A lesson in defusing tensions

The constructive use of the National League for Democracy’s parliamentary majority resolves a tense situation in the Amyotha Hluttaw over a call for a ceasefire in Rakhine State.

By SITHU AUNG MYINT | FRONTIER

A Rakhine MP created controversy when he submitted a proposal in the Amyotha Hluttaw last week that offended the Tatmadaw.

U Sein Wai Aung, a member of the Arakan National Party, proposed that the government declare a ceasefire to stop months of clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army. He also proposed that the AA be among the armed ethnic groups invited to participate in peace talks planned by the National League for Democracy government in the coming months.

When he submitted the proposal, Sein Wai Aung prefaced his remarks by saying every race was patriotic and then accused the Tatmadaw of using forced labour and violating human rights and referred to the AA as “Rakhine’s Tatmadaw”.

Military MPs objected to Sein Wai Aung’s comments and tensions rose in the chamber.

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Had the Upper House approved the proposal, it almost certainly would have been rejected by the Tatmadaw. Had it been defeated, other ethnic MPs, including the Rakhine, would probably have lost faith in the ability of the hluttaw to represent their interests.

I would like to discuss how the NLD used its majority in the Amyotha Hluttaw to resolve the situation and how others can take lessons from its approach.

There seems to be backing for the AA among most Rakhine politicians, including Dr Aye Maung, the chair of the ANP. The group also appears to have the support of the Deputy Speaker of the Amyotha Hluttaw, U Aye Thar Aung, also of the ANP.

The AA, like other armed ethnic groups, was founded to fight for the rights of its people, Rakhine Buddhists. For many years the AA had no presence in Rakhine and was based at temporary headquarters in Kachin State, in an area controlled by the Kachin Independence Army. It fought with the KIA against the Tatmadaw after a ceasefire in Kachin collapsed in 2011.

When U Thein Sein took office and launched the peace talks that resulted in the so-called national ceasefire agreement signed last October by eight armed ethnic groups, the AA was one of three organisations excluded by his government and the Tatmadaw from the process.

The refusal of the Thein Sein government and the Tatmadaw to recognise the AA led to its return to Rakhine.

Ethnic Rakhine leaders say the NLD should recognise the AA, as it does the armed groups of other ethnic organisations, and invite it to participate in the forthcoming 21st Century Panglong Conference. The conference was proposed by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on April 27 at a meeting of the joint monitoring committee, that comprises representatives of the Tatmadaw and the eight groups that signed the October ceasefire agreement.

The Tatmadaw does not recognise the AA as a separate group because of its close ties to the KIA. When the AA returned to Rakhine in 2015 and fighting began, the Tatmadaw was furious and opposed it being a signatory to the NCA.

Among those who condemned the Rakhine ceasefire proposal was the Defence Minister, Lieutenant-General Sein Win, who said that in resorting to armed conflict, the AA was fighting against the three pillars of the state.

“They are fighting against the government led by President U Htin Kyaw, and the governments of the states and regions; they are fighting against the Union Parliament and all the hluttaws, led by [Amyotha Hluttaw Speaker] Mahn Win Khaing Than; and they are fighting against the legal system led by U Tun Tun Oo, the Union chief justice,” Lt-Gen Sein Win said.

As tensions rose between military MPs and the Rakhine and other ethnic party lawmakers, the dominance of NLD representatives in the Amyotha Hluttaw, the House of Nationalities, played a crucial role in defusing the situation.

The NLD MPs acknowledged that civil conflict needs to be resolved and that Suu Kyi, in her capacity as State Counsellor, had a leading role in the peace process.  Instead of voting on whether to approve or reject the proposal, they said it should instead be placed on the record.

Win Khaing Than’s motion to record the proposal was passed by 202 votes to six and a situation that had raised tensions with the Tatmadaw was resolved because of the dominance of NLD MPs.

The resolution of the situation is an example of how important collaboration is between the Tatmadaw and elected MPs for national reconciliation, internal peace and national development.

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