Contact: Roland Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
BURMA'S CEASEFIRE NEGOTIATION - WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
August 9, 2015
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It's great news that the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was not finalized last week. Apparently, though, the talks will continue, and soon, between the dictatorship and representatives from five of the Ethnic Armed Organizations. The ethnic nationalities are under extraordinary pressure to sign. However, they should stay firm and say, quite simply: "We will talk when you are ready to compromise - on the Constitution and federalism and democracy; on ending Burma Army attacks; and on withdrawing Burma Army troops. Not before."
All they have to say is No. It's really not that difficult.
To give an illustration of this, the Obama Administration recently concluded a negotiation with Iran to end its nuclear program. There is immense pressure, certainly within the Democratic Party, but really for everyone, to accept the deal, since the goal of not having a nuclear-armed Iran is so important. But, one of the leading Democratic senators, Chuck Schumer, and who is an Obama ally, said that he will not support it. (Congress must approve the agreement.) His reason is that the current deal will put Iran in a favorable position after ten years to quickly obtain a nuclear weapon. He is concerned that what seems to be a breakthrough today may well become a fiasco in the not too distant future.
(Note: I'm not affirming Senator Schumer's position - I'm not informed enough on the issue. I just wanted to applaud his courage.)
Politically, it was a huge thing for the senator to take this stand, but practically, all he had to do was say No. It's the same with the EAOs in Burma. Politically, they may worry about the propaganda that regime agents are spreading, that they are "hardliners," merely for being unwilling to yield on their fundamental and completely rightful concerns. Nonetheless, since signing now would be terrible for the interests of their peoples, practically it should be easy to say No.
There is a real risk that at the last moment the generals will allow all seventeen EAOs to sign. If I were Than Shwe, I certainly would. The dictatorship will reap a huge and one-sided victory, right before the election. The Burma Army can then break the agreement, anytime it wants.
Not only that, Burma history will then view Mutu Say Poe, Kwe Htoo Win and Sao Yawdserk as visionaries, not turncoats - the ethnic leaders who were smart enough to realize that "surrender was in the best interests of Burma," even if it required the sacrifice of their own peoples.
I may be overreacting, but the leaders of the Senior Delegation and of the EAOs themselves must understand that no matter what the dictatorship is willing to agree to, on paper, they should never sign anything until after the election process is completed and the final results are published. Having a signing ceremony before this, with international diplomats in attendance and for the world to see, will be the unambiguous end of any hope for freedom and democracy in Burma.
It also raises the question of what, if anything, the EAOs hope to gain by agreeing to an NCA now. What extra benefit do they anticipate that will not be available if they wait until November?
It is further important to remember with whom they will be signing. The regime has in no way been held to account for its multitude of crimes, including recently and notoriously, the bombing at Laiza which killed twenty-three trainees, and the raping and killing of two young teachers, Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin. The military dictatorship and its soldiers and other agents now have immunity from prosecution, and they have no plans at all to give it up.
If the EAOs agree to the NCA, the ethnic nationality peoples will be doomed to continued assaults, rapes and murders, and to having dams built on their rivers, their villages flooded, their land stolen, their mountains torn up for mines, even more of their forests cut down, and few options other than to be sweatshop laborers in new industrial and contract agricultural zones. The people who run the world for the wealthy in one country after another will own Burma, too. What an unmitigated disaster.
If the ethnic nationality pro-democracy resistance feels compelled to keep talking, it should focus on the core issues - conflict, human rights abuses, and democracy, and also spread the meetings out. There is no need to go every week. This only benefits the dictatorship.