Dr Timothy Laklem calls for Karen unity and self-determination and for all ethnic people to be treated equally within a democratic and federal union of Burma.
It is not my intention in this ‘opinion piece’ to blame, but rather to give a strong reminder to those negotiating for peace, that whatever we do now can turn the tide of history – let’s not make the same mistakes as were made in the past.
All of the various interests – the government, the military, the political parties, and Ethnic leaders should come together in genuine sincerity for peace. By putting aside our self-interests and power mongering and by having the common goal of creating a genuine Union in the interests of all the people, we will create hope for a better future for all.
In this past year, 2013, all the Ethnic Armed Forces came together several times before the Laiza Ethnic Conference in Kachin State. After the Laiza Ethnic Conference right through to the end of December 2013, we discussed in minute detail to draft the paperwork for a ceasefire agreement that will lead to political dialogue with the Burmese authoritarians.
Although all the Ethnic armed forces came together in meeting after meeting, we put aside our differences to find a solution and consensus for our joint future. One thing that leaves an impression on me is that all the ethnic brothers and sisters are equally respectful towards one another’s viewpoint and concerns, to establish a strong united force, which is one of the most important images that we have built. This brings credibility and hope for the future of the Ethnics to invest in a good future of the Union.
According to historical evidence, when the Panglong Agreement was signed between Kachin, Shan, Chin with Gen. Aung San, on 12th February, 1947, (8 months before Burma’s Independence from the British was granted) they subjected themselves to Gen. Aung San under Burmese rule. Having only three or three ethnic groups sign, with the exclusion of the other ethnic organisations, it cannot be called a proper Union (before that the Ethnic areas and countries were never ruled by the Burma/Myanmar Kings, only when the British took over the Burma Kings and included the Ethnic countries, to colonize Burma).
During that time, the British were preparing to give autonomous independence to each separate state, after five years of Burma Independence under Gen. Aung San. Because the Kachin, Shan, Chin signed the PangLong Agreement, ignoring the urging of the British not to jump into such an agreement, unwittingly giving total power into the hands of Gen. Aung San as the ‘Interim Government of Burma’, and denying the proposal of the British to give each Ethnic Nationality their own autonomy. The simplicity and lack of understanding of the Ethnics signing the Panglong Agreement was taken advantage of by the Burma leaders. It also sucked in the other Ethnics and minorities, who were not included in the Panglong Conference and who did not sign, such as Karen, Karenni, Mon and Arakan into consequences of civil war due to the Burmese mistreating the ethnic people.
This is the root of all the problems in the first place. In the beginning, the aims and objectives for independence from Britain were good for the ethnic people and Burma, but through mismanagement
and manipulation to form a Union the country was dragged down and all ethnic nationalities struggled for recognition of their identity and rights.
After the assassination of Aung San, both Prime Minister, U Nu from Burma and the British Prime Minister Attlee, based on their self-interest, excluded the rest of the ethnic nationalities. This was despite former Prime Minister Churchill reminding Attlee to consider the future self-rule of the Karen and the other Ethnic groups to make sure they were not overrun by the Burmans. Excluding the ethnic nationalities created confusion and conflict within the country and brought further destruction for the country’s future. Here lies the root of the problem.
It is imperative for us – the ethnic nationalities, and members of the UNFC, to learn from the historical mistake of the Panglong Agreement and to correct and create a True Democratic Federal Union for long-lasting Peace.
In 2010, Burma military leaders started the so-called Democratic Elections, based on the 2008 Military Constitution. All the citizens in Burma and the rest of the world could see that it was just a sham election. It was a ‘selection’ not a true election that should be by the people and for the people.
My belief is that a true Democracy cannot be birthed from a military authoritarian rule that has dragged the country into long conflict, poverty and committing war crimes against their own citizens. True Democracy is born from the people, and political parties formed by the people who are willing to fulfil the will of the people.
When they talk of ‘Reform’, it should benefit the country as a whole and all its citizens. However, if it is the military being ‘Reborn’ to gain legitimacy from foreign governments attracted to Burma’s natural resources and to ‘sell out’ to greedy foreign investors without morals or ethics. These investors are ready to dive into the swimming pool without water, to connect with the military business cronies, to rape the country of its natural resources and the landownership rights of its citizens. All this is for the military-backed government to tie the foreign governments to their business cronies to strengthen their military government and defense forces. The outcome is that farmers are forced to give up their land that is sold off to foreign companies. Citizens become slave-labour and colonization begins at the hands of foreign investments. The land that belongs to the ethnic people has been taken by Burmese Military and given to international companies at the expense of ethnic people.
Burma is not all about President Thein Sein or the military-backed Congress and its cronies. It is about the people. The future of the country is looking bleak, it is like a time-bomb that is ready to explode.
The Peace program that the Burma government has put in place is like a snake with two tongues. It promotes Peace, while at the same time waging war against ethnic people. This shows that foreign investments and joint-military programs will be used by the military forces, to not only further kill more citizens and the monks that they worship, but also to ‘Burmanize’ the country with the aim of destroying the ethnic people and their lands.
Foreign governments should not give military training and weapons to the present Burma Army that continues to commit enormous crimes against its own citizens and the ethnic peoples. No military aid should be given while this government is immature and has known only killing and used war crimes to maintain its power.
