25 Years On, But Little Progress

June 29, 2020

(A review on NMSPs ceasefire agreement and political, social and ethnic rights in Mon area, southern Burma/Myanmar)

by Nai Kasauh Mon[1]

Introduction

The Mon self-determination movement is a long road to the journey’s end. Mon armed resistance is the fundamental revolutionary spirit to the Mon people after the loss of the last Mon capital, Pegu (Hongsawatoi Dynasty) in 1757. New Mon State Party and its armed force, Mon National Liberation Army will be reaching it’s the 25th anniversary of Cease-fire agreement – a search for peace and a unity of a national races in modern Myanmar. After long campaign and movement for liberty, freedom, democratic rights (social, cultural and political rights) in modern era, this essay is a reflection of personal and professional accounts to a Mon person who lives, work and remaining living in the Mon people’s heartland.

General Khin Nyunt, the Intelligent Chief of the Burmese Army plays to divide the strength of armed ethnic organizations and democratic alliances in early 1990s.  Many mainstream ethnic armed groups, including New Mon State Party (NMSP) dealt with for bi-literal ceasefire agreement as known as ‘gentleman agreement’. But that agreement never guaranteed for a political dialogue and improved the standard of human rights problems, such as forced labour, land confiscation, and sexual assaults in the regime’s mega development projects on gas and oil investments in Mon’s region.  Burmese military offensives to new military splinter groups in the border region of Mon State and Tenasserim (Taninthayi) Division has been increased its scale in early 1990s where local civilians are targeted for force laboring.

The NMSP ceasefire signed cease-fire agreement with the military authority (State Law and Order Restoration Council: SLORC) in June 1995 but it is until the 2010, the process have both advantages and disadvantages.  The advantages are, the extension of Mon national education system, agricultural and trading livelihoods, and local area development such as road construction, transportation and tele-communication network.  But the disadvantages remained, as thousands of refugees and IDPs were not well resettled, and human rights violations continued as usual.  In 2010, before elections, there was a ceasefire dilemma and the NMSP retreated back to their army based camp after refusing to agree on themselves to be operated under Border Guard Force (BGF).

In 2012, after President U Thein Sein Government called for strengthening ceasefire agreement with a new proposed policy and process to the Mon. Therefore, NMSP re-signed its 2nd bi-literal ceasefire agreement to the government in early 2012.  Leaders of the NMSP actively involved in writing single text for Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) along with government, Myanmar Army, and other Ethnic Armed Organizations.  But the NMSP only formally signed National Cease-fire Agreement (NCA) in early 2018 with popular elected Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Government. Subsequently, the Mon national political organizations are permitted to hold Mon National Political Dialogue in Mon State.  Then it joined the 3rd Panglong Peace Conference in July 2018.  After twenty-five years of engaging with cease-fire agreement and peace process, the NMSP and the Mon people started to hope an autonomous Mon State in the Federal Union of Burma, after signing of NCA.  But it took nearly 60 years to get started and many of their young generations need to keep on the democratic and freedom movement till their political goal is achieved. 

Ceasefire Deals to New Mon State Party

The Intelligence Chief, Gen. Khin Nyunt (also General Secretary 1 of the SPDC later) traveled to Ye and invited the NMSP to start talking ceasefire agreement to the regime, before the end of 1993.  Then, NMSP sent delegates to talk to the military and intelligence leaders in Southeast Command in Mawlamyine, the capital of Mon State, for three round of informal meetings in 1994. But the ceasefire negotiation was in deadlock after agreement of Mon National Liberation Army based camps and its territorial control site was not successfully settled. 

NMSP leaders agreed to send ceasefire negotiation delegate again in March 1995, and finally they could settle down the troop’s settlement, territorial demarcations and resettlement areas for internally displaced persons (IDPs)[1].  NMSP leaders did not sign the formal agreement to SLORC and Southeast Command like KIO/KIO did in 1993.  They have about 14 Points of “gentlemen agreements” in ceasefire agreement document.  These documents recognized MNLA troop locations, and other points of agreement on settlement of civilians and local area development including travel permit to the NMSP’s members to the heart land.

However, on the day of ceremony on ceasefire agreement on June 29, 1995, the NMSP leaders were unhappy with the banner designed and displayed on the wall by intelligence officers and it described as NMSP is coming into legal fold”, instead of ceasefire agreement[2]. But everything was quite late for renegotiation of the displayed banner. In fact, this agenda was hidden during ceasefire negotiation.  On June 30, 1995, Gen. Khin Nyunt and his team discussed with NMSP leaders with many promises but they were not implemented.  The discussions on 30th June, 1995, were the allowance of Mon language teaching in government schools, area development including schools, clinics and hospitals and road building, and food rations supports to MNLA on a monthly basis.  This empty promised only last for a few months because the SLORC does not implement any kind of actions with a proper resources allocated to the Mon people.

