The Federal Union Army, formed by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), has been criticized by the Burmese government, Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), and a number of Burmese politicians as a threat to Burma’s peace process. In his November 30, 2014 interview with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), U Aung Naing Oo of the MPC said that the FUA is dangerous. Similarly, Burmese Army Chief General Min Aung Hlaing stated that he could not accept the FUA because it would compete with his Burmese Army, claiming that a country must have only one army. In light of these statements, Khun Okkar, advisor to the FUA, responded that the Burmese Army should not worry about the formation of the FUA, as it nether competes with the Burmese Army, nor threatens the peace process in Burma; Khun Okkar maintained that the FUA is just preparing for taking part in Burma’s future federal army.
In order to understand the purpose of the FUA, one must understand why the FUA was formed in the first place. The FUA was formed during the 1st UNFC Conference, held in February, 2011, with the process of its formation beginning before the peace process had been initiated in Burma. At that time, the Burmese government had threatened to attack ethnic armed groups if they did not transform their forces into Border Guard Forces and if they did not abide by the 2008 Constitution. At their February 2011 conference, members of the UNFC decided to form a new coalition force under a new structure. Since the UNFC’s primary objective is to establish a genuine federal union in Burma, its army should also be formed under a federalist structure, comprising members from different ethnic groups. Indeed, this kind of coalition force is not new at all, as there were many coalition forces formed by ethnic armed groups over the course of armed conflict in Burma; notably, the National Democratic Front (NDF) was one such coalition force. Although the name of the group is the Federal Union Army, it does not necessarily mean that the FUA is competing with, or aiming to take over, the current Burmese Army. Rather, the FUA is just another coalition force of ethnic armed groups under a different name and structure.
This new coalition force is not a threat to the peace process, as the Burmese Army Chief and the MPC believe. If it were, the UNFC would not have continued its peace talks with the Burmese government. Future Burma’s federal army should be comprised not only of the FUA, but must include all other major ethnic groups, including Burman. I don’t think the UNFC would be naïve enough to claim that its armed force is competing with the Burmese Army and preparing to replace the current Burmese armed force; the coalition’s purpose is solely to defend its people from the threats of the Burmese Army. If political issues are settled, there would be no more of the FUA.
If the Burmese Army and Burmese government have true intentions to solve the country’s political problems or to have peace in Burma, the government should engage in political dialogue with ethnic armed groups, instead of prolonging discussion regarding a nation-wide ceasefire agreement. In his recent November 22nd interview with the Voice of America (VOA), General Min Aung Hlaing expressed that the Burmese Army does not want to amend the 2008 Constitution, while insisting that ethnic armed groups accept the Constitution. The General’s statement sent a strong message to the ethnic armed groups and the UNFC that the Burmese government does not want peace, thus, they must prepare to defend themselves in future armed conflicts. I am surprised to see some MPC scholars criticizing the FUA without any factual analysis of the nature of conflict in Burma.
To date, Burma’s armed conflict and peace process does not have any independent mediators, international monitoring teams, or international peacekeepers; the process is solely mediated by the Burmese government, with the Burmese government acting as bother fighter and referee. If fighting occurs between the Burmese Army and an ethnic armed group, there are no independent teams to investigate the incident, with the recent Burmese Army’s attack on the KIO military academy serving as a classic case. Following the attack, there were no independent bodies that could investigate and mediate the incident, instead, each side blamed the other and increased security forces to deter further attacks.
Since there are no independent peacekeepers to provide security during the peace process, all actors involved in the conflict are relying on self-help for their securities. In doing so, this will lead to a security dilemma, a situation in which actions taken by a group or state to increase security by expanding its military strength leads to a threat to the security of other groups or states. In response, the other groups increase it security by forming an alliance. For example, if the Burmese Army increases its security by expanding its military forces in ethnic areas, ethnic armed groups view those actions as a threat to their security, and respond by forming coalitions in order to provide security for their members.
Therefore, in my humble opinion, the formation of the FUA is just a response to the threat of the Burmese Army; it neither threatens the peace process nor it is competing with the Burmese Army. The root cause of Burma’s armed conflict is a political problem, not a military one. If the political problem is solved, so too will the military problem. If the Burmese government and Burmese Army do not want to see ethnic armed groups forming the Federal Union Army, or any other coalition force, they should immediately initiate political dialogue, and should not hesitate to amend the 2008 Constitution, in order to allow a true democratic process and the protection of the rights of ethnic people in Burma. At the same time, international peacekeeping and monitoring teams should be employed in the peace process, in order to avoid a security dilemma between ethnic armed groups and the Burmese Army. Otherwise, Burma’s peace process will go one step forward and two steps backwards; it will reach nowhere.
Pon Nya Mon is a Research fellow at the Salween Institute (www.salweeninstitute.org). He can be reached at [email protected]