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Background on Burmese peacetalks

Subject: Background on Burmese peacetalks

Burma Issues


By S'Aung Lwin, Bochum Germany, October 1992
Published by, BURMA ISSUES

     This document will attempt to explore the complicated dynamics
lurking beneath the surface of possible peace talks in Burma, and
hopes to clarify the role that government/opposition negotiations
could play in:  1) achieving a cease fire agreement and an eventual
end to the civil war which has debilitated the country for more
than 40 years, 2) bringing about a national reconciliation of the
various diverse ethnic minority groups seeking some form of
self-determination within Burma, and 3) returning democracy to the
country, and transferring power from the military dictatorship of
the SLORC to the legitimate representatives elected by the Burmese
people in 1990. 
     This paper particularly wants to highlight the Burmese central
government's historic record of treachery, deception, and
insincerity in offering "peace" talks to insurgent groups.  It
hopes to demonstrate the great need for caution and critical
analysis in any attempt to structure fair and valid negotiations
when dealing with the type of ruthless partner Rangoon has
repeatedly proven to be.
     This paper also challenges the United Nations, and the
international community in general, to change its regressive
policies towards Burma, and take up its share of the responsibility
in establishing democracy, self-determination, and human rights for
the long-suffering Burmese people. 

     On the 5th of May 1992, in a provocative editorial of the
state-run Working People's Daily, Burma's ruling military junta(the
State Law and Order Restoration Council a.k.a. "SLORC") appealed to
the ethnic insurgent groups throughout Burma to lay down their
arms, and join the regime in bringing about national reunification.
It  invited  the various rebel factions, some of which have been
battling Rangoon for over  40  years, to take "bold and positive
steps" towards a cease fire agreement, encouraging them to seize a
"golden opportunity" to establish national unity.(WPD, 5/5/92)    
     This offer of peace highlighted a series of seemingly
conciliatory actions under General Than Shwe, who recently replaced
previous SLORC chairman Saw Maung.  These actions included the
Burmese army's release of a handful of political prisoners, who
were "deemed not a serious threat to national security"; the
acceptance of the return of thousands of Burma's Muslim minorities
who had recently fled over the border into Bangladesh; eased
restrictions on imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu
Ky; and the announcement of a cease fire in their war with ethnic
Karen rebels, the strongest insurgent threat within Burma. 
     These unexpected signs of flexibility on the part of SLORC,
while applauded by some members of the world community, have
generated widespread concern and suspicion among both the Burman
opposition and anti-Rangoon ethnic groups, who seriously question
the sincerity and motivation behind such well-publicized political
maneuvers. The crucial question remains unanswered - is SLORC
sincere about the new face it is presenting to the world and the
Burmese people, or is this simply another ploy of deception to gain
international acceptance and remain in power?

     After the startling, nation-wide, pro-democracy uprising
rumbled through Burma in the summer of 1988 with astonishing
momentum,  Ne  Win, Burma's long-time military dictator, was
suddenly forced to re-evaluate his previously cozy position in
power. Knowing that the people would no longer accept one party
rule under his reign, he resourcefully developed an alternative
strategy which would ensure his continued grasp on power, but
within a deceptively repackaged "new" format.

The Politics of Deception
     To implement this "damage-control" strategy, he had the
military stage a fake coup in September 1988, place the country
under martial law, and establish a new governing body, the State
Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). He personally resigned
as official head of state, and dissolved the notorious Burma
Socialist Program Party(BSPP), which had ruled Burma since Ne Win's
earlier coup in 1962.  However, Ne Win continued to call the shots
from behind the scenes, and the facade of the "new" SLORC
government was nothing more than a reshuffling of the same BSPP
military cronies who had formed Ne Win's oligarchy from the start.
     The SLORC regime was purported to be only a transitional,
care-taker government which would step aside once democratic
elections were held to select new representatives to govern the
country. To this end, new political  parties were allowed to form
and register, so  that  multi-party elections could be held.
Burma's first contested elections since the 1950's were indeed held
in May of 1990, resulting in a landslide victory for the opposition
National League for Democracy(NLD) party.  Not surprisingly, SLORC
refused to recognize the overwhelmingly unfavorable results, and
has yet to hand over power to the legitimately elected government
of Burma, who's representatives are now in exile, in prison,
co-opted or cowed by SLORC, or dead.

