Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ethnic Groups Lack Unity, Stay Out of Protests


The majority of armed ethnic insurgent groups have refrained from taking part in recent protests, not because they did not support the demonstrators, but because the various factions lack cohesion and are not united under a common standard and for decades have fought amongst themselves. Some, like the Karen National Liberation Army, continue the armed struggle for the independence that was promised them under the conditions of the 1947 Panglong Agreement, while others have signed ceasefires with the junta. With the signing of ceasefires, some insurgent groups such as the United Wa State Army, the New Mon State Party, and the Kachin Independence Organization have all have successfully negotiated for trade concessions, many of which include opium, whose production in Burma, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has increased by 46% this year alone (story HERE). Much of the global trade in hard drugs comes from Burma--It is the world's second largest producer of heroin and Southeast Asia's #1 supplier of methanphetamines.

These unlawful trade deals, which constitute insurgent armies' primary source of funding, and the absence of a unified front amongst ethnic groups gives the Tatmadaw more political and military leverage and actually enables the military to further encroach on insurgent controlled territories. And public dissatisfaction with the ceasefires has eroded the support base of insurgents. Rather than fighting militarily or politically, some groups are complicitly facilitating the black market trade which keeps the junta afloat.

As a side note, it should be acknowledged, that while the junta has been more than willing to negotiate with illegal armed insurgents, to date, it has refused to hold unconditional talks with legal political entities, like the NLD. Perhaps it is because the military's rulers do not see political parties which subscribe to nonviolent means of civil disobedience as a threat. However, when confronted by opposition groups that resort to violent methods, they are more keen on having discussions.

Aung San Suu Kyi speaking on behalf of nonviolence below (linked HERE):

In her book Living Silence, Christina Fink notes that ethnic groups have traditionally been marginalized because of Burman feelings of superiority and because under the British, minorities were given different administrative and political systems than the Burmans. Moreover, many of the ethnic Kachin and Karens converted to Christianity and Catholicism, so do not identify with the needs and wants of the Burman Buddhist majority.

The demands of the minorities were never satisfactorily addressed even before independence, as the caretaker government feared the British would renege on their promises of grantly independence, they hastily drew up a Constitution without the participation of all nationalities.

And as some ethnic groups fought with the British against the Burma Independence during World War II, and were subject to disproportionate revenge and human rights abuses at the hands of the BIA, a high level of mistrust and suspicion still exists today.

Irrawaddy's article "Lack of Unity Kept Ethnic Groups Out of the Showdown" HERE.

Read more on the junta's secret war against ethnic minorities HERE.

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