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Burma Regime Demonstrates Continued Lack of Interest in Genuine National Reconciliation

By Burma Partnership  •  August 22, 2011

Over the course of the past week the military regime has made several statements suggesting that it wishes to begin the national reconciliation process with ethnic armed groups and opposition activists. Unfortunately, none of these overtures can be considered genuine.

On 17 August, President Thein Sein gave a speech in which he invited any of the ethnic armed groups currently engaged in conflict with the Burma Army to “hold talks with respective [regional] governments if they really favour peace.”  But by issuing the invitation only for groups to talk individually with regional government, the regime clearly signaled its intention to continue its policy of only piecemeal talks and agreements, part of its divide and rule strategy. The ethnic armed groups however, refused to be divided, demanding that the regime negotiate with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of the ethnic armed groups, to reach a nationwide ceasefire.

Also demonstrating the fact that it does not sincerely seek to end the conflict, the regime continues to deny the truth of the crimes it has perpetrated in carrying out its military campaigns. For example in its 13 August press conference, the regime, rather than recognizing that its decision to break the seventeen year ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) had a destructive impact on tens of thousands of Kachin civilians, accused the KIO of “exploiting honest and sincere local people” by encouraging villagers to become refugees. The KIO issued a statement in response on 17 August in which it argued that the statements by the regime made it clear that the regime sought only to assign blame for the casualties of the fighting and had no intention of ending the conflict and resolving the differences between the parties.

In the same 13 August press conference, the regime also accused the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) of “destructive acts such as firing into schools and houses in the villages of Tangyan, Kyaukme, Mongyai and Lashio townships and killing innocent people.”  The SSA-N swiftly refuted these allegations and argued that it was the regime that was guilty of targeting innocent civilians. In fact, evidence of recent regime abuses against civilians in Shan State continued to accumulate this week with credible reports coming out of the use of children as human shields by the Burma Army during their offensive against the SSA, and a Shan Member of Parliament issuing a letter calling for the regime to take action to address human rights violations, including rape, in Shan State.

In his 17 August speech, President Thein Sein offered a similar phony overture to political activists living in exile, saying that dissidents would be welcomed home provided that “they have not committed any crimes.” However, most activists recognized the offer for what it was, “nothing more than a public relations exercise aimed at improving the image of his regime in the international community” as Khin Ohmar, Coordinator of Burma Partnership and Chairperson of the Network for Democracy and Development, told the Irrawaddy. She explained that, “The problem is that the regime sees political activists as having broken the law or committed crimes. They refuse to acknowledge that those nearly 2,000 people in prisons are political prisoners, held for their political beliefs. Those of us outside the country continuing with the struggle are political activists trying to bring about the real change that our country needs, which is a democratic federal system where democratic principles are upheld, people’s human rights are protected and ethnic equality is guaranteed. We are not criminals.”

Such empty gestures on the part of the regime will not bring about genuine national reconciliation and should not fool the international community. We must continue to insist that the regime release all 2,000 political prisoners, immediately cease committing human rights abuses against civilians, declare a nationwide ceasefire and enter into genuine dialogue with ethnic armed groups, the National League for Democracy and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

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