Delegation (SD), which is the ethnic negotiating bloc, reconstituted in June from the NCCT.
IMNA: The eighth round of talks for the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) was held by the government’s Union Peace-making Working Committee (UPWC) and the ethnic armed groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) – Senior Delegation (SD) on July 22-24. At the talk, members of the SD requested for all ethnic armed groups to be involved in signing the NCA; however, different points of view came up at the talk regarding the ethnic armed groups’ involvement in the NCA. Is that true?
Nai Hong Sar: Yes, that is true. There were about 3-4 points we could not agree on, I guess this item [all ethnic armed group to involve in signing NCA] is the most difficult to negotiate. This did not just happen at this time, when we as the Senior Delegation (SD) came to have talks with the UPWC, but also when we as the NCCT held talks [with UPWC before] and the UPWC did not accept the point.
IMNA: Which standpoints did the SD demand from all ethnic armed groups involved in signing the NCA? And why?
Nai Hongsar: What we are discussing with the government now is to sign the NCA. If the government is moving forward with the NCA, but it is still fighting with armed groups, while it signs ceasefires with a few other groups, the NCA is just [meaningless and] nothing.
That is the strategy that the government is using to break up its united enemies and destroy each of them. But from our side, we do not accept such a thing. If the government wants to resolve the political problems with true and honest views, it should not do so this way [breaking up united enemies and destroy each of them]. From our side, what we demand for is to have all ethnic armed groups involved in signing the NCA. In saying this, if some groups do not accept our NCA fundamentals and do not want to sign the NCA, they can be left out.
Throughout our collaboration as part of the NCCT, there were 16 armed groups and now as part of the SD, there are 17 groups, including All Burma Student and Democracy Front (ABSDF). We also request them all to participate in the NCA.
IMNA: What kinds of negative effects could happen if ethnic armed groups, excluding the groups that the government proposed to leave out, go ahead and sign the NCA?
From our side, we cannot accept this because this is what the government is moving towards to break up our united resistance forces, who are having the same life and fates, and [the government is to] destroy those left-out groups. If we are broken up like this, in the long run, all other armed groups would again be dragged into battle fields [and destroyed] by the government troops. We need to keep this united strength, as only united strength/force can reach the goal. Also, if we are deciding for our own benefits and let the government leave other groups out, this seems like we have neglected our colleague soldiers with whom we together rebelled and fought against the Tatmadaw for such a long time. On the government side, they analyze the kinds of negative effects that will happen if they accept to sign ceasefire agreements with all armed groups. If we look at the current situation, we can see that we, each ethnic group, are not only living in our area or state. For example, in Mon State, there are Karen people, while in Karen State, there are also Mon people. Likewise, in Kachin State, there are Shans whereas in Shan State, there are Kachin people. So, if Mon and Kachin armed groups signed the ceasefire, but leaving Karen and Shan out of signing the ceasefire, then Mon people and Kachin people in Karen and Shan states, respectively, won’t be living in peace [since the fighting between Karen and Shan armed groups in Karen and Shan state can break out anytime].
Also, if we look at the territories where armed resistance groups are active, we can see that some Mon resistance groups are active in Karen State, while Karen resistance armed groups are also active in Mon State. That is the situation of how individual nationals are close by. For Arakanese armed groups, they are far from their land and they are active in Karen State and Kachin State. That is my knowledge from life, how individual ethnic nationals help each other as they all are oppressed [by the Tatamadaw]. So, here if some armed groups signed the ceasefire while some groups are left out in battle fields [fighting with the government troops], those groups who signed the ceasefire won’t stand by and watch other groups fight with the government troops. Rather, they will help their allies and fight against the government troops, and the conflict will again extend. What I mean is that from an unattended fire will burn a house and continue to light out [burn] the whole village. Therefore, only if the all armed groups nation-wide could sign the ceasefire, lasting peace would be then able to be established.
IMNA: It was reportedly said that the government excluded the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Arakan Army (AA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) from signing the NCA. In your opinion, why doesn’t the government accept those groups to sign the NCA, altogether with other armed groups?
Nai Hong Sar: Concerning these three groups, what we heard and know from the MNDAA, the Kokang ethnic armed group, is that the fighting between the Tatmadaw and the MNDAA from both in 2009 and early of this year, really impairs the MNDAA. For the Palaung (or) Ta’ang armed group, the Tatmadaw is fighting its [Ta’ang] administration group and local militia. That is what hurts the Palaung armed group too. For the Arakan armed group or the Arakan Army (AA), the AA moved into its state and is active there. It is said that if the AA is still at its former base, which is in Kachin State, there won’t be problems. Of these three groups, the Kokang armed group is hurt the most.
Regarding this, in our opinion, if they look at the past and that of what they fought against and killed for, there is hurt and hatred between both sides [Tatmadaw and each of the armed groups]. For the TNLA and AA, because lots of their soldiers [comrades] were shot, wounded and killed by the Tatmadaw’s artillery shelling during recruitment training at Laiza [in Kachin State], the TNLA and AA are grieving for their fallen men. This was not front line fighting nor joint-fighting, the Tatamdaw fired at the training area from faraway. This is what causes those two groups to be unsatisfied and hurt.
For the Kokang armed group, lots of their ordinary people in Laukai Town were shot dead by the Tatamadaw during fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Kokang armed group early of this year. Due to this, the Kokang group is unhappy, and ultimately suffering.
Nevertheless, if we continue to look at the past and feel that hurt, we cannot form peace. If we can not establish peace, such fighting and killing of their own people will continue to happen [again]. But because the majority [of us] want to end this case, we continue to participate in the talks [with the government]. We have to be patient and forgive the political motivations, and we have to prioritize that we are heading towards a goal and move forward into it.
IMNA: Is there any possibility that the nationwide ceasefire agreement will be signed before this 2015 election, considering there are different points of view?
Nai Hong Sar: If the agreement is achieved, the NCA will be signed. If it is not agreed upon, the NCA will not be signed. To achieve an agreement, there might be compromises to be made between two sides and both sides must be able to accept it. That’s what it all depends on [for the agreement]. On our ethnic armed group side, we will sign it [NCA], if we see the chance that we are able to hold talks and make decisions freely and openly, for fair and free political talk, and for the establishment of federal union.
IMNA: Why is it so difficult and delayed to establish peace in the country?
Nai Hong Sar: When the previous governments [from generation to generation] planned to establish peace in the country, they were very focused on destroying ethnic [resistant ] armed groups’ armies. They never conducted talks to resolve their political issues.
Ethnic armed groups took up arms because they wanted to gain rights for their nationals. Past governments seized their arms and destroyed their armies, but never offered the rights that they demanded for. Because of that, youths and new members formed new armed groups and gathered new arms; they then rebelled against the government again. That is why the armed conflict has lasted this long.
It wouldn’t have been as difficult to solve this [armed conflict] problem if the government, with honest and true willingness, created discourse and opportunities for equal rights. The government accused the ethnic armed forces of leaving the union. That is not true. The armed groups are not headed into secession. They are struggling for the establishment of a federal union, which will grant them their national rights and equality, and the right for them to create their national fates on their own.
Hence, in this country, if the federal union, which is not totalitarian, is created, then national peace will be able to be formed promptly.
IMNA: Thank you very much for your time during this interview.