebels to reassure them that the government would maintain its policy of granting them limited autonomy and promoting development in their regions, a news report said Friday. Soe Win told former rebels in the northern Kachin state that the junta's ``policy toward the cease-fire groups will not change,'' Radio Free Asia reported, quoting Ngu Yin Taung Haw, a spokesman for the New Democratic Army of Kachin. ///

Khin Nyunt, who was also military intelligence chief, was considered pragmatic and willing to engage in dialogue with both ethnic rebels and Suu Kyi's pro-democracy movement. ``Khin Nyunt was the man who masterminded cease-fires -- 17 in all -- and reduced the wars on the frontier even if he did not stop the predatory behavior of the military toward civilians,'' said Josef Silverstein, a longtime U.S. scholar of Myanmar affairs.” ///

Thein Sein and Efforts to End Ethnic Conflicts in Myanmar

Hannah Beech wrote in Time: “Since coming to power in 2010, Thein Sein, a former junta member, has signed long-term cease-fires with 10 ethnic armies, including the Karen, the Mon and the Shan. But peace has eluded Kachin areas of northern Burma, which are spread over Kachin state and parts of Shan state. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, January 28, 2013]

In August 2011, Thein Sein has outlined a three-step plan towards peace with the rebel groups, starting with ceasefires, resettlement of refugees and political talks, then parliamentary procedures to formalise the deals. Within a few months after outlining the plan preliminary ceasefires had been agreed with 12 of the 16 armed ethnic groups or political organizations that have responded to President Thein Sein's appeal for all sides to start dialogue.

China and Efforts to End Ethnic Conflicts in Myanmar

The Washington Post reports: The generals who run the country cannot afford to anger China, their most significant ally and investor, in the process. China played a key role in persuading the groups to talk to the government. Many were part of the Beijing-sponsored Burma Communist Party, which controlled most of the territory along the Chinese border until it imploded in the late 1980s. At the time, Beijing's interests lay in keeping the groups as a buffer, but that policy came at a cost as many Burmese warlords established mini-states, funding themselves through drugs and gambling and spreading addiction, disease and crime into China's southern borderlands. [Source: Washington Post, September 25, 2009 |||]

“Many analysts now say that the Chinese are eager to see Burma reunified under a central government, pointing out that Beijing wants to build pipelines through Burma to import oil and gas from the Andaman Sea to the populous but relatively poor province of Yunnan and to open trade routes to the lucrative markets of India. ||

“Signs are growing that the groups China used to see as a strategic buffer it now regards as a barrier to trade. When the Burmese army moved against the Kokang militia, one of the weaker groups, the Chinese government rebuked it over the refugees who were driven across the border. Beijing urged the junta to "properly deal with its domestic issues to safeguard the regional stability of its bordering area with China." Some analysts say, however, that the rebuke reflected displeasure over how the takeover was handled rather than the takeover itself. |||

Refugee Crisis in China Prompted by Fighting in Myanmar, See Relations with China

Fighting Continues Despite Efforts to End Ethnic Conflicts in Myanmar

In May 2013, The Irrawaddy reported: “Renewed clashes between ethnic armed groups and Burmese government forces in Shan State...comes amid a widening conflict in northeastern Burma, which intensified in December 2012 with heavy fighting in northern Kachin State leading to at least 70,000 Kachin refugees fleeing to China. Since early April, the Burmese military has expanded its campaign into northern and central Shan State in an attempt to seize bases along the strategically important Salween River. [Source: The Irrawaddy, May 9, 2013 ^^]

David Eubank, the founder and director of the Free Burma Rangers, said: “The conflict between the government of Burma and the ethnic people of Burma goes on. There is a build-up of Burma Army positions in territory taken from the ethnic groups. “No resolution has been agreed on. The root issues of ethnic rights, basic human rights, self-determination, local governance, transparency and justice must be addressed.” ^^

According to The Nation: Thailand is not exactly squeeky-clean when it comes to Myanmar's internal conflict. It is an open secret that the Thai and Burmese security forces have used the ethnic armies along the common border as a buffer. Needless to say, this approach reflected the historical mistrust between the two capitals.

See Kachin, Shan, Karen

Myanmar’s Effort to Make Nationwide Cease-Fire Agreement with Ethnic Rebel Groups

March 2014,Radio Free Asia reported: “In a fresh sign of cooperation ahead of planned high-level talks, Myanmar government negotiators and ethnic rebel leaders have agreed to jointly frame a nationwide cease-fire agreement aimed at ending decades of fighting. The ethnic groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) announced that they would form a committee to write up the text of the cease-fire pact, which officials are anxious to sign as early as next month. "The two sides have agreed to form a joint working committee acceptable to both sides to draw up a draft of, and later sign, a nationwide ceasefire pact,” the government’s top negotiator Aung Min said at the end of a two-day meeting in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon. [Source: Radio Free Asia., March 10, 2014]

More than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups set up the NCCT in November to coordinate discussions with the government on the cease-fire deal, which could lead to political dialogue on forming a federal union giving the groups greater powers in ethnic states. “The group [joint working committee] will have equal numbers of leaders from both sides, the UPWC and the NCCT,” said Aung Min, a minister in President Thein Sein’s office.

Each side has already drawn up their own drafts, and the new panel is expected to put together a unified version ahead of negotiations planned in the coming weeks in Hpa-An in eastern Myanmar’s Kayin (Karen) state that have been postponed several times. The committee will include three members each from Myanmar’s military, parliament, and the cabinet, as well as nine representatives chosen from among the 16 rebel groups in the NCCT.

Both sides have said repeatedly that a nationwide cease-fire pact could be signed within weeks but have not set a firm date after previous plans for the Hpa-An meeting were cancelled over disagreements. President Thein Sein’s government has been racing to get all of the country’s rebel groups to sign on to the nationwide pact in a bid to speed up reforms after decades under military rule. Ethnic leaders have demanded political dialogue be conducted before they sign it, while the government has said the pact should be a precondition for political talks.

The previous round of high-level talks were held in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina in November 2013, year, in a landmark conference that was the first time in decades Myanmar government representatives had met with so many rebel groups within the country’s borders.

Ethnic leaders have said Thein Sein’s pledges to end the decades-old conflicts have been marred by the military’s behavior in recent clashes which have undermined trust in the peace process. NCCT member Khun Okka, who leads the Pa-O National Liberation Organization and is joint secretary of a major coalition of rebel groups, welcomed the participation of military leaders in the new committee, saying members of the military have recently become more involved in peace talks. "In the past, military leaders were not present at the talks and the cease-fires we reached were ineffective,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service at the Yangon meeting. “But now it is encouraging to see them and we hope to achieve better pacts."

Most of the ethnic armed groups have reached individual cease-fire agreements with the government in recent years, except for the Kachin Independence Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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