The Economics of Exploitation
     Furthermore, Ne Win hoped that by eliminating the word
"socialist" from the name of the  ruling party, and the name of the
country (formerly the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma -
now "Myanmar", a decidedly chauvinist Burman appellation), he could
convince his people, and  the  world, that  a new open economy was
being installed.  Supposedly this new orientation would depart from
the path that 26 years of economic mismanagement and ineptitude had
taken Burma, now floundering among the ranks of the world's poorest
nations, despite its vast natural wealth.
     A slight freeing up of the economy has indeed allowed some
foreign companies to invest in the country, but this has not led to
a  better  life for the people. The economy remains centralized in
the hands of the military elite, and profits still flow only into
the pockets of a few top military leaders, where they are used to
purchase more arms for Burma's oppressive army and police state.
     The new economy has revealed itself to be nothing more than a
rapid, wholesale sell-off of Burma's plentiful natural resources.
These valuable raw materials are being unloaded at dirt-cheap
prices to Asian and Western corporations eager to exploit SLORC's
desperate security needs for foreign exchange currency. This
economic trend benefits only the military and the corporations, but
directly hurts the common people who suffer under a financially
renewed SLORC, sustained by its ASEAN neighbors (particularly
Thailand and Singapore), and irresponsible international investors
from Europe, Japan, China, and the U.S.A, who are out to make a
quick profit.
     The environment and resource-rich land of Burma, and the
long-term sustainability of Burmese economic growth, are equally
ravaged by this unthinking rape of the natural landscape. These
economic activities serve only the military's security purposes,
and contribute significantly to SLORC's campaigns of brutal
oppression against Burma's many ethnic groups(including many
sectors of the majority Burman population). Simply changing the
name of the ruling party and the country has done little to produce
any authentic transformation of power or wealth in Burma.

     Following the military coup of September 18, 1988, and the
accompanying massacre which occurred (in which an estimated 8000
peaceful demonstrators were gunned down in the streets, and many
more imprisoned), General Bo Mya (the leader of Karen National
Union, the strongest ethnic insurgent group fighting the SLORC)
appealed for peace talks with the Burmese junta via the Thai
government.  The junta rejected this offer outright, however. In
fact, the Burmese regime has categorically stated that they will
eliminate the opposition and the ethnic rebels, a policy verging on
genocide, especially with regards to the various maltreated ethnic
groups(Karen, Kachin, Shan, Chin etc.) 
     Major General Khin Nyunt, who is in charge  of Burmese
military intelligence, has proclaimed that "we shall continue to 
fight them [ethnic rebels] until they are eliminated."   They have
pledged to achieve this murderous objective through on-going
military campaigns against the ethnic nationals and students who
have been driven into the Burmese border areas, and through
intimidation, detention, and torture of opposition leaders inside
the country.
     With this goal in mind, in 1990 the SLORC bought F-6 and F-7 
bomber  fighters, patrol  boats, and light arms worth about US $1.5
billion from the neighboring dictatorship in China. Other countries
that irresponsibly sold arms to the military junta include Germany
(the Fritz Werner company), Singapore, Pakistan and Yugoslavia. 

The Strategic War Against Ethnic Villagers
     By the end of 1991 the military had launched all-out
offensives  against the ethnic nationals and the student-led
opposition, especially in the Karen, Kachin and the Shan states.
     In these areas, the Burmese Army targeted thousands of
civilians suspected as potential rebel sympathizers.  Ethnic
villagers were driven out of their homes, creating a desperate
internal refugee situation. Many other villagers were forcibly
recruited by the army as porters, carrying heavy loads of food and
ammunition through the jungle, under atrocious living conditions.
Intentional malnutrition, repeated rape of the ethnic women, lack
of medical treatment for widespread malaria, beatings, and
arbitrary killings become standard operating procedure by the
largely ethnic majority Burman army towards peasant ethnic
minorities under their control.
     The Burmese Army systematically relocated rural villagers into
concentration camps and centralized army villages, in a technique
derived from the notorious American "strategic hamlet" program,
first implemented in Vietnam in the 1960's. The original ethnic
villages were looted and burned, and life-sustaining rice crops and
animal stocks destroyed. Harassment, torture, slave labor, and use
of human mine detectors became daily realities for the common
people, in what Amnesty International has termed "a consistent
pattern of gross violations of human rights.
     Another technique used by the Burmese army to  control the
movement of the ethnic people in the  area is to clear out large
swathes of jungle forest area, especially along the Burmese-Thai
border. Often the Army will follow Thai logging company operations,
which build logging roads through the jungle, and attack ethnic
resistance(most notably the Karen) from these useful routes.
Environmental degradation and devastation often goes hand in hand
with more direct human oppressions.

