By Htun Aung Gyaw
March 2006

The strategic approach for the non-violent movement combined with democratic armed forces

The recent statement made by the National League for Democracy (NLD) has turned the Burmese pro-democracy activists inside out; some have hailed the concession made by NLD and some are disappointed. Most who are disappointed are ethnic minority leaders who feel marginalized in the political process and argue that the NLD needs to highlight their cause, too. Most critics are from outside of Burma, but ethnic leaders who live under the military control have accepted and understand the NLD initiative. In short, the NLD offer will be turn down by the regime; it will be the dead end for both parties. At this juncture, non violent strategy alone cannot reach the goal for democracy; it is time for the Burmese pro-democracy activists to favor the arm struggle and built up a leverage to reach its goal.

The crucial factor now is how all the people who live in Burma achieve the goal for democracy. All must work together and trust each other to achieve this goal, instead of arguing and pointing fingers, without progress. It only jeopardizes the fragile unity that has been building for decades.

Is it a meaningful move made by NLD? Does the NLD have a strategy to execute its goals for democracy if the regime failed to response its offer? If the answer is yes, then the offer made by the NLD is an acceptable one. But if there is no strategy behind this offer, it will be doomsday for the NLD, and it will loose its credibility.

Also, is it necessary to ask for one-on-one talks with the NLD and the regime instead of tripartite dialogue? Consider the response made by State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). If the SPDC's generals ignore the offer, it will be a dead end for both parties, with no need to argue about the ethnic rights and their involvement in the political process. If the SPDC response positive and dialogue begins, the one-on-one discussions are necessary.

Ethnic minorities must be patient and trust the NLD's move if the dialogue starts because a simple approach is better than a complicated one. Understanding the military rule is crucial because under military rule civil society shrinks and disperses into small conglomerates. There is no freedom of speech and discussion under military rule. We need to give the NLD a last chance to make this move by itself.

The past experience

There are many events and bitter experiences that All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) had faced in the past sixteen years. Students gathered at the Thai border after the pro-democracy movement was brutally crushed in 1988 by the military, killing thousands. Students from all ethnic backgrounds came to the border for one reason—to fight back with the help from the ethnic resistance groups—and formed an umbrella organization called All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF). They were warmly welcome by ethnic resistance leaders, but with little trust and support for arm struggle. Karen National Union (KNU), Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and New Mon State Party (NMSP) were the strongest ethnic groups among other resistance groups in the National Democratic Front (NDF) the umbrella organization formed by ethnic freedom fighters.

After 1988 uprising, the morale of the students was high and the people's support was enormous. Furthermore, the military regime was very weak and lacking civic support and morale. Rumors spread that thousands of students were being trained by the Karen, Mons and Kachins, and the soldiers from the Burmese army were ready to defect. Citizens were expecting an offensive from the student army. Conditions were right for the revolution, but the students did not get the arms and ammunition that they needed to fight and start an offensive. Why did this happen? Ethnic leaders did not trust the students and saw them as Burmans, though they came from different ethnic backgrounds.

For example, NMSP leaders gave ABSDF members old guns for military training. Students from 101 and 102 camps were very happy to get the guns because they had been waiting for real training with real guns to fight the regime. Some guns were only good for training and some automatic guns only worked for a single shot, but students were very happy to have them. When KIO chairman Bran Saing saw the situation, he gave money to the NMSP leaders to buy 80 guns for the ABSDF students. NMSP officials bought the arms and sent the gun's list to the KIO leader. When Chairman Brang Sang received the gun's list he gave the list to the ABSDF Chairman. The ABSDF Chairman and his members joyfully rushed into the Mon's headquarters in Three Pagoda Pass and asked for their guns with the list in his hand. Mon General Naing Htaw Mon tore the list and said the old guns given by them for training purpose were the guns from the Kachin leader. The order for the new guns was for them. That is one ofthe many reasons the ripe time for the armed revolution is over.

Why did they act like that? It is simple mistrust and fear of the students' power and strength. Ethnic resistance leaders thought if the students became too powerful they would lose their territory. Students would lead the revolution and ethnic leaders would be left behind. Ethnic leaders wanted to control the revolution, though they knew that students had tremendous support from the people. They did not realize that their vision was concentrated only on race and limited territory. On the other hand, students have a broader outlook and think for the entire country, not only for one race. That is the difference between the students and the ethnic resistance groups, and that is the reason students are welcome by the majority of people with different back grounds.

KNU general Maung Maung (deceased) said, "When you guys get democracy and enjoy the cities, we still will be fighting for our freedom in the jungle and suffering malaria.” This is the mistrust and fear of losing territory which has been dragging the unfinished revolution until today and everybody is suffering from this mind set. This legacy continues and will continue until all the pro-democracy groups realize and understand its negative effects. Trust and teamwork is necessary to overcome the hardship and reach freedom.

