Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


July 21, 2016

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Last year there was a big push before the November general election to get the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). While the very top officials of the KNU and the SSA-S did sign, thankfully the many other significant resistance forces refused. Their stated reason was the lack of inclusivity. The military dictatorship forbade the TNLA, MNDAA and AA from participating. (The UWSA, NDAA, Naga and other ethnic armed forces also were not involved.) More realistically, though, the reason the NCA failed was that it was, to put it bluntly, ridiculous. It was a ceasefire agreement that did not even include an on-the-ground ceasefire! The Burma Army was under no obligation to stop its attacks. Moreover, the regime would not withdraw its forces from the ethnic homelands, much less amend the constitution and allow a federal democracy to protect ethnic rights. It was a shambles, and the lack of inclusivity was merely a simple excuse to explain the failure.

Now, Aung San Suu Kyi has formed a new government. She has announced that a Union Peace Conference will be held next month, which is also being referred to as the second Panglong, after the conference organized by her father in 1947, and which led to the Panglong Agreement.

This new conference is essentially a repeat of the NCA negotiation, and as with the NCA it holds great peril for the EAOs and their peoples. The backdrop in the country is that even with the new government, for the ethnic nationalities nothing has really changed. The Civil War is still ongoing - the Burma Army is continuing its offensives and crimes against humanity. There are still hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons. Also, there are still political prisoners; other dissidents are now undergoing trial; and the entire legal apparatus that permits arbitrary arrest is still essentially in place - if anything, it is being strengthened. I might add, the ethnic population breakdown from the 2014 National Census has still not been published.

The NCA negotiation was run by the Myanmar Peace Center, which in turn was set-up by the military dictatorship and staffed with its officials. The MPC was severely criticized for being biased in favor of the regime. Many people suggested that when a post-election peace process was undertaken that the MPC should be disbanded and an entirely new organization created.

The MPC was disbanded, and Suu Kyi has now established a threefold structure, with an eleven person National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), which she heads; a six person Peace Commission; and a three person Think Tank. However, by my count over half the members of the NRPC are from the dictatorship (this does not include Suu Kyi herself, although it well might); and with the same for the Peace Commission; and with the Think Tank composed of former MPC members. In other words, there is no new and nonpartisan peace process structure. If anything, the dictatorship now has an even greater say.

Suu Kyi recently met with leaders of the EAOs which refused to sign the NCA. She referred to the participants in the gathering as part of the Family of Burma. She also conveyed her basic positions.

- The EAOs will have to "give," and by this she apparently means to compromise and even potentially to abandon their long held aspirations for peace, freedom and federal democracy for their peoples.

- The Union Peace Conference might not be inclusive (the TNLA, MNDAA and AA may not be allowed to participate after all).

- The Panglong Agreement will be invalidated. (She also misrepresented the Agreement, saying that it was only the result of a pre-independence meeting, and therefore not that significant, when in fact it was a formal treaty between the Burmans and the Shan, Kachin, and Chin, and which is still legally binding.)

- And, that the ethnic groups will also have to give up their associated right of secession.

With these as her negotiation positions, and to repeat the earlier point, the Peace Conference is fraught with risk for the ethnic nationalities.

For some years I have feared that Suu Kyi might be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. This is where the victims of abduction over time start to sympathize with their kidnappers. Given that she has now used the metaphor of a family, though, I believe another description might be made.

The military dictatorship is the father in Burma, and with which label I am certain the generals would agree. But this father is extremely abusive, engaging in literally the worst possible behavior against the other family members, including starvation, torture, rape and murder. Suu Kyi is the wife - or, as she is often called, the mother - of the Burma family. The people are the children. And, of the children, the ethnic nationalities have suffered by far the worst of the father's abuse.

I believe that Suu Kyi is acting like a battered or abused spouse. She refuses to even criticize the father, and also refuses to protect the children. Instead, she is doing what so many battered wives unfortunately do - she is tolerating the abuse, including against the children. But, by doing this, and while I do not mean to minimize her own suffering, she is being a terrible mother.

I would encourage Suu Kyi to try to understand one thing. The Burma Army has over two hundred thousand soldiers (the exact number is unknown), and literally thousands of them have perpetrated rapes and murders against ethnic nationality individuals. The Burma Army is a gang of monsters, absolute monsters, starting at the very top. They - every single one of them - know who they are and what they have done, and continue to do. This is the reality for the ethnic groups. Their homelands have been invaded by monsters. The sooner Suu Kyi understands this, and the sooner she starts to stand up and defend them, the better.

For the EAO leaders: Stick to your guns. There is no reason to expect progress from the Peace Conference. Indeed, its run-up seems designed to manipulate you to surrender. Once again, you are going to have to politely say "No": to refuse to yield your self-defense mission and principles.