Thursday, 19 February 2015

More process than peace

Nguồn tin:

EVERY year Myanmar celebrates Union Day on February 12th to mark the signing of the Panglong agreement in 1947, which unified the country then known as Burma. President Thein Sein had hoped to use this year’s Union Day to sign a national ceasefire accord with most of the many armed ethnic groups which, for decades, have battled a government until recently in the hands of brutal military rulers. Instead, Myanmar’s army was embroiled in some of the heaviest fighting in years, after rebels from among the Kokang—an ethnic-Han people in northern Shan State on the Chinese border—tried to seize control of Laukkai, the Kokang region’s capital (see article). At least 75 government and rebel troops have been killed, and thousands of civilians have fled.

Elsewhere, low-level fighting continues between the army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which represents the Palaung, an ethnic Mon-Khmer people in northern Shan State. The Arakan Army, based in western Myanmar, fights alongside the Kachin Independence Army in Kachin state in the north. In November the government killed 22 Kachin soldiers in an attack on a training camp, and clashes continued in January. Gun Maw, a Kachin general, said last month at negotiations in Chiang Mai in Thailand that his group is “still far away” from agreeing to a ceasefire.

The Arakan Army, the TNLA and other armies in Shan state are all said to be providing support, including arms, to the Kokang rebels. Other groups, however, have come to the table. On February 12th representatives of four ethnic armies signed a pledge with the government to seek a national ceasefire agreement “without delay” and to work towards building a union “based on democratic and federal principles”.

Myanmar’s rebel groups often have wildly differing interests. Some come from dirt-poor regions and want peace because of hopes of money from the centre. But other groups have become, in effect, vast criminal enterprises, funding themselves through sales of gold, jade, timber and drugs. The intensity of their opposition to a ceasefire can reflect a desire to keep the income from such activities flowing.

The government sees a national ceasefire agreement as a precondition for a political settlement. But the ethnic armies want a political settlement before they will lay down arms for good. As a result, after 200 meetings between government negotiators and most ethnic armies, the two camps remain deeply divided.

Mr Thein Sein still wants a ceasefire agreed and political dialogue well under way by the general election due in November. Quite whether the looming election helps or harms the pursuit of peace is unclear. Some think it gives the government and the ethnic armies more incentive to strike a deal. Any agreement should involve a hefty redistribution from relatively wealthy areas to poor regions. That would prove politically unpopular in the country’s majority-Burman heartland. It is unlikely that the next government will have the clout of this military-dominated one to overcome such resistance. That, says Richard Horsey, a Myanmar analyst, makes this the best time for the ethnic armies to seek a deal.

For now, however, the current set-up suits rather too many. While ethnic armies enrich themselves in their regions through illegal trade and taxation bordering on extortion, some army officers even collude in it. In any political settlement, Myanmar’s government would have to give up some of its central powers, and the ethnic armies would have to cede much to the centre—presumably folding their militias into the national army or regional police forces. In the absence of a deal, both sides avoid difficult and unpopular decisions.

A longtime Myanmar expert, Bertil Linter, says that government and rebel armies have “fundamentally different ideas” about what kind of country theirs should be. Both sides pay lip-service to the notion of some kind of federal union. But the ethnic armies want maximal devolved power, whereas the central government wants the opposite—after all, holding on tight to the country for fear that things might fall apart was the rationale for the Burmese army’s long dictatorship. At present Myanmar’s peace process offers a whole lot of process, and not enough lasting peace.

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