From Armed Battle Ground to Legal Battle-Line: Cease-Fire &National Reconciliation in Burma

From Armed Battle Ground to Legal Battle-Line: Cease-Fire &National Reconciliation in Burma

By Wagarun Mon

Wednesday, 14 March, 2012

Peace is a desire of each individual in Burma and beyond under the new trend of emerging liberal democracy and economic development in Southeast Asia over the past twenty years, after the fall of communism in the country and region. Burma’s new leaders, from all sides of the political persuasion, have been searching for a win-win situation that will attract foreign investment to the country under the new road map to democracy. However, the lack of constitutional tenure for safe guarding the best interest of the investors and local key players. To see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty is common for Burma’s political observers from home and abroad. This view is in line with the current cease-fire process and other reform agendas proposed by the new Parliament. Mon leaders, along with both armed and unarmed political forces, are being tested for credibility of leadership. It is a test at both Mon State government and Union levels, of whether this window is open for a real political settlement under the newly proposed constitution.

Nai Htaw Mon gave speech to his troops and the Mon people during the 65 anniversary of Mon National Day near to the Thai-Burmese border

A constitutional right is the sole foundation of peace-building in Burma. The failure of safe guarding constitutional rights to the ethnic people / ethnic minority has been dragging the armed and political conflicts in the country for over sixty years. Mon leaders and other ethnic leaders drafted a new model for the ‘Federal Union of Burma’ in late 2004 under the initiative of “Ethnic Nationalities Council” for liberated areas on Thailand-Burma border. The document is widely read among Burma’s ethnic people and some Burmese races.

A constitutional right is a legal battle-line for new Mon leaders and other ethnic leaders in 2012 and prior to the 2015 general election. After much suffering from battle neither armed ethnic troops nor the government troops have reached a solution which has left the nation behind compared to its neighbouring countries. Furthermore, the legal battle-line is much more complex than the physical battle grounds. However, well informed Burmese leaders in domestic and international politics have a reputation for taking the upper hand on the table of negotiation, from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, in all rounds of peace process.

A cease-fire is only a minor component of peace-building; unless legal and constitutional laws are amended in both State and Union parliaments, a cease-fire will not hold.  Mon people as well as those from other ethnic groups deserve no less than Burman in regards to education, health and involvement in national affairs. National affairs involve the governing of relevant issues from teaching ethnic languages in public school to using ethnic languages in the courts. Public schools under the Seven States and other special regional autonomy, shall be granted rights for teaching and using native languages from primary school to secondary level in all subjects of curriculum. Mon leaders and other ethnic leaders can not afford to miss this opportunity to be on the negotiation table in the coming months.

Furthermore, the current constitution (adapted in 2008) favours little legal and constitutional rights to ethnic groups / minorities, despite the new government’s claim that 94 percents of the population are in approval. The Mon State government is much like a local municipal council that can be found in either New York or Sydney, with little power and resources for governing local economy, education, health and social matters of the local populations.

A complexity of the legal battle-line is that a new battle ground has formed for those armed ethnic leaders. The rising moral authority of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, as evident in online news of the past thirty days, is also viewed as a new second battle ground for those cease-fire armed leaders who will need to win local votes in the by-election for local ethnic candidates.

In a phone conversation from his hotel in Naypiday, an elected Mon MP told Kaowao this week: “We have less education, resources and skills in our candidates than the last election. Also, we have seen the moral authority of Daw Suu on the rise. I don’t know how we can survive the 2015 election if we don’t have support from the outside world.”

In a record, on 23 July 1958, Mon leaders led by Na Aung Tun, chairman of Mon People’s Front (MPF), signed a cease-fire agreement with U Nu Government. The Mon leader and his comrades held a public conference during the peace ceremony in Molumein, the old capital of Mon Kingdom. Nai Aung Tun concluded his key note speech both in Mon and Burmese by saying that “a quality of political rights under the parliamentary-democracy is our core mission, while we are against a narrow-minded national assimilation policy in our country.” Fifty-four years after this first peace agreement between the armed Mon, political leaders and the government of Burma, the goal of equal political rights has yet to be achieved. History is not just our past, but also a lesson for current leaders.

Historically, Mon leaders, then led by Nai Hla Muang, and another thirteen Mon delegates attended the Taung Gyi Conference on 8 June 1961together with other ethnic leaders that debated and discussed for formation of Federal Union of Burma. The Mon’s leader Nai Hla Maung has addressed the multi-ethnic delegations and indicated that Burma has two unresolved issues:  firstly, nationalisation, and secondly, narrow minded policy toward assimilation among ethnic races. Unless these two issues are addresses, a unity will never be achieved and the union will never be established. Mon’s leaders were seeking as equal partnership in Burma’s social, cultural and political affairs prior to the 1988 uprising led by Students’ leaders, because since the early 1980’s Mon’s leaders have only merely been acknowledged in domestic politics.

A few Mon leaders left in favour of armed struggle after an effort for constitutional rights became evidently unwinnable in early 1948 and late 1949.  However, many of the Mon ruling elites based in Rangoon and Moulmein were looking for options for constitutional change in late 1960s while demanding for the creation of a Mon State under the new constitution of 1974. The Mon State was created in that same year with the popular support of the Mon people, led by Nai Hla Maung and fourteen members of his executives.

New Mon State Party (NMSP) and it’s own armed wing, Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), reached an unsigned cease-fire agreement on 29 June 1995 with the ruling military government. After seventeen years of political deadlock between the peace and negotiation process, the party re-entered into the legal fold in January this year.
“The Mon must take part as players in the national and regional political affairs of this country,” an elected Mon MP said to Kaowao newsgroup, over the telephone from Moulmein city in the capital of Mon State this week.

Theconstitutional right is a critical battle-line for new Mon leaders, both within elected and non-elected politicians in Burma. Burmese leaders, led by U Nu and other ethnic group leaders, signed the formal agreement for the formation of a Federal Union of Burma on 24 April 1947 in Maymo. That agreement stated: “The weight of opinion among witnesses, examined by all present, is that there should be a Burma federation. The federal organ should deal with the following subjects: external affairs, defence, communication, currency, customs and titles and honours.” This official statement came into fruition soon after the declaration of Burma’s independence in January 1947.

It is a new hope although there exists a risky political battle-line and the Mon’s leaders have entered into the legal and constitutional frameworks with little skills and experiences in the ocean of legal affairs.  However, with the support of both internal and external constitutional experts and UN’s lead panel, Mon’s leaders expect to find a win-win solution.

We are looking for help from not only Mon in exile, but also anyone from other nationalities, NGOs and UN officials in order to help us smooth the transition and win for the interests of Mon State and the Mon people in lower Burma. An elected Mon MP eagerly spoke over the in a phone with a bad connection  from his Naypiday hostel, “We don’t have our own media platform  to raise our voices and be heard, and our debates are rarely covered in local news,” he added with sad voice.

The loss of one person during 60 years civil war is a great loss, and a wasteful loss if the objective of the revolution still goes unattained. The Mon and other ethnic leaders commonly agree to the formation of a genuine Federal Union of Burma. The biggest battle has been launched and a call for both federal and state constitutions must be re-written and amended before 2015, the next general election. If the Mon and other ethnic leaders cannot win this battle, the loss would be irreparable - but the spirit of the revolutions is buried within.


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