The Campaign to Capture Manerplaw
     In late 1991, with the military's annual dry season offensive
in full swing, Maj-General Khin Nyunt proudly announced that the
army would take Manerplaw (jungle headquarters of the Karen and
Burmese dissidents groups, including the government-in-exile) by
March 27th.(Armed  Forces  Day).  It required two months of heavy 
fighting just to capture the strategic nearby peak of Sleeping Dog
Hill on March 14, at the  cost of thousands of army causalities.
Demoralized government soldiers were physically forced to press on,
and many units  were reportedly close to mutiny when they
discovered that Manerplaw lay a long 10 km distance beyond the
"Sleeping Dog" peak, not just below it as they had been led to
     Government forces were now supposedly poised to bombard
Manerplaw with rockets, artillery, and air  attacks. They soon
discovered, however, that the rebel camp's strategically sheltered
location between river and range frustrated their attempts to hit
the mark, resulting in little more than a few damaged bamboo
structures to show for their efforts. Manerplaw escaped largely
     Not only had the Karen nationals and the students resisted the
army target date for capture, but they were now penetrating behind 
enemy lines. Armed resistance also continued deeper inside the
country, around Toungoo, Papun, and  Nyaunglebin.  
     Thus, the seemingly unexpected Burmese declaration to halt
military  operations  against the  Karen  National  Union, the 
country's  strongest  guerrilla movement, was, in this context, not
a total surprise. However, the declaration itself is dubious,
because it was signed by Maj. General  Maung  Hla, who has been the
over-all commander of the anti-Karen  campaign  since 1984, rather
than by a higher-ranking senior officer.  Previously, similar
declarations were signed by Maj.Gen Khin Nyunt, considered  to be
Gen. Ne Win's hand-picked successor to SLORC's present chief Gen.
Than  Shwe. 
     A telling sign of the doubtful nature of SLORC's halt to
military operations against the Karen, are the five army battalions
that still remain around Hill 4044 or Sleeping Dog Hill. As the 
troops are only ten kilometers west of Manerplaw, they could easily
launch a surprise attack at any time.(The Burmese Army has recently
re-launched its attacks against the KNU, in the new 1992 dry-season
campaign, despite recent public, international announcements that
it has ceased it military operations against the Karen resistance)

     Several  observers  have  pointed to  the  striking 
similarities between this current situation and that of 1978-79,
when  Rangoon abandoned  a massive campaign against Panghsang,
rebel headquarters  of the  Communist  Party of Burma(CPB), after
incurring heavy  losses in taking the nearby Loi Hsiao Kao peak.  
A general amnesty for all armed opposition organizations was
announced by the military regime in 1980, and peace talks were held 
with the  Communist  Party of Burma(CPB), and the Kachin    
Independence Organization(KIO), another significant ethnic
insurgent group.  This move also led many observers at that time to
erroneously conclude that Rangoon was mellowing, an assumption that
has sadly proven false in light of events. The peace talks at that
time produced no results. 
     Many in the student opposition and ethnic groups believe the
development of government "peace" offers both then and now is just
a deceptive political ploy to cling on to power, when military
campaigns have stalled out.  They  would cast strong doubts onto
whether the SLORC "finally has had a swift change of heart", and is
truly sincere in its bid to resolve national ethnic problems or
transfer power to a civilian, democratically-elected  government. 
They cite their decades long experience of armed struggle against
the central government, which has been marked by many bitter
experiences with the intransigence, insincerity, hostility, and
unbendingly militant stance of the military junta, to support this
skeptical viewpoint.
     Dr. Em Martha, a KNU spokesperson, commented on the suspension 
of the armed offensive against the Karen by saying, "We can never
trust the Burmese  military.   In the past we have had three or
four  peace talks  with them, but they only tricked us. These 
people  (SLORC) will be no different from their predecessors."

