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Peace is more than the absence of war

Good relations and looking after the environment are vital signs of an end to war

  • Father Chris Raj, Lashio
  • Myanmar
  • January 3, 2012
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The Kachin conflict has become worse over time. Even though the president has announced an end to all fighting, according to local people in Kachin State, it is still being seen and heard spasmodically.

According to several government soldiers the sound of fighting is nothing more than the clearance of surrounding land to provide added security for encamped troops. However, according to one high-ranking source, frontline troops are not aware of a cease-fire order and so the fighting still goes on. Villagers cannot yet return to what is left of their homes which were burned before they fled.

The underlying factor behind the Kachin ethnic conflict as well as with ones involving all other ethnic groups in Myanmar is the obvious lack of equality between the ethnic majority which dominates central government and minority groups. The sharing of the nation’s resources is also unfair.

As a result, the causes of the conflicts have been based on rights and resource.

Even so I would not call an end to hostilities a true peace as it is just an absence of war. It would at best be termed a negative peace.

To have peace in the strict sense there ought to be a peaceful relationship and an effort to conserve the environment. Often during a cease-fire both parties engage in businesses involving logging, mining and other exploitation of natural resources. But without genuine peace and order which would regulate the use of these resources greed has prevailed and depleted them.

The result has been deforestation, landslides, floods and other natural disasters which have become more common over the past few years.
Prospects of Peace in Myanmar         
At present the central government has made efforts to engage in peace talks with several armed ethnic political groups such as, the Wa, Karen (KNU), SSA (South), the Mon and the Chin.

In the past, whenever a cease-fire agreement was reached, business grew, development projects mushroomed, and networking offices were opened in territories by armed ethnic political organizations. These cease-fire agreements ended as a result of clashes of interest. Then the ethnic political groups would take to the jungle to fight for their rights.

An obvious suggestion for a lasting peace is that both parties must honor agreements.

My own suggestions for parties striking up a cease-fire agreement would be the following salient points.

To safeguard the union as one entity: It seems to me opposing parties try to deplete another state of its natural resources with no consideration for future generations, but simply out of greed. In future we must have a proactive thinking process rather than react to past bitter experiences.
To analyze past conflicts with an ABC model: ‘A’ stands for attitude, ‘B’ stands for behavior and ‘C’ stands for context of the conflict in history. All three components are interrelated. And so we need to foster new attitudes for ‘A’ and new behaviors for ‘B’ and thus change into a new context for ‘C’. Dwelling all the time on past contexts is counter-productive to peace. When I say replace the old context I don’t mean to say to forget about them. But to remember and to benefit from them. Thus to turn a new page in the relationship.
To create new opportunities for communication: In order to build trust communication plays a vital role. It plays an important role for better understanding between opponents. To be specific, Union Day, Independence Day, Martyrs’ Day, National Day and various tribal days should be celebrated in all communities to learn and respect the cultural richness of everyone. Such celebrations, meaningfully held, will foster lasting peace among indigenous communities. Thus working towards national reconciliation.

Why Talks Failed in the Kachin Conflict
Looking back on the futile peace talks held between the central government and the Kachin rebels I believe the following are reasons why agreements have not been reached or honored.

Each side has been sticking to a position rather than looking at the needs and interests of the people. As peace builders, negotiators from each side ought to be compromising and talking on behalf of the people, who are being killed, facing famine and insecurity and the hazards resulting from the lack of a healthy environment. Talks should be centered on the mutual interests of both parties. Fighting benefits and serves the interests of arms dealers and other who profit from war while combatants suffer casualties and families are decimated. Security, shelter, access to food, education and health care are the common interests that both sides should bring to the peace table rather than one’s own standpoint and pride.
Another element that needs addressing at negotiations is that we are all fellow travelers on the same journey on the same boat. Young people now fighting in the battlefields will one day be meeting at universities and work places. Don’t let us create unnecessary embedded bad feelings in their hearts because of the present war and conflict. Peace ought to be sought at the earliest possible moment otherwise there would be non-amendable wrongs with worse repercussions.


 A culture of peace also needs to be in place. Future generations should be taught the evil consequences of violence and to solve any problems that might arise in a non-violent manner. Non-violent communication is one skill we can provide every educator and ethnic and religious and community leader, so that future conflicts can be handled peacefully.
The power plant project issue which was at the heart of the Kachin conflict was solved by means of public participation at national level. So another very sure way of bringing peace to the Kachin conflict raising public awareness by means of the media.

History of the Conflict
1994 saw the first cease-fire agreement between the central government and KIA. Thus the KIA became the first armed political ethnic group in the nation to make peace with the government.

Just before the 2010 general election, the central government announced all armed ethnic groups be turned into a Border Guard Force (BGF). The KIA refused which created tension between the two sides. Fighting broke out after government troops were accused of maltreating KIA captives.

Father Christopher Raj is currently serving as the director of Karuna Lashio Social Services (KLSS) in Lashio diocese, in eastern Myanmar. He worked as a chaplain at the Karuna Myanmar Social Services (KMSS) from 2001 to 2011 and he has given workshops and seminars about peace. He attended a two-year course in ‘Applied Conflict Transformation Studies’ in Cambodia from 1995-1997.

 

 
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