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Breaking the deadlock: Burma at a crossroads

Col Sai Htoo, Assistant Secretary General of the Shan State Progress Party / Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), said the Burmese government’s August 18 peace talks call did not reveal any information concerning preliminary programs at all. At least, he said, it should have focused on clearing the political atmosphere before any meaningful talks begin, according to Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.).

“President Thein Sein should first create an environment conducive to friendly negotiations,” he told SHAN on Tuesday morning. He said it is important to release political prisoners, to start pulling out of troops from the conflict zones and to declare a nationwide ceasefire announcement which will greatly brighten up the atmosphere.

However, at the meeting with Union Chief Justice Tun Tun Oo, Mr Quintana ( UN Human Envoy) put some questions forward on prisoners serving terms for their beliefs, amending existing laws to meet international norms, and formation and functions of the Constitutional Tribunal. The Union chief justice said that in Myanmar (Burma) there is no prisoner serving a term for his belief, and prisoners are all serving their terms for the crimes they have committed. He also added that courts have powers to hand down sentences in the framework of the prescribed laws, and the accused have the right to argue in line with the law under the current 2008 constitution, as said by the New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

Col Sai Htoo believes the 1947 Panglong Agreement that guarantees total autonomy, democracy and human rights for the states should be common ground on which peace talks should be conducted, and not the 2008 constitution “forcibly” drafted and ratified by the previous military junta.

According to Col Sai Htoo, there are reasons with the government is offering the peace talks. His rationales are as follow: (1) There is a conflict between Thein Sein government and the armed forces. (2) There is another conflict inside Thein Sein’s cabinet notably between President Thein Sein and his first-vice president Tin Aung Myint Oo. (3) Disciplinary problems are arising out of the Army’s inability to provide food, clothes and supplies for its troops and their families. (4) The government armed forces have suffered heavy casualties in the war in Kachin, Karen and Shan states. (5) The government hopes to break sanctions imposed by the Western bloc. (6) The government has an ambitious plan to chair the 10 member ASEAN in 2014.

The government’s “invitation to peace talks” says that any armed group wishing to hold negotiations must contact the state government first individually in order to start preliminary discussion, after completion of which, the government will form a team for peace talks.

On the other hand, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) also dismissed the government’s August 18 peace-talk offer. Talks between the KIO and the Burmese government also failed in 1963, 1972, and 1980.

Currently, the KIO declared that it will talk through the ethnic alliance, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), maintaining the values of the Panglong Agreement.

The SSA has been combating the Burma armed forces to gain self-determination for decades. The Burma Army and SSA reached a ceasefire deal in 1989. However, after 22 year of armistice promise, the ceasefire broken when the Burma Army’s launched an offensive on March 13 this year. The Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) is a member of the newly formed United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) as well and it holds that any meaningful negotiations with Burmese government must be with the UNFC.

If the government failed honoring the political ambition of ethnic people, it will be pointless to end political and civil conflict all over ethnic states. As a result, if the Burmese authorities neglected the opinion of the ethnic rebel-alliance, the critics may say that the current government is not heading toward a democratic system; instead it is challenging to pay no attention to the ethnic people’s self-determination.

Hence, the government has to review its policy on peace-talks vis-à-vis the rebel-alliance’s proposal. 

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