Even now, the question still remains: Is the NCCT meeting among all the Ethnics to draft a ceasefire agreement, creating long-term Peace and a strong Union or not? or is it merely another ceasefire agreement that will be easily broken, similar as has happened several times in recent history with KNU and other ethnic organisations. According to historical evidence, the Burma military and the authorities never honour agreements to create a genuine peace with the ethnic people, this means that ceasefires will not lead to peace and ceasefires cannot be interpreted as genuine peace.
If we go by the 2008 (drafted by the military regime} Constitution, our political dialogue will not go anywhere, which will lead to yet further conflict and war, the same as in the last 60 years.
We must be alert and aware that the Military-backed government knows what is coming, and are reinforcing their military might by using profits gained from foreign investments. They are not using these profits for defense or the good of the country, or the country’s infrastructure within the country, including Ethnic Areas, but are using the money to buy weapons and joint-forces with foreign countries to learn military tactics, to bring further destruction to the country. Anyone who challenges these Military-backed authoritarians will be crushed.
When we look at signing a ceasefire agreement or political dialogue, we must be very cautious and aware of everything we agree upon. Every ceasefire in the past has not been honoured by the Burmese, but has been used to their military advantage to overrun ethnic lands. We cannot make the same mistake as in the past. We must not drag the country into further conflict or destruction. For this reason, we need to have ‘legal documentation’ that gives a firm guarantee for a future Union that is secure for all the ethnic people and citizens of Burma. It must be documented with clauses to guarantee and protect the interests of the people and the Ethnic States, not only this generation, but for generations to come. We must include consequences in event of a breach, which allows us to separate into our own autonomy by a majority decision from the State owners if the agreement is not honoured.
How can we join in union with power-mongers that so far has only delivered destruction, desolation, poverty and war for more than 60-years?
Enough is enough.
This need for wanting a strong guarantee is to make sure that the opposition does not take advantage by finding loopholes within the document. We must understand as ethnic leaders that we are not only making decisions to correct the past, but we are also making decisions for the present that benefits future generations to come. Otherwise we will become victims by selling our future into the hands of the Burmans. According to my observations, when we engage with the Burmese military-backed authoritarians, many of our ethnic leaders, including within our own Karen, have been tempted by gaining personal favouritism and their self-interests. They appear to have forgotten and take lightly, the sacrifices made by many of our revolutionary leaders and soldiers from the past that fought and laid down their lives for our freedom. Many are still facing enormous suffering and live in tears, including our refugees in other countries. We must not forget, even today, many ethnic areas like Kachin State, Shan State, Arakan State, Pa Oh and Karen areas, our people have gone through horrific atrocities committed by the Burma military while we are engaging in peace talks with the Burmese authoritarian government.
With every action that we make to come together as a united force for the goodwill of the country and people, we must not allow the government and Burma military to come and dictate and interfere with us with them not agreeing with this program or that. We must not allow them to not agree for an individual to be on a committee on the negotiation table because they only want to talk with those who are soft and naive and swallow its agenda. That, in itself, shows no respect of equality and sincerity, and is evidence of their intent to manipulate and divide us – we must not allow this to happen.
This doesn’t mean that we have to soften ourselves to succumb and give in to their will like in the past. We have to stand firm without wavering in our principles and vision, to bring a solid Union to create long-lasting peace for the country and the good of every citizen. Anything they disagree with is their problem.
Although the present Military-backed government may twist and turn the whole situation of the country and carry on a bad future with bloodshed in Burma, we as the Ethnics cannot allow this to continue. Nor can we allow the country’s politics, economy and defense to remain in the hands of the Burmese military-backed authoritarians who continually oppress the country. These people who have a record (as reported by the UN Human Rights and the international community) of brutality towards its citizens all carried out in the name of the ‘government’.
Many foreign diplomats and the international community claim that the Burma problem is too complicated. According to my careful analysis of the history, Burma has three main problems:
1. The nationality problem – denying the ethnic people the right of self-determination and equality; using a ‘Myanmarisation policy’ to dominate and discriminate – swallowing up other identities.
2. The military problem – since 1962, crimes have been committed against all the ethnics people and citizens of Burma.
3. The political problem – failing to fulfill the will of the people, including 1988, until now. These three problems affect all major issues. When we are aware of these three simple steps of the country’s problems, we know where, when and how to start to solve them and to go in the right direction.
Wrong leadership, that advances their dictatorship and self-interest, produces problems and complicates the situation. But good leadership turns a complicated situation into a simple solution for all. We are now in a new era. We need to rebuild our future, together with all Indigenous Ethnic State Holders and the minorities within the Ethnic States.
Every citizen in Burma deserves a good and better future – the beggar on the street, the children, the homeless people digging in the rubbish, widows and orphans, prostitutes and migrant workers in other countries (whether legal or not), poorest among the poor, the farmers in the field and people with no voice for justice – they all deserve a better life and good future.
The responsibility now lies in our hands to correct the past and create a good future. We must be confident in our struggle for Indigenous Right and stand firm in unity to gain our goal for equality and self-determination, and to create long-lasting peace within a Democratic Federal Union of Burma. Today’s responsibility is tomorrow’s opportunity for this generation and the generations to come.
*Dr Timothy Laklem is the Head of Foreign and Public Relations of the KNU/KNLA Peace Council. His opinion does not reflect that of Karen News’.