Could military reorganisation be the answer?
As we move towards the end of the year, civil war continues to rage across the country especially in Kachin State. Numerous negotiations have taken places but to date, no quantifiable results can be seen.
The fighting escalated in different areas especially in Kachin State after 21st Century Panglong Conference. Although ethnic armed groups have attempted to negotiate with successive government negotiation teams, there is no tangible result. All the negotiations that have taken place between ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) and government have been constantly blocked by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Military). The ethnic armed groups except for Arakan Army, TNLA, MMDAA, were involved in the so-called ‘21st Century Panglong Conference’ from 30 August to 3 September 2016 in the hopes of finding a political solution. At the conference, the UNFC’s chair, General N’ban La [KIO vice chairman] delivered an opening speech, despite this the Tatmadaw continued fighting in Kachin State. Fighting and indiscriminate shelling continues throughout Kachin areas today.
Aung San Suu Kyi recently toured the USA and met President Obama resulting in the lifting of remaining economic sanctions. In doing so, the Tatmadaw’s actions appears to have garnered international legitimacy through the NLD-led government. Furthermore, the economy of Tatmadaw will boom because two economic assets of the military – Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) –will increase the incomes of the military leadership.
The NLD-led parliament also recently approved an unprecedented and controversial military budget – US $ 1.15 billion. It will be spent on military hardware, aircraft, ships, vehicles, and weapons. It is not the moment to increase military expenditure. Instead, such efforts should go to building mutual understanding and trust between the Tatmadaw and all ethnic armed groups. If the Tatmadaw continues its attempts to modernise while ethnic armed groups have asked for ‘A Federal Union/State Army’, the negotiations will go nowhere.
Two scenarios could see an end to the civil war. The first scenario is to disarm [DDR – Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration] all EAOs and they form political parties and run elections. But this is not the best option for ethnic armed groups especially for ethnic minorities who have survived decades under an oppressive Myanmar military. However, without political guarantees for both ethnic armed groups and ethnic minorities, the option of disarmament is unlikely to happen. Added to this is the fact that disarmament cannot take place unless the Tatmadaw steps back from the 25 percent of the seats it holds in the parliament and from government bodies (including home affairs and regional border affairs).
The second option is to officially unify and found a ‘federal/union defence force’. In Bosnia, for example, The ‘Bosniak-Croat Army of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ and ‘the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska’ was unified and founded the “Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina”. They eventually founded a ‘Ministry of Defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina’. Since then they established a ‘defence law’ in order to control their forces. The defence law addresses Budget and Financing, and composition of Armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Today they are a politically neutral, ethnically mixed and professional army. Therefore, the Tatmadaw and EAOs should officially unify and found such a defence force for the sake of the civilian population in Myanmar.
Joe Kumbun is a pseudonym of a Kachin State based analyst