Members of ethnic armed ceasefire groups and their supporters are facing demands by the SPDC to come under its control or management. Most of the members and their supporters do not want their top leaders to give into the SPDC. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has already refused to follow the demand.
Karen Peace Force (KPF) and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) members and their supporters have also been reluctant to remove the word Karen from their names. The SPDC has told the Karen leaders to transform the organizations from the KPF and the DKBA to the Border Guard Force. This name will no longer represent their national identity.
Although the Karen cease-fire groups leaders agreed to transfer control of their troops to the SPDC, the junior and low level members of the group do not endorse this decision.
Junior leaders of the DKBA have accused their top leaders of elitism and are disappointed about being barred from fighting on the frontlines. As more members turn into businessmen, fewer want to fight. “They are all too rich in the urban life to go back to the frontline, so now they must follow the demands of the SPDC,” one of the DKBA juniors told Kaowao, requesting anonymity. The views of another ethnic armed ceasefire group, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), are different. Its members and people have refused to obey the SPDC demand to come under its management. One of the senior leaders said that if they have to follow the demands of the SPDC, then there will have been no sense or purpose to their fighting for self determination over the past four decades. Since 1962, when the Burman majority government refused to share power within the federal system, the KIO has fought for autonomy.
Some other ethnic armed groups like the New Mon State Party (NMSP) will abandon the ceasefire agreement if pressured to disarm. Most senior leaders of the party stand together and agree that they will give up the ceasefire agreement if forced to fall under the command of the SPDC. The party senior leaders, like President General Htow Mon and Secretary General Nai Hongsar, have already told the media that they will not give into pressure to transform the Mon army.
At the party meeting last January, the NMSP also decided not to participate in Burma’s upcoming SPDC sponsored election. The Joint Secretary Nai Chan Toi, who led party delegation at the SPDC’s National Convention, has already disappointed the SPDC for not supporting their road map. Since then, the SPDC has put more pressure on NMSP members who operate party affairs in urban areas.
The NMSP leaders, unlike other ethnic ceasefire groups, have visited Japan and other western countries and join with the Burmese and ethnic exile opposition groups.
At a press conference in 2006, President Nai Htow Mon reacted angrily to Mon journalists’ questions concerning a rumor made by the SPDC that the party would surrender. He said that his party will never change its stance (of fighting for self determination or self rule). One senior member said that his party wants to keep the ceasefire agreement with the SPDC and won’t be the first to break it. This shows the party’s sincerity in bringing lasting peace to Mon state and the whole of Burma.
The plan of the SPDC to transform the Border Guard Force soldiers from the cease-fire groups is seen as an attempt to create civil war between majority Burmans and the ethnic minorities’ armed groups. Ethnic people will never accept this demand; no ethnic armed groups trust the SPDC.
In a Mon village in Karen state in June 2003, a young and bright Captain of the DKBA said to Kaowao reporter that the SPDC military intelligence did not want his party to expand its troops. However, he said the DKBA does not follow the demand of the SPDC and he expands the soldiers as much as he can. The DKBA recruits and is active not only in Karen state, but also in Mon state and Tenasserim Division.
The DKBA knows that it cannot rely on the SPDC, yet it also cannot rely on the KNU because of discrimination based on religious background. For the DKBA, the extreme Christianity of the KNU leaders is similar to the extreme Buddhist stance of the SPDC’s top leaders.
According to local sources from both Karen and Mon state, junior leaders of the DKBA and the KNU are made aware of each other through their family members. The economic incentive offered by the SPDC to DKBA members is seen as wedge to divide the Karen people. Family members of junior leaders of the KNU want to align with families of the DKBA because of economic opportunity. While the DKBA families are gaining wealth and have access to good education and urban health care, KNU’s ordinary family members suffer. The SPDC sees this weakness and uses it as a tool to divide the KNU.
While about 17 ethnic armed groups have reached ceasefire agreements with the SPDC since 1990, some ethnic armed groups, like the KNU, KNPP and SSA, are still fighting against the SPDC. This causes local people to become refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) inside war zones under the control of the ethnic armed groups. There are many splinter ethnic armed groups who also do not want ceasefire agreements with the SPDC.
Since the NMSP reached a ceasefire agreement with the SPDC in 1995, another Mon splinter group in southern Mon state, started in 1997, has been fighting against the SPDC because of gross human rights abuses in the area. Throughout the ceasefire agreement period, we can see that some members of the NMSPs’ armed wing have separated from its main party about five times because they wanted to fight back against the SPDC. Local Mon people have been supporting them.
After the country gained independence from Britain in 1948, the ethnic armed groups started fighting for autonomy, which was refused by the ethnic Burman central government.
The international community sees the SPDC as a brutal regime for continuing to detain Aung San Suu Kyi despite demands for her immediate release. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee blasted the SPDC in a rare statement concerning the issue. The SPDC killed many people in 1988 when a democracy uprising took place. Again in 2007 they killed Buddhist monks who led demonstrators. They ignored the plight of victims of Cyclone Nargis, which killed about 130,000 and left over two million homeless.
Why do the SPDC want to control the ethnic armed groups? Will ethnic armed groups accept the demands of the Burmese military regime? If so, why have they been fighting against the Burmese central governments? It seems that the SPDC is still a long way from accepting a win-win approach to resolving the country’s problems.