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How will Burma overcome its political fiasco?

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Myanmar, once called Burma, has a long history of armed conflict in the region as it has suffered the negative consequences of different rebellions since 1948. The country gained its independence from the British in 1948 as a result of signing the Aung San-Atlee treaty and the Panglong Agreement.  

On 27 January 1947, Gen. Aung San and the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee signed an agreement in London guaranteeing Burma's independence within a year. After the signing of the agreement with Britain, Gen. Aung San signed another agreement at the Panglong Conference on 12 February 1947 with leaders from other ethnic national groups who stated their comradeship and approval for a Union of Burma.

Unfortunately, Gen. Aung San was assassinated on 19 July 1947 by a mad political adversary. Soon afterwards, communist rebels started on a revolution against the new government of the then Prime Minister U Nu, followed by the ethnic conflicts in different areas in 1949. Also, the KNDO (Karen National Defense Organization) armed-wing of the Karen Nation Union (KNU), led by Saw Ba Oo Gyi, launched armed-struggle on 31 January 1949 for an self-determining Karen state (Kaw-thoo-lei) in the eastern part of the country.

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However, the civil war that made the country to be obsolete has been going on for over six decades. Although the current U Thein Sein government has been attempting through its peacemaking teams, the key ethnic rebel groups, Karen National Union (KNU), the Rehabilitation Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) and Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) are still unconvinced of the move for political settlement.

The country gained its independence by overthrowing the British colonial rule on 4 January 1948. In fact, the country's independence is a consequence of the "Historic Panglong Agreement' between General Aung San and the leaders of Chin, Kachin and Shan ethnic groups pledging an authentic federal union of Burma, currently called Myanmar. However, Burma's consecutive regimes have ignored the political treaty between Gen. Aung San and the ethnic leaders of independence.

The result of the 1947 agreement proved unsupportive when it reached ten years in 1958, after gaining independence from the British in 1948. Many ethnic armed rebellions broke out to stand up for autonomy. As a matter fact, the 1947 constitution had granted the right of secession to Karenni and Shan States. 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 provide room for the political autonomy of the ethnic minorities.

They pointed the finger at the central government for not allowing the representatives of ethnic states to manage their own affairs in areas of economy, judiciary, education, and customs and so on. The central government ruled the ethnic areas as vassal states.

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In keeping with the military drafted and approved constitution's Article 436, most of the provisions can be amended by a vote of more than 75% of the representatives of the joint Upper and Lower House assembly (666 seats). The military occupies 25% of the seats in each house (110, 56).

Without addressing and honoring the ethnic people's representation and self-determination, the latest parliament-based government seems unable to stop political and civil strife all over ethnic areas. In reality, ethnic people's demand for equal rights is not a new one but already mentioned in the 1947-Panglong agreement.

A good example happened on 11 January 2013 that the Lower House of Myanmar made a request to Union Peacemaking Central Committee and KIO/KIA at the second day, sixth regular session of the First People's Parliament. The call made by the Lower House to Union Peace-making Central Committee and KIO/KIA says the members of parliament have felt sadness for local people of Kachin state who have been suffering the consequences of the ongoing war. The fighting caused loss of both sides due to daily armed conflicts in Kachin state, it says.

The request keeps on saying that there have been difficulties to hold talks between the members of peace-making team of the government and representatives of KIO/KIA as military action swelling in the region continuously. The request letter says to ease the military tensions in favor of the people's voices while building trust through the negotiation. Hence, it would pave the way for the long-term peace, says the request letter signed by the Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann.

The key point of disagreement between the KIO and the military-backed government is the attitude with the 1947 Panglong Agreement. KIO has declared that it will talk through the ethnic alliance, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), keeping on the spirit of the Panglong Agreement.

On the contrary, the military-dominated government made its negative response of peace talks based on the principles of the 1947 Panglong Treaty advised by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). The government sticks to the 2008 controversial constitution as the guideline for the peace talks.

The landmark Panglong Agreement primarily guaranteed self-determination of the ethnic minorities and offered a large measure of autonomy, including independent legislature, judiciary and administrative powers. However, the dream of equality and a federal union is far from being realized some six decades after signing the Panglong Agreement.

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The new constitution, approved in a referendum in May 2008, is inundated with misleading principles. The military autocrats constantly refuse equal political, social and economic rights toward the ethnic minorities. To them, it is a risk towards a collapse of sovereignty.

In contrast, at the first Union Parliament second regular session on 22 August 2011, President U Thein Sein said, "We know what happen to people and what people want. And we are striving our best to fulfill their needs to the full extent. To conclude my speech, I promise that our government as a democratically-elected government will do our best for the interests of the people."

If the president really be aware of what people want, he should contemplate amending of the controversial constitution in which none of the political aspirations suggested by the ethnic representatives was integrated.

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Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976. He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. (more...)
 

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