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From a National Election to a Civil War

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Taing Taw Mon political analyst : The undemocratic results of the Burmese national elections have quickly introduce Burma to a multitude of problems that cannot be easily solved: civil war, the desire for self-determination for ethnic-minorities, military rule, an undemocratic approach and increasing refugees.

Civil war, which has turned the country from one of the richest in Southeast Asia to the poorest in the last five decades, reoccurred between an ethnic Karen armed group and the Burmese government at two border checkpoints on the Thai-Burma border the day after the election took place.

The people living in the areas of conflict have nowhere to go inside their country, so they choose neighboring Thailand, which is already serving as shelter for hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees. This is overloading Thailand and burdening the international community. Refugee camps in Thailand emerged in 1988 after a student-led democracy uprising, which killed hundreds of Burmese citizens, and twenty plus years later they are still necessary.

From the an ethnic minority’s point of view, Burma’s problem is the lack of power sharing between the majority Burman population and all the ethnic minority groups. A genuine federation with a new constitution can bridge the gap between these two sides. Federal constitution needed to draft first. The current constitution used for the November 7th election, gives twenty-five percent of the parliamentary seats to the military, an extra advantage on the Burmese government’s side, which is seen as completely unacceptable by the majority of the ethnic minority groups.

Most ethnic minority groups have drafted their own state constitutions, which focus on a strong state. The Mon State constitution, for example, was drafted and passed at the Mon National Conference, a gathering  that takes place every year in the cease fire zone and is attended by many grass roots organizations from within Burma.  The current Burmese military constitution, on the other hand, does not guarantee the rights of ethnic minorities, in fact it disregards them.

The most reasonable and surefire way to a democracy in Burma comes from the UN solution of a tri-partite dialogue among ethnic groups, the military government and the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi. However, the military regime has their own road map to democracy which basically excludes all political parties with ethnic representatives in the election.

Civil war and the demand for ethnic self determination are interlinked. The new constitution produces a new form of the country flag- it has only one big star, representing the Burmese and not the ethnic minorities. The dream of the regime is to form only one military unit in which all the armed ethnic groups must as well. Most of these armed-ethnic groups refused the constitution and military request for the armed ethnic groups to become part of a Border Guard Force under Burmese military management.

The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which was long seen as an ally to the Burmese military, has now opposed the country’s election and begun a civil war by attacking first in Myawaddy, and then in Three Pagoda Pass. Thousands of people were forced to flee the fighting by escaping to Thailand. Though many have returned home by now, the fighting has instilled fear in the citizens of Burma.

The two countries in Asia which welcomed the military-sponsored election were China and Vietnam, but most democratic countries throughout the world have condemned the election as fraudulent and unfair.

In the week before the election, six armed ethnic groups got together in Northern Thailand and formed a federal military alliance. They also issued a joint declaration calling for the second Panglong conference which is widely welcomed by the people who want to build the country into a federal union. The Panglong agreement or federal union was first formed by a well respected Burmese majority group leader General Aung San and ethnic leaders in Panglong, Shan State in the eve of the country’s independence in 1948.

Last May through June, the armed Kachin ethnic minority group told the military junta that it will agree to becoming a Border Guard Force if the country held a second Panglong agreement. The New Mon State Party general secretary, Nai Hongsar, also recently told the Independent Mon News Agency that he welcomes effort of the country political leaders from the various ethnic groups and pro-democracy groups to call the second Panglong conference. This looks currently to be the one solution that can produce calm in Burma and progress towards democracy, including all the people of Burma.

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