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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

Focus on ceasefire and war in Monland

By Taing Taw

The critical time has come for the New Mon State Party to decide if it is to attend the upcoming National Convention in October as an observer or participant.  The New Mon State Party is finding it harder to maintain its ceasefire agreement with the SPDC and, party leaders now debate on its relationship with the regime. 

The NMSP’s’ President General Htow Mon has pointed out the many shortcomings of the ceasefire and the government’s reluctance to implement the peace process or renegotiate any part of it over the last few months, meanwhile the Secretary General Nai Hongsar is seen as aligned with pro-exile groups and rarely travels inside Burma even though his party had reached a ceasefire with the SPDC.

The party sees the NC as bearing no fruit for national reconciliation prompting senior leaders from inside and outside of the country to meet in the heart of the jungle to take stock of the situation and evaluate the ceasefire process. Mon people will be paying particular attention to the outcome of any decision taken by the party on how to proceed in the struggle for Mon independence.

Neither maintaining the peace resistance nor fighting for independence is seen as bringing a solution to the political deadlock in Burma . However, Mon political observers say that the breaking of the ceasefire is not the answer.  We have spent the last decade improving some services they say and point out two developments: education and health care. Life would become more difficult for the civilian population with the resumption of fighting and would adversely affect the education and health care in the Mon areas. Young people would be the victims of civil war as they have in Karen area where young people bore the brunt of hostilities.

After the ceasefire in 1995 both the education and health departments run by the NMSP, with the help of some NGOs, became more actively engaged in the process of development in Monland. The educational department has over 1,000 teachers serving over 50,000 students with the majority in primary schools in remote areas under partial control of the NMSP.

With scarce resources and personnel, medics from the NMSP trained in malarial treatment are the only source of health care for villages in the rural areas and some urban areas. These services would be cut off if hostilities resume. Prior to the 1995 ceasefire, the health department had accepted young people just out of high school with one-year medical school after serving two years as volunteer in the education department. But now many party medics who have opened clinics in these areas have four years of medical training. MSF was the main organization working with the health department before the international agency left Monland last year.

If war ignites again the situation will further deteriorate, firstly, the burden of fighting will fall upon young people and spark an exodus of refugees across the border and refugee camps along the border will be burnt down as they were prior to the agreement. Civilian attacks will increase and will be caught in the crossfire, and with the SPDC notorious for using rape as a weapon of war, are all seen as a major deterrents to the resumption of war. In addition, students studying at the party schools will have to stop their education and hide in the jungle or flee human rights violations to neighboring countries. After the ceasefire, the Mon Education Department joined with SPDC’s universities and nurse colleges according to the agreement. The ceasefire improved the education of many young Mon people. According to a Mon who is now studying for his PhD in the United States , young people in his area in eastern Monland had no chance to attend high school before the ceasefire.

Yet for most people in the black areas, the lack of security, lawlessness, human rights abuses and the steady increase of land confiscations by the SPDC are daily occurrences.  Discontent is becoming more widespread with Mon villagers and farmers fleeing to Thailand and young people have to drop out of school due to lack of finances.

It seems that the government incited their commanders to take more land after the ceasefire so they would have a stronger hand in future negotiations, says an observer. Meanwhile people from these affected areas are frustrated with the party and the ceasefire. They complain that the ceasefire excluded them from the negotiations and did not address their concerns while pointing out that thousands of acres of land were confiscated after 1996 without compensation. They want NMSP to protect their land from the presence of SPDC troops who target them indiscriminately. Most land confiscations occur in Ye township still considered by SPDC as a black area or conflict zones due to Mon splinter groups present in the southern area who sometimes launch ambushes against SPDC troops.

The Bangkok Process calling for a gradual transition in Burma , by the then Prime Minister of Thailand , Thaksin Shinawatra, would have been better if the ethnic nationalities had been consulted and if Thaksin had no business interests in the country.  In fact that was the end of the game and the SPDC has further removed itself by creating a new capital. The move to Pyinmana is symbolic of the inflexible approach of future negotiations with the SPDC. Everyone is in agreement that the country is now in a desperate situation with the problems of AIDS, poverty, lack of education, human rights abuses, human trafficking growing rapidly every day.

People are anxious for a change after the insincerity of the SPDC and its forced national reconciliation process. After the NMSP snubbed the NC invitation by sending observers instead of representatives further angered the government. Furthermore, the SPDC’s relations with all the groups have soured ever since the purge of former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt who initiated the truce with the ethnic armed groups in 1994.

The NMSP and others are divided on these issues, but most say given there are plenty of obstacles there is no choice but to continue on with the struggle. The hope is now that the international community will exert more pressure on the Burmese government as they have done recently by bringing the Burma issue to the UN Security Council.

(The views expressed here are solely the opinion of the author. Kao-Wao Editor)


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