SLORC's International PR Campaign
     Peter  Limbin is the foreign minister of the  parallel,
elected  government-in-exile, the National  Coalition  Government
of the Union of  Burma(NCGUB), which is headquartered at Manerplaw
along the Thai-Burmese border.  He and  many  other  observers
inside and outside the country, believe that Burma's strongman,
Gen.Ne Win, continues to pull the strings behind the scenes of the
SLORC, despite his announced "retirement" in mid 1988.  Limbin
credits the octogenarian for masterminding the whole "well-planned
political  move" of 1988  to "cheat the world community" of long
overdue justice in Burma.
     Limbin added that recently the  world has become more aware of
the gravity of Burmese problems after the much publicized influx of
over 200,000 Burmese Muslim refugees into Bangladesh, and the 
Burmese  Army's all out offensive against the Karen. "Rangoon was
fast to divert world attention away from these  two issues, being 
fully  aware that Dhaka (Bangladesh's capital) could  possibly seek
intervention and resolution from the UN Security Council if the
refugee problem could not be resolved," commented Limbin.  He
further added that his parallel government was also mobilizing
international efforts to unseat the SLORC from its UN seat, as it
is not a "legitimate" and "democratically elected" government,
which the NCGUB is. Because of this issue, the SLORC does not want
to draw unwanted attention from UN observers.
     It is quite clear that the SLORC maneuvers do not indicate a
sincere stance of compromise.  Opposition groups view the  
political prisoners who were recently released, including aging
former prime minister U Nu, as "snakes without poison" or "not
politically active", leaving more formidable critics of the SLORC
still under detention.
     Furthermore, Limbin and his colleague U Hla Pe, who is
information minister in the NCGUB government, strongly question
SLORC's sincerity, pointing out its failure to honor its
pre-election pledge to step down, and hand over power to elected
MPs. They believe the SLORC will continue to defend its military 
control and very existence as necessary, by prolonging the process 
of the national convention to draft a new constitution. At the same 
time it  will attempt to establish a "puppet government", to 
appease the international community, from out of the remaining
cowed and intimidated elected legislators from the 1990 election,
those who remained inside Burma. Out of the 485 national seats, 
106 MPs have already been disqualified (seven deceased, 79 are
under  detention, and the remaining 20 are either in exile or in
the NCGUB parallel government).
     The  SLORC's recent series of announcements are not true signs 
that peace,  unity, and  democracy will soon return  to the 
impoverished Burmese nation.  Experience shows that its promises
have always been broken, and its pledges never honored.  In  fact, 
the  Burmese junta has never indicated a time frame under which it
would begin to fade out of political power. Even more importantly,
it has never shown a serious desire to once and for all resolve(or
at least discuss) peacefully the national political conflicts
springing form the historic Burman oppression of ethnic minorities,
like the Karen and others.

The Karen Experience and Viewpoint
     So why should opposition groups like the Karen risk being
trapped into fraudulent "peace" talks with SLORC?  General Bo Mya
of the Karen National Union(KNU), who is a staunch christian and a
fighter for Karen self-determination for more than 40 years, was
not surprised by the SLORC's announcements, and believes them to be
a face saving measure for Rangoon in the wake of the heavy
casualties the Burmese Army suffered in its five month offensive
against the Karen headquarters of Manerplaw last year. 
     Ever since the Japanese invasion of Burma during WW 2, the
Karen people have faced persecution by the Burmese military which
continues unabated up to the present moment.  At present most of
the Karen ethnic villages on the east bank of the Salween River
have been burned down, and many Karens have been forced to flee to 
the  border and inside Thailand. Although well aware that the
military junta is insincere and not to be trusted, the KNU general,
Bo Mya, in seeing the desperate plight of his people, announced he
was willing to have peace talks with SLORC for the sake of his
suffering ethnic community. General Bo Mya has said his Karen
National Union, along with other Burmese dissidents and armed
ethnic groups, were ready to attend peace talks with Rangoon, but
the forum needed to be held in a neutral third country, and in the
presence of UN representatives.
     He reiterated that the  Karen can hardly trust the sincerity
of the junta, as the Karens have been tricked in previous peace
negotiations. The bulk of previous peace negotiations turned out to
be nothing more than propaganda campaigns for Rangoon. Bo Mya
attributed Rangoon's recent  unexpected signs of liberalization to
be a result of increasingly strong  pressure and criticism  from
the international community, as well as stemming from its military
losses in attacking the Karen guerrillas.  Peace talks would
provide the good international publicity needed by the discredited
Rangoon government to relieve some of this pressure.

