April 28, 2010

Today is the final deadline for armed ethnic groups which have signed ceasefire agreements with the dictatorship in Burma to agree to become border guard forces or militias under the control of the Burmese Army.

The demand is part of the generals’ agenda to destroy all opposition ahead of elections designed to maintain their rule under a civilian guise. Many of the ceasefire groups play an important role in protecting and promoting ethnic culture. The dictatorships new constitution does not grant ethnic people any real level of autonomy, or grant any protection or promotion of ethnic cultures.

Many of the largest ceasefire groups, including the Kachin Independence Organisation, United Wa State Army, and New Mon State Party, have refused to become border guard forces. They see the demands as breaking ceasefire agreements and amounting to unconditional surrender, without any of their demands for autonomy and ethnic rights being granted. The ceasefire groups took part in the National Convention, which drew up the principles of the new constitution, but every single one of their proposals was rejected.

Burma’s military dictatorship has already shown it is prepared to use force to subdue those groups that refuse to submit to its demands. In August 2009 the Burmese Army attacked the ethnic Kokang group, forcing almost 40,000 refugees to flee to China. Already ethnic Mon refugees have started arriving in Thailand, fearing attacks by the Burmese Army.

All the ceasefire groups which have rejected the generals’ demands have indicated that while they will not start any violence, they will defend themselves if attacked. There is a real risk of the Burmese Army attacking ceasefire groups, resulting in a huge humanitarian and human rights crisis.

The Burma Campaign UK has been warning since 2007 that the dictatorship’s so-called roadmap to democracy was a sham designed to maintain dictatorship, and that it could lead to renewed conflict and instability in Burma. We called on the UN and the rest of the international community to focus on pressuring the dictatorship to enter into genuine tri-partite dialogue with the NLD and genuine ethnic representatives.

Instead the UN and international community focussed almost exclusively on trying to reform the dictatorship’s roadmap. They tried and failed to persuade the generals to reform the National Convention. They tried and failed to persuade the generals to reform the election drafting committee. They tried and failed to persuade the generals hold conduct a free and fair referendum on the constitution. They tried and failed to persuade the generals to create an environment conducive to free and fair elections. They tried and failed to persuade the regime to hold free and fair elections. Every single attempt by the UN and international community to reform the generals’ roadmap has failed.

Yet despite a new constitution that guarantees continued dictatorship in Burma, and election laws which guarantee the election will not be free and fair, still the international community clings desperately to the hope that there can still be change to the process, and some kind of positive outcome.

While the international community focuses on the minutiae of what is going on in Naypyidaw and Rangoon, attaching political significance to whether or not repairs can be carried out on the roof of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house, they have been ignoring the growing potential crisis in ethnic states.

The danger of the Burmese Army attacking ceasefire groups is very real. As the Burmese Army deliberately targets civilians, the result would be hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people, and a huge humanitarian crisis which the international community has done little to prepare for.

There would also be a huge increase in human rights abuses. In March 2010 the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma called for a UN commission of inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the dictatorship. If the Burmese Army becomes more active in Mon State, Shan State and Kachin State, abuses will escalate, especially slave labour and rape.

“Even as the Burmese Army was sending more troops and supplies into ethnic states in preparation for possible war, governments meeting in New York as ‘Friends of Myanmar’ ignored the potential crisis in ethnic areas and instead discussed whether election laws could be changed in some way to allow the National League for Democracy to take part,” said Zoya Phan, International Coordinator of Burma Campaign UK. “The failure to grant rights to Burma’s ethnic people is at the root of the problems in Burma today. Ethnic people are facing some of the worst human rights abuses, and the Burmese Army is on the verge of attacking ethnic ceasefire groups and ethnic civilians. This is a crisis that requires immediate attention, but it is being ignored.”

The Burma Campaign UK is calling for action now to avoid this potential crisis.

  • The United Nations and international community must make it clear to Burma’s dictatorship that attacks against ethnic groups will not be tolerated. Such attacks would be a threat to regional stability,  and therefore require United Nations Security Council intervention.
  • As civilians will be targeted, the international community should also support the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma.
  • Instead of trying to reform elections due later this year, the UN should focus on implementation of UN Security Council and UN General Assembly demands that the dictatorship enter into genuine tri-partite dialogue.
  • United Nations humanitarian organisations and international aid agencies should put in place contingency plans for assisting refugees and internally displaced people created if the Burmese Army does break ceasefires.  This should include funding for cross-border aid which is likely to be the only way to reach many internally displaced people.

For more information contact Zoya Phan on 02073244712, or Mark Farmaner on 02073244713.


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