By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER
YANGON — About 100 people holding white flags staged a peace march in downtown Yangon on Tuesday to protest a recent flare-up in fighting in northern Shan State.
Marchers gathered in front of Mahabandoola Park and urged both sides – the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups – to immediately halt fighting.
At least 18 people have been killed and 73 injured since four ethnic armed groups, calling themselves the Alliance of the Northern Brotherhood, launched surprise attacks on Tatmadaw and police posts in Muse and Kutkai townships on November 20. Fierce fighting has taken place for several weeks, with Tatmadaw forces losing and then regaining control of the border town of Mong Koe.
The conflict has also disrupted trade with China and caused the closure of the Mandalay-Muse Highway.
In the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw last Friday, Minister for Defence Lieutenant-General Sein Win said the four armed groups – the Kachin Independence Organisation, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Arakan Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – should be formally listed as “terrorist organisations” in the wake of the offensive. The armed groups have said that the offensive was an unavoidable response to Tatmadaw “pressure” and abuses against ethnic minorities.
Tuesday’s protest march was organised by activist group the Mass Movement Acceleration Network and began outside Mahabandula Park, in the heart of downtown Yangon.
MMAN committee member Ko Mya Kyaw said that the “white flag” peace marchers were less interested in the causes of the conflict than the fact it had caused significant loss of life and injury, and made thousands homeless.
“It doesn’t matter which leaders you have, or what political system there is – if there is war in the country it will never be able to be developed,” Mya Kyaw said.
He added that the Tatmadaw had more responsibility to stop the fighting in order to “maintain its image”.
Another MMAN member, U Kyi Lin, said political dialogue was the only way to achieve a solution to Myanmar’s long-running ethnic conflicts. He said the government, which has excluded three of the four armed groups involved in the recent offensive from political talks, should invite all organisations to negotiate peace.
“We agree to an all-inclusive policy in the peace process. We will strongly condemn the government if it does not abide by the principle of all-inclusiveness,” he said.
Ma Thi Thi Aye, who works at a National League for Democracy library in Tarmwe Township, said she joined the march to show solidarity with the ethnic groups in Myanmar who have suffered as a result of war.
“I believe that if the 2008 constitution can be amended, war can be stopped and national reconciliation achieved as well,” she said.
However, the march was criticised because it followed a December 4 statement from the four armed groups in which they asked the Chinese government to “negotiate and mediate” an end to the conflict.
Some observers questioned whether the march was supported or instigated by China to exert pressure on the military, but Mya Kyaw insisted this was not the case.
“We held the white flag peace walk with our own effort, collecting money from each of us, without any help or suggestion from any other group,” he said. “So we have a clear conscience.”