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Pang-Long Treaty has reached 64th Anniversary, But no Ethnic Equal Rights as yet

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Burma's sixty-four year-long Historic Panglong Agreement has been ignored by the Burmese military regime so far. The said agreement has been disregarded by the generals as they rule the country highhandedly. The Panglong Agreement was signed on Feb. 12, 1947, between General Aung San and leaders of the Chin, Kachin and Shan ethnic groups.

The agreement basically 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. On the contrary, many ethnic groups are still engaged in an armed conflict with the Burmese junta, since Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948, one of the longest civil wars in the world.

Burma's new 2008 Constitution put forward many problems for political parties, ethnic cease-fire groups and exiled dissident factions in quest of some common ground to the disagreements between ethnic groups and the military despotism.

The newly designated government headed by President Thein Sein, who also is chairman of the military-backed party the USDP, still controls the system of government, including the courts and the armed forces. Actually, the new government is acting much like the old one -- the decade-long old military totalitarianism -- with freshly retired generals still making all the decisions.

If any solution is to be found for ethnic group problems, the military-back current administration must review the mistakes of past leaders of the union and respect the political aspirations of the ethnic communities. The root cause of the nation's ethnic political catastrophe is the regime's resistance to a genuine federal union. The late dictator Ne Win, who seized power in a military coup in 1962, opposed sharing equal power in a series of heated debates in the parliament under U Nu's civilian government.

Ne Win supported a unitary state over a genuine federal union. The Military Council headed by Ne Win declared that the military coup had taken place because of the "federation problem," 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, he shattered the 1948 Constitution.  At the same time, the Pang Long Agreement signed on 12 February 1947, which promised autonomy of ethnic groups, was broken and abrogated.

Actually, it is a reasonable demand for self-determination among the respective ethnic minorities. The USDP-government should not use guns to govern ethnic minorities. If we look back to 1960-61, many leaders from ethnic states criticized the weakness of the constitution as well as the government's failure to realize the political autonomy of the ethnic minorities.

They accused the central government of not allowing the representatives of ethnic states to manage their own affairs in areas of the economy, judiciary, education and customs and so on. The central government error was that it ruled the ethnic areas as vassal states.

Sen-Gen Than Shwe has followed that tradition of his predecessor Ne Win and Saw Maung, who both 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." It means ethnic armed troops are under state control.

As a result, Kachin Independence Army (KIA)'s Battalion No. 27 opened fire when a truckload of Burmese armed troops from Infantry Battalion No. 15, based in Mohnyin, entered the KIA restricted area in Man Win in Bhamo (Manmaw) district, at 10:30 a.m. local time.

A Burmese battalion commander, Lt-Col Yin Htwe, was killed and seven Burmese soldiers- including a military doctor- were injured in the fighting, according to KIA sources.

Proposals for a political solution, made by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA political wing, have been rejected by Burma's military government.

The KIO plays a major role in the recently formed Committee for Emergence of a Federal Union (CEFU), which is calling for the establishment of a genuine federal union in Burma.

The CEFU was formed by the KIO, Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Chin National Front (CNF).

The junta-sponsored parliament allows 330 civilian seats in the 440-member House of Representatives. Under the 2008 Constitution, the remaining 110 seats are filled with appointed military officers. In the 224-seat House of Nationalities, 168 are elected and 56 are appointed by the boss of the armed forces. Remarkably, 77 percent of the parliamentary seats have been seized by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the recent polls which were distinguished for vote-rigging show.

According to new laws announced by head of the junta in November, members of parliaments will not be permitted the freedom of expression if their presentations jeopardize national security or the unity of the country. Any protest inside the parliament is carrying a punishment of up to two years imprisonment. Anyone apart from lawmakers that enters parliament while it is in session has to face a one-year prison term.

In such a parliament, dominated by the military and former military, ethnic representatives will have little or no chance to press the self-sufficiency and equal status issues in parliament. Authentic ethnic representatives, who are willing to push ethnic issues forward, may not occupy enough seats in the new parliament to form an effective coalition.

National reconciliation and ethnic self-determination are two sides of the same coin, and they must be addressed in the new parliament and in regional and state parliaments.

Without addressing and honoring the ethnic people's political aspirations, the new parliament-based fake civilian government will be unable to stop political and civil strife throughout ethnic areas.

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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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