Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Most Ceasefire Groups Undecided on 2010 Election

The Irrawaddy News

Despite government pressure, most ethnic ceasefire groups are undecided on whether to disarm and form political parties to contest the Burmese general election scheduled for 2010, according to sources close to the ceasefire groups.

For one month now, Burmese military authorities have been urging the ceasefire groups to surrender—in effect, lay down their weapons—and form political parties. An alternative option for the ceasefire groups could be to enlist their troops as special combat police, said the sources.

Two ethnic ceasefire groups—the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N)—have not yet responded to the request of the Burmese authorities, according to sources in Shan State.

The editor of Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), Khuensai Jaiyen, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that no statement had been made as yet. The UWSA just want autonomy, he added.

The UWSA has an estimated 20,000 soldiers deployed along Burma’s borders with Thailand and China while an estimated 60,000 to 120,000 Wa villagers inhabit areas of southern Shan State.

Another ethnic ceasefire group, the National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State, also known as the Mongla group, has been under pressure to decommission its weapons or serve as a special combat police unit under government command, according to a senior official of the Mongla who was quoted recently by SHAN.

The Mongla group, however, have not replied to the military government’s call for surrender, the article added.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Sai Murng, deputy spokesman of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), said, “I think the ceasefire groups have only two options. One is to surrender and do what the regime says. The other is to fight back against the Burmese army.”

Meanwhile, Nai ong Ma-nge, a spokesman for the ethnic Mon ceasefire group, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), said, “We haven’t decided as yet whether to be involved in the 2010 election. It is a major political change, so we have to wait for a decision from headquarters.”

The NMSP entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese junta in 1995.

A source close to a Karen ceasefire group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), said, “At this moment, it is impossible for the DKBA to surrender and form a party. The DKBA has no interest in being involved in the political process. They will retain their weapons and maintain their development and business interests in Karen State.”

The DKBA is a breakaway group of the Karen National Union—Burma’s largest ethnic insurgency group. The DKBA signed a ceasefire with the military government in 1994 after splitting from the KNU.

However, an ethnic Kachin ceasefire group, the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K), will reportedly lay down its weapons and participate in the 2010 election, said Aung Wa, a Kachin source on the Sino-Burmese border.

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which is based along the Sino-Burmese border, will also take part in the 2010 election, said Aung Wa. However, it was still unclear whether the KIO would agree to a surrender, he added.

The KIO, founded in 1961, was one of 17 ethnic armed groups that signed a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta in 1990s.

Recently, the Burmese regime published an article in the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar calling the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy in the 1990 general election “illegal,” and calling for the party to run in the 2010 elections.

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