Only 8 Of 15 Rebel Groups Agree To Myanmar's Ceasefire Deal
Myanmar President Thein Sein (C) looks on as Aung Min (L), vice chairman of Union Peace Working
NEW DELHI: Rebels groups and the government of Myanmar are poised to sign a landmark ceasefire deal, bringing to end decades of fighting even as critics denounce it for falling short of hopes brought up by protracted talks. The deal is the product of talks launched after Myanmar’s military handed power to a quasi civilian government in 2011, and is the government’s effort at making the upcoming November polls more representative.
The ceasefire will be inked on Thursday in Naypyidaw. However, only eight of the 15 regional militant groups have signed up for the ceasefire.
Further, the eight groups that have agreed to sign the ceasefire had already entered into some sort of agreement with the government that acted as a framework for the permanent deal.
Therefore, the deal takes into account only eight of the fifteen regional groups, and there are at least a total of 21 armed groups in the country, if not more. Most notably, the Kanchin Independence Army (KIA) -- one of the biggest armed groups -- did not sign the deal.
The KIA, in fact, can serve as an example to elucidate the crisis in Myanmar. The Kachin Independence Movement was started in colonial Burma, with the purpose to address questions of minority representation in the predominantly Bamar country of Burma. The KIA was formed in the 1960s, when Kachin forces withdrew from the Burmese army, organising under the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). The region functioned autonomously till 1994, when a Myanmar offensive seized jade mines from the KIO, culminating in an agreement between the government of Myanmar and the KIA leading to a ceasefire that lasted till June 2011, when government forces violated it.
In the three years since the resumption of fighting, thousands have died and been displaced, with reports of torture, child soldiers and systematic rape emerging from the ground. A report released last year by the Bangkok-based Fortify Rights group has alleged that the Myanmar military “systematically” tortures civilians in the conflict-ridden Kachin state. The Fortify Rights group’s report details the victims being stabbed, beaten and having wire tied around their necks, hands and feet. It alleges that many victims were told to dig their own graves, whilst others were forced to lick their own blood off the ground following severe beatings. "We've documented such consistent practices across many different areas that would indicate that it is certainly a systematic practice and a widespread practice,” the report notes.
The report further comments on the ethnic dimensions of the conflict, with victims’ ethnicity and Christian faith being highlighted. "You are Kachin, and we will kill all the Kachin," one victim claimed to have been told.
Another notable group absent from the deal is the United Wa State Army (UWSA), an armed group that is fighting for the Wa people.
As the Myanmar Times notes, “The presence in Naypyidaw on October 15 of only seven or eight ethnic groups [to sign the deal], with a small minority of combatants between them, is unlikely to give the president and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party the boost to their credibility they sought before the November 8 vote.”
President Thein Sein has said that the other groups will be able to sign later, but many have expressed concern that the government will use the emerging split between the militias as a tool to divide and rule them.
As the agreement stands, observers hope that it’s only a step and not as good as it gets.