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ျမန္မာစာမ်က္ႏွာ | Myanmar Peace Monitor
You are here: Feature S.H.A.N. President Thein Sein: Real Reformer or Pretender?

President Thein Sein: Real Reformer or Pretender?

President Thein Sein seems to be on the right track, when he ordered or instructed the military on December 10 to cease its offensive against the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA). But reports coming in indicate that either the military is disobeying the presidential order or the instruction has not reached all the units, which according to Aung Thaung, Minister of Industry and head of the Union Level Peacemaking Group, sporadic skirmishes in remote areas occurred, due to the fact that troops there might not have received the instruction due to a lack of a proper telecommunication system.

s-wsaiAccording to the Kachin News Group (KNG) report of 17 December, Thein Sein's directive to halt offensive against the KIA has not been heeded. It writes: “Although Burma’s President Thein Sein publicly released a letter on December 10 to the commander-in-chief of the military directing the army to end its northern offensive, the Burmese army has continued to fight the KIO. Fighting has been particularly fierce in territory belonging to the Kachin Independence Army’s (KIA) third battalion. Eyewitnesses on the ground in Kachin State report that despite Thein Sein’s peace directive, the army on Wednesday sent more than 500 troops to the Sadung region in preparation for an apparent government offensive."

Likewise, The Irrawaddy reported on 15 December that according to one Western observer fighting continues to rage on unabated near the KIO's headquarters of Laiza, on the Sino-Burmese border. The observer, who just returned on 14 December, said that fierce fighting just outside of Mai Ja Yang, a few kilometers away.

AP also reported on 14 December that despite the ceasefire announcement, KIA officials said fighting continued on the front lines and reinforcement troops were arriving.

"This is welcome," said Henry Hkaung, an advisor to the KIA's chief of staff.  "But the problem is although Thein Sein has encouraged the army to stop offensive fighting; military offensives are still going on and mostly increasing the number in all parts of the state. The fighting on the front line is still going on, so the military does not listen to Thein Sein's order."

In an interview conducted by Mizzima, in Burmese, on 13 December, David Thakabaw, Vice-President of the Karen National Union (KNU) said, in order to achieve ceasefire, the government must first stop its offensives against all the non-Burman ethnic groups.

He said: "What I'm thinking now is that whether U Thein Sein really has the power to implement. Does he really want ceasefire? Does he have power over the military? As a president, he should have power. If he's fake he won't have power. We must now consider and decide on the given situation. We only want to discuss with the real president, so that it will be workable. If not, it will be only tactical move for us. That's why we need to wait and see, whether the president is genuine or fake."

As such, Aung Thaung's excuse of sporadic skirmishes, due to lack of a proper telecommunication system to relay the President's instruction to halt offensive on the KIA to the Burmese troops in the field, is totally unconvincing.

Thein Sein's progress in trying to polish his international standing could be said to be enormous, especially in accommodating Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD by widening the political space, even though major crucial points in the 2008 Constitution like military's right to be placed in a leading role position; 25% built-in seats allotment for the military in national, states and regions parliaments; military's right to declare emergency rule, whenever it feels national security is threatened and so on are not mentioned or discussed.

Accordingly, NLD is now allowed to be reregistered and would run for by-elections for 40 or more parliamentary vacant seats soon. In regional level, ASEAN has already endorsed Burma to chair in 2014, which it previously had surrendered following the crackdown on the saffron revolution. On top of this, Secretary of States, Hillary Clinton's historic visit to Burma, with the prospective opening up of ties with the US, a few weeks ago also has uplifted Burma's tattered legitimacy standing to a new height, which could eventually open previously closed doors, due to its gross human rights violations.

To date, Thein Sein regime has signed ceasefire agreement with four ethnic armed groups, United Wa State Army (UWSA), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Shan State Army “South” (SSA-S), while negotiation is going on with the Shan State Army “North” (SSA-N) through the go-betweening of its former boss Gen Hso Ten, who was sentenced to 106 year imprisonment by Naypyitaw but released after serving 6 years.

