Monday, June 1, 2009

Will ceasefire groups yield to junta’s pressure?

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Burmese military junta is gearing up for another round of talks with the armed ceasefire group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), after it rejected the junta’s proposal to hand over control of its army.

An UWSA officer on Friday told Mizzima that the junta’s Chief Military Affairs Security (MAS) Lt-Gen Ye Myint is planning to pay a second visit to the UWSA in an attempt to persuade the group to accept the junta’s proposal.

“We heard that he [Ye Myint] will come again and talk about the proposal,” the UWSA official, who spoke to Mizzima on condition of anonymity, said.

“This comes after we informed the Burmese military government in Naypyitaw of our decision that we have decided to reject their proposal to turn our army into a border guard force controlled by them,” he added.

He, however, failed to mention the venue and time for the forthcoming meeting between UWSA’s leaders and Ye Myint.

In late April, Lt-Gen Ye Myint, held separate talks with delegations of several armed ceasefire groups including the UWSA, Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), Myanmar National Democratic Allied Army (MNDAA) and the National Democratic Allied Army (NDAA) in eastern Shan State.

Similarly, the Commander of the Northern Military Command, Maj-Gen Soe Win also met the Kachin Independent Organization/Army (KIO/A) and the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin state in northern Burma.

During the meeting, military officials proposed to the groups to transform their armies into a ‘Border Guard’ force, which will be under the administration of the Burmese Army.

According to the proposal, each battalion of border guard force will have 326 soldiers of which 30 will be Burmese soldiers. The salaries, rations, and other allowances for the soldiers would be paid by the junta. The administration of the force will include a few officers from the Burmese Army.

The UWSA, which signed a cease-fire pact with the regime in 1989, following its meeting on May 19, decided to retain its army and not to comply with the junta’s proposal.

“We think it is too early to reform our army as now we are in the transition period. We would like to keep the army,” the official told Mizzima.

The official added that transforming their army would undermine their decade-long armed struggle.

Along with the UWSA, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (MNDAA-ESS), Myanmar National Democratic Allied Army (MNDAA) and Shan State Army-North have reportedly rejected the junta’s proposal.

The decision apparently came after leaders of the UWSA, MNDAA-ESS, and MNDAA met in northeast Burma and discussed the regime’s proposal. All three groups had earlier worked together under the banner of the Communist Party of Burma (CBP), which collapsed in 1989.

Observers said the rejection could escalate tension between the ceasefire groups and the junta, as the proposal from Naypyitaw has come in a much lesser concession than the generals’ original idea of disarming the ceasefire groups.

The generals, according to Htay Aung, a Burmese analyst based in Chiang Mai, will keep the heat on the ceasefire groups to transform their armies even if they have rejected it.

“The junta will continue to pressurize them and push them, but if the cease-fire groups are reluctant and are not willing to accept their proposal, I believe, the junta will finally take military action against them,” Htay Aung said.

But he said, military action would be the regime’s last resort, as they are determined to conduct their planned elections in 2010 smoothly. The most pressing issue that the junta wants to tackle at this point is to carefully plan and eliminate the Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) before the election.

“So, the regime seems to be carefully and patiently handling and trying to convince the cease-fire groups, who rejected their proposal,” he added.

While agreeing that the junta will continue stepping up pressure on the ceasefire groups to accept the offer, a Sino-Burmese military affairs analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw said it is highly unlikely that the regime would want to start a fresh military offensive against the ceasefire groups at this point.

The regime knew that their proposal would be rejected by the ceasefire groups, but is giving it a try and would follow it up with more pressure, Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

“But I don’t see the regime taking military action against them [ceasefire groups],” he said.

Meanwhile, another major ethnic rebel group, the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO), however, has not finalized any decision as yet on the junta’s proposal.

Dr. Tuja, Vice-Chairman of the KIO, in an earlier interview with Mizzima said, the KIO will decide only after taking a consensus from its organization’s leaders, community leaders and other concerned people.

“This is what has been proposed by the junta. The KIO needs to discuss it. We can decide only after a detailed discussion with KIO leaders, community leaders and others,” Dr. Tuja said.

But Dr. Tuja said he welcomed the regime’s proposal, as it aims to benefit Kachin people saying, “I'm optimistic about everything. So should be the method in implementation too.”

While observers believe that the junta’s proposal is likely to be rejected by many of the ceasefire groups, there is also a soft-corner on the ceasefire’s side. Following the ceasefire pacts, the regime has made special business concessions for leaders of these armed resistant groups, which might make it difficult for many of the groups to ignore the junta’s proposal.

Htay Aung said for some groups, it might be difficult to ignore the junta’s proposal and take up a confrontational stand, because many of the leaders from these cease-fire groups would find it hard to abandon the business opportunities they have got.

“It is not very easy for the leaders of the cease-fire groups to abandon such an opportunity and the luxuries they have received from the Burmese regime,” Htay Aung said.

Leaders of many of the ceasefire armed groups including the UWSA, and the KIO have reportedly received business concessions from the junta, and own or run companies, by proxy, in cities including Rangoon and Mandalay.

Htay Aung said the most likely situation could be that both sides would come to a compromise and remove harsh conditions, as both sides seem to prefer keeping the guns silent.

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