The Peace Talks of 1963: The Opposition's Painful Lesson
     Lessons from the past have taught the Burmese opposition that 
a peace-through-negotiation policy, when advocated by the military
government, should be given a second thought(and third and fourth).
In the past, several  peace negotiations between the military
government and opposition groups - including ethnic minorities and
the Communist Party of Burma(CPB) - have been held.
     On the 11th of July, 1963, the Revolutionary Council(military
government) of Ne Win offered to meet and negotiate with all the
various rebel groups.  At that time the military government said
the talks would be held in a free environment, without any
preconditions. When the talks started, however, the military
immediately demanded that all the armed groups lay down their
weapons, and accept the "Burmese Way to Socialism", Ne Win's
philosophical foundation for the ruling BSPP party and the Burmese
economy. Whatever issues the opposition delegates presented for
discussion were simply ignored. 
     The  military junta insisted that the ethnic groups and the
communists forget about the past, and simply look forward to the 
bright  political future of the country, as envisioned by the BSPP. 
But Yebaw Htay, a delegate from the Communist Party of Burma (CPB),
responded, "to  forget the  past history" would mean covering up
the whole history of Burma, particularly the reasons the people
were forced to go underground and take up arms in the first place. 
"We need to evaluate and learn from the past. Then only can we be
able to work towards a long lasting peace and for the well being of
the people and the country", said Htay.  But the  military 
rejected  his  idea, fearing their past mistakes would be exposed
in the process of historical examination. 
     The first round of peace talks were held on the 8th of October
1963, and the second round on the 10th.  After the second round it
became clear to the opposition that the peace talks were going
nowhere, and the government was not serious in its offer.
     Before the peace talks were  concluded on the 14th of
November, 1963, the Karen delegate, Mahn Ba Zan, informed the
military that he supported a  continuation of the discussion of the
historical roots of the Burmese crisis, and hoped an agreement
ending the civil war and leading towards the goal of national
unity, could be achieved. Unfortunately, the military decided that
the talks had stalemated, and told the rebels they better prepare
for a return to the jungle.  
     At the conclusion of the talks, the military's promise that it
would not attack the opposition delegates for three days after the
end of the negotiations became a bone of contention, as it appeared
the government might break its fair play agreement. Thakin  Tin Tun
of the CPB, Saw Sagawleitaw (Karen), and Mahn Ba Zan (Karen)
discussed this serious concern among themselves. The  military
demanded that November 15th, the day the delegates were to leave
Rangoon, be considered the first day of the agreed upon three-day
grace period during which they would not attack the returning 
delegates. But the Karen delegates wanted the first day  to be the
day they arrived at "Yethogyi" village, east of Toungoo, because
their return trip from Rangoon to Yethogyi village would require
two days of travel, making it impossible for them to reach a safe
area in one more day. The government rejected these concerns.
     The delegates returned to the jungle in four separate groups
on the 15th. Among the four groups the  KNUP, KNPP, and the CPB
groups were all attacked on their way back, on the 17th of November
by three Burmese regiments. Luckily the leaders were not hurt and
reached their camps in the jungle safely. 