Further talks have been going on with the Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Kachin National Organization (KNO) and Chin National Front (CNF), including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which Thein Sein regime is waging a major offensive.

And it is this double standard approach of ceasing hostilities on most all ethnic areas, while conducting a full scale war with a hundred or more battalions against the KIA, which makes the non-Burman ethnic armed groups doubtful of the regime’s sincerity to end the conflict.

Although there was a meeting between KIO and Burmese government representatives, in Ruili, Yunnan Province, China, on 29 November, no agreement could be reached, due to the fact that the KIO has insisted on political dialogue as a starting point, while the regime wanted to sign the ceasefire pact first, followed by establishing liaison offices, prior notification when entering each other’s territory, area development and finally union-level dialogue, used as a standard in negotiating with other ethnic armed groups.
After the breakdown of ceasefire agreement on 9 June, which has lasted some 17 years, due to the insistence of the Thein Sein regime to forcefully integrate the KIA into its Border Guard Force (BGF) plan under the Burma Army, several peace talks have been conducted between the two adversaries, without success.

The talks failed mainly because of the different political positioning. The KIO position has been the 1947 Panglong Agreement, guaranteeing the rights of all non-Burman ethnic nationalities in the multi-ethnic nation, which should serve as the basis for any agreement or political give-and-take. But the regime’s stance is to negotiate on the basis of the 2008 Constitution, which means the KIO needed to disarm its military wing, the KIA, aside from having to agree to the regime’s military supremacy position, without question.

Recently, Brig-Gen Gwan Maw, the deputy commander in chief of  KIA,  told DVB that a letter signed by U Aung Thaung, head of the national-level negotiating team, on 18 December. Accordingly, the government peace committee wanted to discuss political issues, and that eleven-man committee has been specifically formed to negotiate with the KIA, which also include U Aung Min, Minister of Railway and U Thein Zaw. The KIA is said to soon reply to the regime’s overtures.

According to The Mirror, the government owned newspaper, representatives from the DKBA and representatives from the union level of Thein Sein’s government met for the first time on 11 December, in Pa-an Town, Karen State. The DKBA was led by Major General Saw Lah Pwe and Burma government representative from union level was headed by Member of Parliament U Aung Thaung.

Both sides signed an agreement on the following points:

  • Confirm temporary agreements reached at the 3rd November preliminary meeting,
  • Not to separate Karen State from the Union of Burma,
  • Uphold the three main national causes, (a) Non-disintegration of the Union, (b) Non-disintegration of the National Solidarity and (c) Perpetuation of Sovereignty
  • Set up temporary base at Sone Zee Myaing and carry out local development for the DKBA’s Klo Htoo Baw soldiers families in the Sukali area,
  • Corporate with the government to eradicate [illicit] drugs and
  • Continue to hold further talks to build lasting peace.

Meanwhile, RFA reported that Sai Lao Hseng, spokesman for SSA-S said that its representatives met the Burmese counterparts in Tachilek, on 17 December, and agreed to proceed to union level discussion, sometime in January 2012. SSA-S has signed a state level ceasefire agreement, on 2 December, in Taunggyi, with the Shan State Peacemaking Body. It looks that the SSA-S forthcoming meeting might somehow produce the same result like what the DKBA has just agreed.

Given such a perplexed scenario, one couldn’t help to wonder, as to why Thein Sein does not opt for a nation-wide ceasefire and hold a collective meeting, encompassing all stakeholders, to solve the problem once and for all.

The answer to the question could be that the President is not his own man and has still to take orders from General Than Shwe, the retired strongman and real power behind the government; or he is a real reformer having to do the tightrope walking, so that the hardliners don’t feel threatened or offended in anyway; or he is just pretending to be a reformer, when in fact, he is protecting the privileged military top brass, to which he also belong, by helping them to fade away in dignity and as well, with all their acquired, ill-gotten wealth of the country.

The contributor is the General Secretary of Shan Democratic Union (SDU) - Editor