05/26/2022, 19.43
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Myanmar's ethnic organisations plan a new democratic federation

by Alessandra De Poli

During an online conference, local groups highlight their capacity to rebuild the country, listing the services they are trying to provide to the population despite the civil war. Doing this will not be easy. Unity of purpose can be maintained with international aid, but above all, with the defeat of the military junta.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar held an online conference today titled “Building the New Myanmar from the Ground up”, presenting an optimistic picture about the future.

Moderated by Yanghee Lee, a long-time South Korean diplomat and former UN special envoy for  human rights to Myanmar, the meeting included a number of prominent figures, like Duwa Lashi La, president of Myanmar’s exited National Unity Government (NUG); Padoh Saw Taw Nee, head of foreign affairs of the Karen National Union (KNU);  Salai Ram Kulh Cung, of the Central Executive Committee of the Chin National Front (CNF); and Salai Tumi, first secretary of the Mindat People's Administration Committee, a township in southern Chin State.

All the participants are committed to rebuilding the country’s political life in the wake of the outbreak of civil war that followed a coup on 1 February 2021. After ousting the civilian administration led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the military set up a State Administration Council (SAC) in its place.

Following its crackdown on the first peaceful demonstrations, the military found themselves challenged by the armed wings of the country's ethnic groups, which were joined in April 2021 by the People's Defence Forces (Pdf), the NUG’s armed wing. 

During the online meeting, participants agreed that the bases for a new democratic federation in Myanmar are already in place. While the resistance movement has managed to free some cities, in every state, local administrations, in particular in Chin and Karen states, continue to provide health and educational services, but without humanitarian aid from the international community the future of Myanmar looks bleak

Yanghee Lee pointed out that at least 14 million people need immediate help, at least five million of them children, based on data from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

About 12,000 homes have been torched, more than half in the last two months alone in the central regions of Magway and Sagaing, which have also recorded the highest number of civilian casualties according to the Institute for Strategy and Policy-Myanmar:

Since February of last year, 5,600 people have been killed, almost 600 in Sagaing, a region that, unlike border areas, offers no escape routes to neighbouring countries, said Salai Tumi during zoom meeting.

Because of geography, in “The plain regions, like Sagaing and Magway, it is a bit difficult,” he explained. What is more, people “don't have a backup plan”; in the cities, only the SAC provides aid and can use it against the displaced. Instead, anyone who needs aid should get it.

Displaced people weigh heavily on local political organisations. Since the coup, about half a million people have had to flee their homes, on top of 300,000 already displaced. Thousands more cross the border with Thailand and India every day to flee Myanmar’s military.

The cost of reconstruction is estimated to be around at least US$ 2.5 billion, noted President Duwa Lashi La. Any delay by the international community will only make the situation worse.

In his call for unity, the exiled president said that all economic and political progress of the last 10 years has been wiped out with the coup.

The only solution on the path of reconstruction requires harmony said Padoh Saw Taw Nee, who appeared with the Karen flag behind him. Even before the generals took power, the KNU was opposed to “all forms of authoritarianism” and was in favour of "a federal union”.

The military do not respect agreements, but political dialogue is a necessary condition to set up a new federation. In the past the KNU quit peace talks but also struck informal deals with the central government.

According to Salai Ram Kulh Cung, it is time to consider things not only on an ethnic basis; instead, the role played by the NUG and the PDF should be taken into account.

The CNF representative noted that ethnicity cannot be completely ignored, in the Chin case, the diaspora provides great support. At present, about a fifth of the Chin population has fled to India.

Salai Tumi provides a note of caution. Once the SAC is defeated, the resistance might end up fighting each other, which is why it is important to maintain unity among local administrations and restrain freedom fighters, who are mostly teenagers.

The only conference was not attended by many of Myanmar’s other ethnic and para-military groups. In one case, the New Mon State Party held talks with the military, a choice strongly criticised by other ethnic groups and even within the Mon community.

Despite its vaunted victories, the resistance has asked the NUG to send weapons, giving its own logistical and supply problems. All this suggests, that Myanmar’s new democratic federation is still far from an assured thing.

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