Government Treachery and the KRC
     One of the delegate groups, the Karen Revolutionary Council  
(KRC), surrendered  to the military in the hope of working together
with the government for the betterment of the Karen people. The
group's leader was Mooso Kawkasa, and other members included Saw Ba
Htun, Bo Lin Htin, and Bo Trueman.  As it turned out, they were all
manipulated by the military as useful tools for their deceptive  
propaganda. Later, the military turned on the group and placed
Mooso Kawkasa under house arrest in Rangoon for the rest of his
life. In his last words to the Karen people before his death, he
bitterly  warned them never to trust the Burmese military regime. 
He discovered the hard way that the BSPP never keeps their
promises, and advised the Karen not to repeat his painful mistake
in the future.
     Bo Lin Htin, another member of the KRC group and a well-known
Karen freedom fighter, was used by the government in a military 
campaign against the KNUP/KNPP(other Karen rebel factions) in the
Moulmein area, which previously had been controlled by his own
rebel group. Though Bo Lin Htin tried in his own way to bring peace
to his people, he was tricked by the lies of the Burmese military,
and later treacherously killed by them. (It is reportedly known
that Bo Lin Htin was killed by the present Burmese ambassador to
Thailand, U Nyunt Shwe.)

SLORC Treachery and the CPM
     In 1990 the military junta initiated a secret meeting with a 
small but politically strong opposition group who's leader was the
brother of one of the most well known Burmese woman writers - Daw
Khin Myo Chit.  His name is Yebaw Lwin(a.k.a. Bo Thein Aung). He
was a former Central Committee member of the Communist Party of 
Burma(CPB), but now led the "Communist Party of Myanmar"(CPM).  The
government offered the CPM several important concessions to their
desire for a form of autonomy. Yebaw Lwin and 47 members of the CPM
were persuaded to come forward into the military-controlled area
for a peaceful negotiation. When the delegation arrived at the
military area all of them were arrested immediately, and sent to
Mandalay  prison.  Most are being tortured, and some have even died
in jail.
     Through incidents like this one, the opposition quickly
discovered the Burmese military regime's insincerity towards the
ethnic minorities and dissident groups, many of whom returned to
the jungle to resume the armed struggle. 

Gen. Chavalit and the Opposition Peace Offer
     The  present 1992 peace talks offer made by the Burmese 
military had already  been called for by the ethnic minorities and
the Burmese opposition in 1990, through the channel of the Thai
General Chavalit, who has close ties with the Burmese junta. At
that time the military flatly rejected the call for peace. Lt.Col
Kyaw Myint, a Burmese officer stationed near Maesot (a Thai border
town), even commented that the military will not guarantee the
safety of the rebel groups, even if they wanted to lay down their
arms in good faith and talk with the SLORC.
     So, as one can quickly see, the opposition in Burma has many
reasons not to trust the government in Rangoon when it starts
proclaiming peace for the nation.

     The military has dealt secretly with some armed groups along 
the China-Burma border, however,(the Wa and Kokang ethnic groups)
and managed to sign cease-fire agreements with them in exchange for
government concessions to their demands for: a) recognition as
lawful organizations, b) the right to retain their armies without
interference from the SLORC, and c) control of their own
territories. In addition to these concessions, these groups were
allowed to continue their involvement in the lucrative northeastern
drug trade in heroin.  The leaders of these armed groups include
ex-CPB commanders like Phon Kyar Shin(Kokang), Phon Kyar Phu, Kyauk
Mi Hlaing (Wa), and Kyauk Khun Hsar (Maing Yan/Maing Khat), all of
whom are now heavily involved with the drug trade. The KIA 4th
Brigade(a Kachin rebel army) also signed a peace accord with the
Slorc under the same concessions mentioned above.
     One  interesting aspect of these developments is that these
same three demands were made by the Communist Party of Burma in
1981, but the military junta rejected them at the time, claiming it
violated the Ne Win dictated Constitution of 1974. Presently, most 
of these groups are no longer politically active, but are focused
mainly on the booming drug trade in poppy production.  Even if a
democratic government were to gain power in Burma, there would be
a lot of difficulties in bringing these groups inside the orbit of
the law.
     Some observers speculate that, through its unusual
concessions, SLORC hopes to develop a close relationship with these
profit-generating, drug-running groups, as preparation for the
potential establishment of a future defense stronghold in the
north, in the event that they lose power and are forced to turn
over the government to democratic representatives. Presently, the
military has found these connections very useful in bringing in
around 1.5 billion US$ worth of arms and ammunition from their
northeastern neighbor China.  These weapons have been used
effectively in SLORC attacks against the Kachin, Karen, and other
armed rebel forces opposing them in other parts of the country. The
SLORC also reportably takes a slice of the lucrative drug trade
through under the table taxes on opium/heroin exports.

