Last month the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) received an invitation from the Burmese government for peace talks, the latest in a string of ethnic armies to be approach by Naypyidaw. Intensive negotiations in the past two months have met with some success, and have been taken as evidence by some of a genuine desire by the government for an end to Burma’s multiple conflicts.
Since its founding in 1967, the ALP and its armed-wing the Arakan Liberation Army (founded in 1974) have fought against successive Burmese governments. The ALP operates on both the India-Burma and Thai-Burma border areas with the stated intention of replacing Burma’s current regime with a democratic federal union of Burma.
Khaing Soe Naing Aung, vice chairman of the ALP and vice president of the National Democratic Front, an umbrella group of nine ethnic armies, tells DVB that the government cares little for peace in the border regions, but instead has pushed ahead with ceasefires in order to placate the west and end sanctions.
Do you agree with the sense of optimism surrounding recent ceasefire deals, that they signal a possible end to Burma’s conflicts?
No. In my opinion the Burmese government is not seeking these agreements in order to establish genuine and lasting ceasefires but rather because it wants to deceive the international community. They want people to think that they are genuinely interested in peace and democratic reforms in order for sanctions to be lifted. By negotiating ceasefires with each group separately the government shows that it is more interested in preventing unity amongst the ethnic nationalities rather than genuine peace talks.
Does the ALP believe that foreign governments, NGOs and the media accurately understand these alleged truces?
I believe that it is generally understood by foreign governments and non-government organisations that the Burmese government only wishes to undertake democratic reforms very gradually. I do not think that they actually understand how unacceptable the 2008 constitution is or how any ceasefires or peace agreements based on this document cannot lead to a genuine peace in Burma.
How should the international community respond to this, as well as the release of some political prisoners and plans to hold by-elections in April?
It is my opinion that these agreements will not lead to a genuine peace or to the establishment of a federal union of Burma that would respect and protect the rights of all ethnic nationalities. The international community, particularly the United States and European Union should not be in a hurry to lift diplomatic and economic sanctions. Everyone, including non-government organisations, should be aware that there is a need for evidence of real reforms before even a transition period for the lifting of sanctions should be discussed.
What role should the National Democratic Front play in any future negotiations with the Burmese regime for a political settlement to end Burma’s civil war?
The National Democratic Front should be treated as a genuine partner for peace by the Burmese government and the international community. There is no question that if the Burmese government desires a genuine peace and political settlement to end the civil war then it should negotiate directly with the National Democratic Front. If the Burmese government fails to implement a national ceasefire or join in genuine talks to resolve outstanding issues the National Democratic Front will continue to offer resistance using all political, military and diplomatic means available.
The United Nationalities Federal Council formed in 2010 represents most of the major armed groups in Burma, including some belonging to the NDF. Has this lessened the NDF’s relevance?
The National Democratic Front continues to be an active and important forum for coordination and cooperation between its member organisations. When the United Nationalities Federal Council was established there were negotiations held with members of the National Democratic Front. While the membership is largely shared between these two organisations there are several differences in policy. While it is the policy of the National Democratic Front to establish a genuine federal union based on equality and self-determination, the policy of the United Nationalities Federal Council, while similar, does not allow for ethnic nationalities to separate from a federal union of Burma even if this is the desire of the people. The National Democratic Front will continue to play an important role in the effort for a free and democratic Burma and will work in cooperation with the United Nationalities Federal Council to achieve this.
What does the ALP think about the members of the United Nationalities Federal Council signing separate ceasefire agreements with the Burmese government?
The members of the UNFC have done a favour to the Burmese government by showing a lack of unity among the ethnic nationalities. The members of the United Nationalities Federal Council should refuse to negotiate separately and instead stand together in firm unity. The Burmese government is strengthened and the United Nationalities Federal Council weakened when the ethnic nationalities are unorganised and are not united.
Phillip van Gaalen-Prentice is working on the development of a new project to study Burma’s civil war. He recently completed a Postgraduate Diploma of Arts at the University of Melbourne having previously completed a Master of Counter-Terrorism Studies at Monash University.