The Third Session Govt.-KIO Talks, March 8-10, 2012
Riuli, Yunnan, China
I. The communique
National government delegates and KIO representatives held “Union of Burma level” discussions, the third session, and the following communique was issued. There were five brief points.
1. Both parties were gratified and encouraged by the meeting being held.
2. Progress attained in each such meeting will help to build and enhance mutual trust.
3. Further discussions on political issues should follow.
4. Both sides trust that conflict will begin to abate because these talks are occurring.
5. Both sides agreed that mutual understanding and agreement on presently volatile issues must be reached before any steps toward correcting them can be implemented.
In circumspection, it is clear that finding anything to report in the communique was a hardship. There was not a single substantive accomplishment, hence all the generalities, acrimony was at times barely disguised, and the leader of the government team appeared constantly befuddled. The KIO Central Committee Office made available voice recordings of all sessions to a few persons who have been diligent in offering input as this chapter of Kachin political experience proceeds. It is a trying, extremely exasperating experience to listen through even part of the recording.
Some noteworthy features were gleaned by the Editor/Publisher of the Overseas Kachin Association (OKA) News website, Salang Kaba Tu Lum Marip, who listened to the entire set of recordings, and took copious notes along the way. Following are his main comments.
II. Notes and comments from OKA News
1. The discussion dwelt on Stage 1, Step 5, of the KIO Three-stage Road map presented during the first meeting, which is:
(5) In situations where there exists potential for hostile reaction through misunderstanding the two armed sides will be required to discuss that situation until full understanding of each other’s position is clear. Any movement or action on one side will be made only with the full understanding of non-hostile intention of the other side. Specific time and location of such actions should be agreed upon prior to the event.
The debate that ensued on the possible implementation of this was heated, and at one point, Col. L. Ji Nawng of the KIO Team recalled the fundamental provocation that triggered hostile reaction from the KIA.
“The Tatmadaw brought up to Kachin State special units which are specially trained and preferentially equipped to defend our country against foreign incursions, and they initiated attacks on us on our soil. We were treated as enemies of the Union for defending our rightful homeland. And when we retaliated, these same elite forces switched to the strategy of attacking our defenseless, innocent villagers, who were tortured and many killed, their houses burned down, and were ruthlessly driven out. Who would not fight back?
So what is the solution? Pull these forces out, and do not hinder our KIA as they go about resettling villages, rebuilding houses and schools, and restoring communities. That is the solution.
Subsequent to Col. Ji Nawng’s speech, a truly commendable performance, some time was given to dealing with agreements, should they be reached, and what the procedure might be to formalize them with signatures. The KIO would require the presence of observers from trusted democratic nations, such as the US and Canada. The government retorted that this was an internal matter, and that it would be an embarrassment to require outside observers, and that the government could not agree with it. At that juncture the KIO team leader, Salang Kaba Sumlut Gam, gave the second commanding performance.
“We have had peace talks, cease-fire talk, etc. with the government, in 1963, 1971, 1980-81, and in 1994 we actually agreed to a cease-fire. The government did not live up to its part of the agreement each time, which was to initiate political discussions and to search for political solutions. Each time for our trust we got lies and endless subterfuge. And now you want to do the same thing. We say no more abuse of our trust.”
The government team tried to change the subject and suggested that in areas of volatile confrontation the local commanders should now negotiate toward mutual understanding. The KIO replied that there would be not the slightest change without a high-level, written concrete agreement on the political terms that would allow such a step.
The meeting fell short of substantive accomplishments and finding enough things to say in the final communique was not any easier. For anyone who can give the time to listen through the recorded speeches in order to attempt an analysis it would be very clear that the government delegation took quite a pounding, or that it was roundly pummeled.
III. Analytical notes
A number of things are clear, none actually new. Let me recount the main ones.
First, Kachin political leaders have learned their lessons well, the lesson especially of the years since Ne Win’s coup d’etat in 1962. The content of this lesson may be iterated as follows. The bedrock of their conviction is written in the charter that founded the Union of Burma; that founding charter is the Panglong Agreement of 1947. This serves as their immovable bedrock, and continuing provocations to destroy the stipulations of that charter has now produced an irresistible force, a political will and the desire and determination to pursue reform. That this thinking is also shared across the ethnic nationality spectrum, and perhaps by a large majority of Burman civilians, would mean that the KIO position is the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Second, taking up the opposing side is, in the current manifestation, the government of former general, now President Thein Sein. By watching the behavior and the tone of voice of the government delegation led by U Aung Thaung, this side is characteristically a faithful offspring of the Ne Win ideology. I will reiterate three supporting observations to justify this opinion.
A. rephrasing a point from my own recent memorandum, “we are confronted with the stark reality that the government fueled by the power of the Tatmadaw has not been the defenders of the political plan according to the Panglong Agreement, but rather have been the enemies of the plan in the years since 1962” (in Maran, March 6, 2012. memo).
B. Prof. Josef Silverstein, a foremost authority on the political miasma of Burma’s post-colonial political history, made two cogent points; that between 1962-64, Ne Win “adopted an ethnic policy based not on equality, but on inequality”, and that after 1962, the governing system following the Panglong plan was “broken beyond repair”. (Silverstein in Brown & Ganguly, 1997, p.187).
Third, Is the government’s political position also an immovable bedrock and an irresistible force? The issue of economic sanctions currently imposed on the government plays a critical role in the answer to this query. Lacking the political support of the citizenry the government finds that enticing investment inflow to keep it going is the most crucial dimension of its plans.
When I look at the reports coming out of the govenment-KIO talks I am keenly aware of the dilemma of the economic sanctions. Do the great democratic nations like the US, Canada, UK, et al see the political struggle that underlies this surface exercise in futility? Are they aware that the government needs to put a cover on its political plans in order to “lighten up” the sanctions, and perhaps survive a bit longer?
Memorandum prepared by
Maran La Raw, PhD
Kachin political affairs analyst
March 13, 2012
Citation: Josef Silverstein in GOVERNMENT POLICIES AND ETHNIC RELATIONS IN ASIA AND THE PACIFIC. Michael E. Brown & Sumit Ganguly, editors, 1997. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.