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Border Guard Force plan leads to end of ceasefire

August 31, 2009

By WAI MOE

The failure of the Kokang ceasefire group to join the junta’s border guard force led to the armed clashes between government troops and the Kokang army, the subsequent loss of the Kokang headquarters and the end to two-decade ceasefire.

It may also signal the start of more similar clashes between government forces and ethnic groups opposed to the junta’s plan to create a border guard force made up of ethnic armies.

A four-month campaign to have ethnic ceasefire groups get behind the State Peace and Development Council’s (SPDC) Border Guard Force before the 2010 election has clearly failed.

What is the Border Guard Force (BGF)?

In late April, Burmese generals, including Lt-Gen Ye Myint, the chief of the Military Affairs Security (MAS) of the Tatmadaw ( Burmese armed forces) and secretary of the BGF Transformation Committee, traveled to Shan State and Kachin State to meet with leaders of the Kachin, Kokang, Shan and Wa ethnic armed groups based along the Sino-Burmese border.

The generals outlined the blue print of the Border Guard Force. According to a military document obtained by The Irrawaddy at the end of April, the blueprint made clear the BGF plan gives greater control of ethnic armed groups to the Tatmadaw by putting all ethnic armies under the command of the commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw, currently Srn-Gen Than Shwe, head of the SPDC. According to the leaked document, a BGF battalion would have 326 soldiers including 18 officers and three commanders with the rank of major. Among the three commanders, two would be from ethnic armed groups and one from the Tatmadaw who would manage day-to-day administration.

Other keys positions such as general staff officer and quartermaster officer would also be from the Tatmadaw. Twenty-seven other ranking non-commissioned officers would be from the Tatmadaw such as company sergeant majors, sergeants, clerks, nurses and so on.

All BGF troops would be mobilized only in areas within their own territory. Salary and benefits for BGF troops would be paid by the Tatmadaw at the same level as regular soldiers.

To date only the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the National Democratic Army-Kachin have agreed to transform their armies into a BGF.

The SPDC has set a June deadline for ethnic armies to response to the BGF order. Among the noticeable groups that have failed to sign on to the proposal are the Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the United Wa State Army, the National Democratic Alliance Army, the Kachin Independence Army and the Shan State Army-North.

In late July, regional commanders of the Tatmadaw from Shan State met with ethnic leaders in a final effort at negotiations. It’s failure prompted the SPDC to send thousands of troops to northeast Burma and led to the armed clashes that ended a two-decade ceasefire.

Mikael Graver of Aarhus University in Denmark who specializes in Burma’s ethnic affairs said that the renewed conflict between the regime and ethnic armies underscores the complexity of the ceasefires and highlights the struggle for control of natural resources and border trade, including the drug trade. Also at issue is the ethnic groups’ struggle for autonomy.

The BGF plan is authorized under the military-backed 2008 constitution. Under the constitution, the Tatmadaw the commander-in-chief can assign duties relating to security and border affairs in self-administered zones or among ethnic armed group- controlled areas. The constitution also authorizes a forth administrative position in self-administered zones for military officers appointed by the commander-in-chief.

Moreover, the constitution states that all the armed forces in Burma shall be under the command of the Tatmadaw commander-in-chief.

Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus, said, “Ethnic groups are naturally unhappy with the junta’s approach to ethnic issues, its refusal to grant some autonomy under a federal system, exclusion from substantive influence on the new constitution and insistence on its ‘unitary state’ approach at the end of a gun barrel.”

“After 20 years of relative peace, this offensive is the latest sign that the ceasefires may be unraveling,” he said.

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