Comparison between the Ne Win Era and present regime

After Ne Win stage a coup in 1962, he detained political party's leaders for seven years and he released them and asked them for helping him to rebuild the country. Thirty three members committee was invited to his place and many gave their suggestions to Ne Win, among them former Prime Minister U Nu personally gave his advice. He said Ne Win must hand over state power to him because toppled down the democratic government by coup de' ta is not a good tradition for the country future. Then he would convene the parliament and legally hand over the state power to Ne Win. But Ne Win ignored his advice.

Now NLD is exactly doing the same offer. But the difference between the two regimes is Ne Win requested the advice from the opposition, Than Shwe did not. Under Than Shwe rule, he did not take any advice from political parties including their ally party National Unity Party (NUP). Only NLD offer one sided concession. It seems that the mentally of the regimes are the same, Ne Win request for the advice and turn down all the proposals and advices. Why Than Shwe have to accept NLD offer because he did not request like Ne Win? Possibility of the NLD offer is negative 100%. One good thing is so called activists and Burmese experts who blame NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for not reaching the agreement with the regime as stubborn and an uncompromised entity will be silent after this offer.

The present and the future course

NLD has given a target date for reform, April 17, the Burmese New Year. Everybody is wondering what will happen if the target date has been reached and the military junta does not respond. NLD needs a plan to take action against the junta if ignored. If the military does not respond or rejects the NLD's offer, April 17 will be the uprising, just like the 1988 calling for the four eights 8.8.88 movement.

If the junta ignores the offer, what NLD will do? What will pro-democracy activists from the outside do? The NLD must take responsibility for history and have a plan. The regime has been trying to undermine the NLD movement since the NLD won the landslide victory in the 1990 election. Now people are losing faith in NLD because nothing has changed since the NLD won the election. The SPDC's' goal is to buy time for maintaining power. They are proving that the NLD does not have the ability to fight against them, even though the SPDC ambushed Aung San Suu Kyi 's upper Burma trip and killed hundreds of her supporters. The junta has been smashing down the NLD again and again and again and the NLD is weakening. If people lose hope in the NLD, the regime will spin the political course by calling another election, which will favor them to win.

The junta will not respect and respond to the NLD offer. They will not negotiate with the NLD because there is no benefit for them to negotiate with the opposition party, they will loose political power, or at least part of it. We must prepare for this outcome and plan to support the possible uprising inside Burma. If nothing happens by April 17, we need to call a conference and encourage the armed struggle to combine with the nonviolent struggle. Look at the 1988 movement, the whole nation rose up and supported the student-led demonstrations but it was brutally crushed down. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi led the non-violent movement, but now she is under house arrest and out of contact with the outside world. Non-violent strategy is not working alone in Burma. We need to support and encourage the student army and ethnic resistance groups to rise up and fight against the regime. It is time for the revival of the All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) and the formation of theBurma Independence Army (BIA), which cooperates with all resistance groups.

Ethnic leaders need to step away from their ethnic politics and instead work for national freedom to make the movement successful. The BIA members only think about how to topple the military regime and that goal is crucial for all participants. There must not be conflict within the BIA: one goal, one concentration will clear the mistrust and racist attitudes toward each other.

Also, a wider vision will terminate the territorial disputes. When the regime is toppled, they will become the leaders of the whole nation, as well as the leaders of their own ethnic race. BIA will change to Federal Army of Burma, and the Federal Union of Burma or the United States of Burma will be born.

Than Shwe – Mg Aye gang will not negotiate with the NLD unless we build leverage from our side. International pressure alone is not enough for regime change, and the United Nations is only a paper tiger. The international community doesn’t care about Burma, so Burmese freedom fighters must unite and fight for their rights by themselves. International supporters who favor peaceful means need to understand that sometimes war is necessary to obtain peace. Peace will not come without this leverage because the SPDC will not listen or look at us. The SPDC’s next step is to eliminate the NLD and its leaders. The recent press conference made by the SPDC indicates that it is going to try to crush opposition parties, including 88 generation leaders Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi.

We have to prove that we have the ability to shake them up from top to the bottom. Non-violent strategists must understand that negotiation and compromise are not in the military dictionary. They need to know that Gandhi successfully execute his non violent strategy because the British government respect the rule of law, the tolerance level of the British colonial rule was much higher than the Burmese regime. Those non-violent initiators degraded their status from activists to salaried workers who depend on project money and corruption. The SPDC will only negotiate when their enemy is as strong as they are. Look at Iraq, where the insurgents are fighting successfully against the world’s most advanced army. The U.S. government is trying to negotiate with them because the insurgents have built up their leverage. Unlike the U.S. army, the Burmese army is poorly equipped and morally corrupt, because of this reason if we have unity and fight like a lion without fear, we will win this war and finally have our freedom.