Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


August 27, 2016

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The UNFC has announced that it will attend the upcoming Burma peace conference. I have previously presented reasons for boycotting the conference, but there is a good argument for going as well. If the ethnic armed organizations are bold, they can use their attendance to further their objectives, meaning for real peace, democracy and federalism.

The rationale for the boycott position is as follows. It is worth restating, since without changes by the Burma Army, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the country will never be at peace.

The conflict is still ongoing - specifically, the Burma Army has launched offensives in both Kachin and Northern Shan States. It is difficult to understand why there would even be a peace conference now, when one side is so dedicated to war. For example, peace talks are presently underway for the Philippines, following the announcement last week of an on the ground ceasefire by both sides. Also, a peace agreement has just been signed in Columbia, again after the first step of halting fighting on the ground. Until Burma's military dictatorship follows the lead of these two countries, and becomes a sincere and willing partner, there is plainly no hope of peace.

Secondly, the peace process negotiation is biased, remarkably, in favor of the dictatorship. Suu Kyi, who should be an independent arbiter, has sided with the generals. Indeed, one of her key spokespersons on the issue of peace, Khin Zaw Oo, is a Burma Army general and, according to a 2014 Harvard Law School study, an indictable war criminal. Irrawaddy quoted him last week, saying: "The Burma Army and the government share the same view."

Thirdly, the dictatorship still has not budged on the issue of inclusion, meaning the TNLA, MNDAA and AA will not be able to attend (despite their publicized willingness to do so.) Suu Kyi backs the dictatorship and accepts their exclusion. Again, a peace process that excludes important parties to the conflict cannot succeed.

Finally, the peace conference has no overt objective. The participants will share their views, but there will be no serious negotiations or target outcome (such as declaring a true nationwide on the ground ceasefire), and the entire exercise will be held again in six months.

Why, then, has the UNFC decided to go? The answer, to me at least, is simple. There is, both in Burma and internationally, a blackout on the country's civil conflict. Even though there is an actual air war, with Burma Army jets and helicopters repeatedly attacking EAO positions and ethnic nationality villages, this gets almost no attention. Even in Burma itself, there are no combat journalists, who stay at the front lines and report on the crisis firsthand. Instead, the war is only covered by local media outlets when the EAOs themselves publish information about the latest battles.

This all links back to Suu Kyi. She refuses to even acknowledge the fighting, certainly in specific terms, since were she to do so she would be forced to criticize its instigator, the military dictatorship. Diplomats and the media in turn follow her lead, meaning that the Burma Civil War, which is a major conflict, outside of the Middle East possibly the largest war now in progress, gets no recognition or coverage.

The peace conference therefore is a chance for the EAOs to explain what is really happening. Suu Kyi doesn't want to have a formal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (like in South Africa). Fine. The ethnic nationalities can use this meeting to get the truth out.

Many EAO representatives will speak, and I would suggest that they all dispense with self-censorship and diplomatic niceties. They should openly, and using concrete examples, describe the regimes's decades of tyranny, and its current actions at the front lines. While the format might not permit them to introduce individual victims as witnesses, such as people who have had family members slaughtered or who have been raped, they should nonetheless document, one speaker after another, the regime's invasion of their homelands and its crimes against humanity. It is time for the truth in Burma to be told! Suu Kyi's demand for censorship must be rejected!

This is a good reason to attend. Let's clear up the manufactured confusion - that the Burma Army and the EAOs are somehow "equivalent" - once and for all. The criminal dictatorship aggressor needs to be publicly outed and shamed, and then pressured to end its hostility and atrocities. This is the only way the country will ever know peace.