     All and all, these experiences of SLORC treachery and blatant
deception should cause the ethnic minorities and the Burmese
opposition to look at government offers for peaceful negotiations
with a highly critical and careful eye. The central problem in the
past has been the opposition's failure to recognize the significant
imbalance of power between the government and the opposition
     Despite the turbulence and ongoing insurgencies rampant
throughout the country,  the military regime has always been able
to maintain its "top dog" position in both the military and
political fields. The  opposition  groups, in contrast, have always
been in an inferior position. As the CPM episode highlighted above
reveals, it is very difficult, and often dangerous, to negotiate
from the position of an underdog, especially in dealing with a
historically ruthless regime like Ne Win's, which has little
respect for human rights.
     However, the imbalanced power differential between the
military junta and the armed opposition groups changed dramatically
with the added variable of the nation-wide, student-led democratic
uprisings of 1988. This massive, spontaneous, society-wide movement
paved the way for the formation of a stronger and more broadly
based opposition organization, the  Democratic Alliance of Burma
     All opposition groups must realize that, in the military
arena, the SLORC will never give up its offensive capability to
destroy, as long as it continues to acquire a steady flow of arms
from the world market. One should not forget that SLORC is simply
"the same wine in a new bottle", a reshuffled composition of the
same, old BSPP-dominated military, with the same old dictator, Ne
Win, pulling the strings from behind the curtain.  More importantly
the opposition should not forget the words of the present chairman
of SLORC, Than Shwe, on the 22nd of May, 1991 in Bangkok.  At that
time Shwe revealed that, in the government's mind, "There is no 
sign yet to transfer the power to the civilian government in the
near future".  In this instance, we should take the government at
its word.
     SLORC's present gesture of peaceful reconciliation is designed
to divide and then eliminate the opposition groups in  Manerplaw,
the capital of Burma's democratic forces. The "divide and conquer"
strategy has been used effectively by many a despot since the time
of the Roman Empire.  Unless, all the rebel factions can form a
united front, and call the rest of the world to a policy of
non-cooperation, economically and militarily, with the SLORC, the
power equation will continue to favor Rangoon, and no real change
will occur in Burma.
     Because  of the forty-three year of civil war in Burma,
thousands of Burmese refugees have ended up fleeing to Thailand,
but up to now the UN hasn't recognized them as  official refugees,
and has done nothing concrete to help ease their sufferings. This
refugee problem does not even account for the thousands more
internal refugees inside Burma, who's situation is even more
desperate, and who receive even less international recognition or
aid. Their suffering and dying is done in silence and anonmynity.
     Furthermore, the UN still continues to recognize the
illegitimate stranglehold the military(SLORC) has on power in
Burma, disregarding the May 1990 elections by the Burmese people,
who selected a democratic government to lead the country into a new
era.  By allowing SLORC to continue to hold a seat in the UN, the
world community is indirectly condoning the terrible atrocities the
government of Burma regularly commits against its ethnic minorities
and other dissidents from all walks of life, including Buddhist
monks, and young students.
     How long must the Burmese people wait for the UN to take
action on their behalf, and uphold its internationally recognized
mandate to uphold human rights worldwide?  Must they wait till all 
have become refugees?  Or will the UN move in only when the whole
country is in ruins? Why has it intervened worldwide in unjust and
violent situations like Cambodia, Yugoslavia, and Kuwait, yet done
nothing for the long suffering people of Burma?   With a new,
activist secretary general, the UN should take  this as a "golden
opportunity"(in the words of SLORC) to help bring peace to Burma.

