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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2708

Will Panglong Initiative be honored ?

By - Zin Linn

The political scenario of Myanmar is still filled with uncertainty. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a combination of ethnic states wherein several varieties of ethnic blood brothers live in partnership for more than hundred decades.

However, nowadays the brotherly ethnic races have different attitudes on the state affairs especially of self-determination under federalism.

For example, on February 5, Kachin Independence Organization chairman Lanyaw Zawng Hra said that the government of President U Thein Sein is not interested in seeking a political solution to the “civil war” in Kachin State.

“We can clearly see that the government is unwilling to solve the civil war politically; we, the armed ethnic groups, are trying to change this policy and their mindset,” Lanyaw Zawng Hra said in a speech marking the 54th anniversary of Kachin Resistance Day, as reported by the Mizzima.

The Kachin Independence Army was formed at Yangon University in 1957 by seven students who are referred to by their people as the seven stars. The KIO was formed at Lashio on October 25, 1960. Fighting between the KIA and government forces began on February 5, 1961.

One more example, Sao Khun Hsaing, the Shan State Progressive Party chairman and Shan State Army general secretary said that the success of the peace process in Myanmar depends on how quickly the constitution is amended.

"The sooner the constitution is amended, the sooner we can have a democratic federal Union and peace," Sao Khun Hsaing told Mizzima from his office in Mongshu, Shan State.

According to him, the constitution says state power must be derived from people of the country but on the other hand it also says the Tatmadaw (Military) must play a major role in the country's politics - the two articles are not in agreement.

Although a cease-fire was struck with the Myanmar government in January 2011, the SSPP and SSA said that above a hundred clashes had taken place between the two sides since the truce was made.

However, President U Thein Sein sent a message on the occasion to mark the 67th Anniversary Shan State Day which falls on 7 February 2014. In his message the President says: “Shan National Day” is a significant day not only for the Shan national races but also for all national races. This is the day on which our national leader General Aung San and national races leaders reached an agreement for the country’s independence struggle and could build the trust through “the Panglong Agreement”. That is to say, “the Panglong Agreement” is an important milestone for Myanmar’s regaining her independence as well as standing as a starting point for national unity in the modern history of Myanmar’s independence struggle.

Anyway, the President’s message should not be rhetoric than a genuine one that comes out of his sincere mindset.

If one looks back to 1960-61, many leaders from ethnic states criticized the weakness of the constitution as well as the government’s failure to let the representatives of ethnic states to manage their own affairs in areas of the economy, judiciary, education, and customs and so on. The ethnic oppositions consider central government ruled the ethnic areas as vassal states.

'12th February of 2014' is the 67th anniversary of the Union Day of Burma or Myanmar. It marks the signing ceremony of the ‘Historic Panglong Agreement’ between General Aung San and the leaders of Chin, Kachin and Shan ethnic groups guaranteeing a genuine federal union of Burma.

However, Burma’s successive leaders ignored the historic political-contract that paved the country en route for independence.

In fact, Panglong Treaty was a part of ‘Aung San-Attlee Agreement’ which was signed by the British and General Aung San and his colleagues for Burma’s Independence talks on 13-27 January 1947, in England. As a result, Burma was promised independence which did not include the Frontier Areas, as the non-Burman States were known earlier under the British rule.

General Aung San returned to Burma to plead with the ethnic leaders to unite for Independence. On 8 February 1947 - he delivered a speech at Panglong promising adequate protection for non-Burmans’ rights if they decided to join Burma. Gen. Aung San said, "Non-Burmans could struggle on their own, but no one can predict how long it will last. But if you join hands with the Burmese, independence at the same time is assured," according to a SHAN report in 2000.

Later on 12 February 1947, the Panglong agreement was signed between leaders of the Frontier Areas and Aung San to unite and jointly fight for independence, and to establish an independent union, in accordance with the principle of the 'Right of Self-determination'.

If General Aung San did not promise equal opportunity and self-determination, the country might never have been founded under the title of the Union of Burma. The Panglong agreement was aimed at setting up a federal union on the foundation of equality and autonomy for every ethnic nationality.

However, up to date President U Thein Sein government’s period, the contract has been put aside since the cabinet has been dominated by the military-backed party. Besides, Burma’s 2008-Constitution contributes many problems for political parties and ethnic cease-fire groups seeking some common inspiration between ethnic groups and the existing governments.

The late dictator Ne Win supported a unitary state over a genuine federal union which he said could lead to the disintegration of the nation. Equality of ethnic minorities with the Burmese majority was to him out of the question. When Ne Win seized power in 1962, he demolished the 1948-Constitution. At the same time, the Pang-Long Agreement, which promised equal opportunity and autonomy of the ethnic groups, was broken and abrogated. The root cause of the nation’s political turmoil is the consecutive governments’ antagonism to a democratic federal union.

Sen. Gen. Than Shwe has followed the tradition of his predecessor Gen. Ne Win who defended the single unitary state. “All the armed forces in the union shall be under the command of the Defense Services,” says section 337 of the 2008 constitution. Under the junta-designed 2008-Constitution, the Military takes 25 percent of all seats and also seize additional 77 percent seats using military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the 2010 polls which were recognized as unfair voting.

In such a military dominated parliament, real ethnic representatives who are willing to push ethnic issues forward, have no opportunity to occupy enough seats in the military monopolized-parliament to form an effective coalition.

Without acknowledging and granting the ethnic people’s demand for self-determination, the latest parliament-based government seems unable to bring to a halt political and civil conflict all over ethnic areas. In reality, ethnic people’s demand of equal rights is not a new one but already mentioned in the 1947-Panglong agreement.

For example, the latest crisis in Kachin State clearly describes the immoral practices of the incumbent Government. The Government even does not keep honesty to address the minorities’ issues in a fair-minded approach. In point of fact, the government armed forces have violated the 1994 ceasefire agreement and invaded into Kachin territory. Then, the government deployed more infantry units in Kachin land and turn down to pull out even though constant calls from KIO and local residents.

As a result, KIO has constantly refused to accept the government’s plan which says the issues have to be solved corresponding to the 2008 constitution. KIO likes to launch a meaningful political dialogue or a comprehensive discussion similar to the Panglong Conference, which would involve all ethnic leaders and the government in order to work out long-standing political disagreements.

However, the current government did not take into consideration of the KIO’s proposal rather. In reality, all other ethnic groups are closely watching the situation of Kachin’s struggle for autonomy based on Panglong Agreement which they also believe.

However, the sixty-seven year-old Historic Panglong Agreement has been disregarded by the military leaders as they did not support the ‘Federalism’ since 1962. Myanmar cannot gain National reconciliation without honoring ethnic self-determination. These issues must be addressed in the Union Parliament without delay.

If the current government failed to cope with the ‘Panglong Initiative’ or equal rights of ethnic minorities, its self-styled political reform may not hit the big time.

- Asian Tribune -

Will Panglong Initiative be honored ?
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