Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

February 16, 2010

Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

Among the Rakhine, there are at least three armed groups, only one of which has agreed to a ceasefire. 31 The Chin National Front (CNF), the main and perhaps only armed group among the Chin, also does not have a ceasefire agreement with the government. In contrast, all four armed groups among the Kachin have agreed to ceasefires with the government.32 There are at least five armed groups among the Shan, four of which have ceasefires agreed with the government.33 Similarly, of the five armed groups existing among the Karenni, four have agreed to ceasefires. 34 The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU, has been in armed conflict with the government since 1947; it has not agreed to a ceasefire. However, at least two other Karen forces have done so. 35 The New Mon State Party (NMSP), which controls some territory along the Myanmar-Thailand border, has agreed to a ceasefire with the government.


In April 2009, the government announced that groups governed by ceasefires would be required to transform themselves into tatmadaw-commanded Border Guard Forces (BGF) by the end of June. The deadline was then extended to the end of October, again to the end of December 2009, and yet again indefinitely into 2010. While not expressly linked to the 2010 elections, the BGF plan is authorized under the 2008 constitution. Nine groups have agreed, six of which from the largest ethnic minorities: the Lasang Awng Wa Peace Group (Kachin); the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K); the Kachin Defence Army; Karenni Nationalities People's Liberation Front (KNPLF); the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA); and the Karen Peace Front (KPF). Six groups have refused, four of which from the largest ethnic minorities: the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) (Shan); the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N); the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA); and the Mon National Liberation Front (MNLF).


While these groups did not articulate their reasons for refusal beyond generally stating their rejection of the terms of the BGF plan, that they refused at all is significant in the context of the 2010 elections. These groups now face a difficult choice: in repudiating the BGF plan, do they revert back to a state of armed insurrection, or do they endorse political parties to participate in the 2010 elections in the hope that they will be able to create political space in the newly created regional governments and assemblies? In either case, unless the Myanmar authorities significantly loosen the restrictions on political activity by ethnic minorities, it is highly likely that the government will respond with heightened repression to avoid any challenge to their authority.