     In spite of many bitter peace talk experiences with the
Burmese central government, almost everyone in the opposition would
accept a peaceful resolution to Burma's political problems, were
such an option genuinely possible. If both sides would come to the
table with a true sincerity about working for the national        
reconciliation of Burma, than at long last peace will come to
Burma's war-torn countryside.
     For the opposition's personal safety, and if any binding
agreement is to be reached, these peace talks must take place in a
neutral third country, and in the presence of UN observers and the
international  media.  Only in this way will SLORC be held
accountable to its promises, and the opposition be in a situation
of security.
     In all previous peace talks, news of what was transpiring was
blacked out, and kept from the Burmese people. The majority of
Burmese didn't even know that negotiations were taking place, let
alone what had been discussed, and why they had failed. Only when
the Burmese people and the world are allowed to know what is going
on in the negotiations will it become clear who has come to the
talks with a sincere heart and who has come with deceptive designs.
     Perhaps some internationally respected figure or body, like
former US president Jimmy Carter, or the UN, could serve as the
mediator and organizer of the peace talks, and insure fair
treatment for both sides.

A Location for the Talks
     But where should these talks be held?  If there is a South
East Asian country willing to play host for the peace talks, this
would be acceptable.  Unfortunately, most of the ASEAN  nations,
and especially Burma's closest neighbors in Thailand, Singapore
etc., have supported the junta economically and militarily, rather
than siding with the oppressed people of Burma in their costly
struggle for democracy. Because of this sad fact, it is likely that
talks would need to be held outside of the ASEAN region. Many see
Europe as the most appropriate site for peace talks. Nations such
as France, Switzerland, Austria or Norway would be acceptable.

Preconditions for Talks to Begin
      The central question remaining is, what steps need to be
taken before valid peace talks can begin? 
     1) for any peace talks towards national reconciliation to
occur it is essential that a national cease fire with all the  
ethnic minority groups be agreed to in good faith, and a temporary
alleviation of the sufferings of the war be achieved
     2) The United Nations should remove SLORC's seat in the UN,
and either leave it vacant or replace the military junta with
representatives of the National League for Democracy(landslide
winners of the 1990 elections).  At the very least, NLD or ethnic
representatives like the Karen National Union, should be given
observer status in the UN General Assembly, similar to that of
groups like the PLO.
     3) unconditional release of all political prisoners including
Aung San Suu Kyi should begin.

Essential Participants in the Talks
     Another crucial question is, who will attend the peace talks? 
The peace talks delegation should be composed of representatives 
from the following groups:  1) the National League for Democracy
(NLD), 2) the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma
(NCGUB), 3) the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB), which includes
the ethnic rebel organizations of the Karen, the Kachin, the Chin,
the Shan etc., etc., as well as student groups like the ABSDF, 4)
the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), and 5) Other 
armed opposition organizations that are not allied with the DAB.  
     Observer groups should include:  1) the United Nations(if not
acting as over-all mediators, 2) Amnesty International, 3) Asia
Watch, 4) other International Human Rights Groups, 5) International
Lawyers Groups, 6) International Media/Press, 7) Exiled Burmese

     The  Burmese people have suffered the pains and hurts of a
devastating civil war for more than forty years. They have tried
their best to resolve the long standing ethnic problems, and lack
of general democracy in various ways, ranging from peaceful
resistance to armed rebellion. Many Burmese people have sacrificed
their bodies, lives, homes, families, friends, careers, studies,
businesses, freedom, and normal lifestyle in their long and
continuing struggle for self-determination, democracy, and a better
way of life.  They have done more than their share of the work for
peace, and are now looking to the outside world to take up its
responsibility and join them in their demands for human rights. 
They desperately need the effective help and coordination of
international communities, friends, organizations, governments,
NGOs, and the United Nations to move in with a concerted and
maximum effort to bring about genuine peace and reconciliation in
Burma, and an end to oppression and injustice.  The Burmese people
deeply desire to rejoin the international community with dignity,
and enjoy the peace and prosperity of other nations. In order for
this to happen the rest of the world needs to join Burma in its
struggle against the military dictatorship of SLORC and Ne Win.

Burma Issues
PO Box 1076, Silom Post Office
Bangkok 10504 Thailand

phone: 662 234 6674

Burma Issues (formerly Burma Rights Movement for Action,          
B.U.R.M.A.) is a Bangkok-based non-governmental organization that
monitors events in Burma with a focus on human rights, ethnic
minorities and the ongoing civil war.