Advantages in 1995 Ceasefire

Public Engagement and Meetings

It was the first time that the NMSP leaders could freely meet the Mon people in the heart land since it has struggled in armed fighting against Burmese Army in remoted areas along Thailand-Burma border since 1958.  NMSP General Head Quarters – Administrative Departments and Military Offices based in the Thailand – Myanmar border regions.  The founder of NMSP toured the Mon people’s heart land along with his senior key members in exchange of information and hearing the voice of the Mon people. This tour is sheading the lift of a new Mon political momentum in new ear, after Burma gained Independent in 1948.

After ceasefire, non-similar to other armed groups, the NMSP did not request for economic opportunities, but they requested for religious rights, literature and culture preservation, and ethnic education, etc.[3] However, SLORC and Intelligence Officers have offered to economic opportunities to NMSP such as logging, real-estates, and border trading[4].  However, NMSP is determined to formally approve in teaching and learning of Mon language, cultural event and Mon Buddhist institution in a formation of conducting language course and examinations despite the SLORC is declined to the approval in writing at the agreement.

Extension of Mon National Education

Since 1970s, the NMSP leaders opened a “Education Department” under its Administrative Sector, in order to provide basic education by using mother tone in rural villages in conflict zones and in their controlled areas[5]. In 1990 after many educational professionals joined to NMSP, then, NMSP strengthened its education sector, and formed up “Mon National Education Committee (MNEC)” and delegated MNEC, to not only teach the children, but to develop concrete Mon Education System, policies and institutionalization.

Then, MNEC promoted many of its middle schools into Mon National High Schools and upgraded the teaching methods, and created own curriculum and prioritized Mon language and Mon history in teaching[6]. MNEC operated three Mon National High Schools and many of Mon students those passed from middle schools joined to these schools respectively[7].  MNEC also build a bridging program with government education department, to put their high schools’ students to enter “University Entrance Exam”, which is known as Final Exam. In fact, Mon national education model is one of non-state based education delivery programs have been applauded by UNESCO and other international education specialists in terms of its mother-tongue based learning and teaching curriculum.

Although the SLORC promised to support Mon national schools, in term of infrastructure and human resources, especially school buildings and teachers, but it never succeeded.  NMSP Education Department demanded for building of a high school under the name of Mon National High School at Nyi Sar, but the military government replied that a high school could be built but it must be under the name of ‘government high school’[8]. NMSP rejected and the project was not implemented and the high school project shifted into government-controlled area. 

Forced labor or Voluntarily Labor

The SLORC / SPDC launched a route into the rural armed ethnic insurgency controlled areas in line with its border development strategic plan. After the country was boycotted by western nations for import and export business in 1990s, the ruling generals seek alternative income on the gas and other mineral resource sectors, especially in lower Burma’s coastal regions.

In 1995, even before the NMSP agreed for ceasefire agreement to SLORC, the military regime built a 110 miles long railway from Ye to Tavoy, the capital of Tenasserim Division.  This railway road was strategically important for SLORC, as it has to extend the military force to protect on-shore and off-shore Yatana gas pipeline.  In 1990-1991, the Burmese Army deployed 10 military battalions in Yebyu and Tavoy Townships areas in order to take responsibility in railway road construction, especially to recruit the civilians to contribute their labour, and take security for Yatana pipeline, which was laid about 40 miles on land from Kanbauk on-shore port to Thai border[9]

These military deployments have taken large areas of lands in Yebyu Township surrounding area of Kanbauk, where they need to build a pipeline passing through this village via Thai border into Ratchburi Province of Thailand. 

The NMSP rejected and against further gas – pipeline construction the Mon regions until a prosper agreement between local owner / land owner and heritage site are protected based on the environment factor but any proposed action plan have been rejected by the SLORC. After all pressure faced by the ruling generals, NMSP asked Mon media and information services for further reporting the world, especially to ILO and other UN based agencies in Bangkok.

Massive military deployment and land confiscation

Land ownership is the fundamental rights of each local farmer in Mon State. Mon people are largely work in the farmland for it livelihood in centuries. NMSP leaders cannot protect the rights of land owner / farmer during the ruling generals expand massive military development in Mon regions. NMSP Ceasefire Agreement was an opportunity for SLORC and tatmadaw to extend their military deployment into Mon State.

According to ceasefire agreement, the MNLA had to withdraw their troops from the conflict area, where they had engaged guerrilla fighting against tatmadaw troops since 1960s and 1970s.  MNLA guerrilla troops extend its territories into many parts of Mon State, near to the capital Mawlamyine in 1990 and reached to Chaung Zone Township in Balu Island, Paung Township and Kawkareik Township.  MNLA troops launched their military activities in entire Ye Township area except in Ye Town, and about 35% of Kya-inn-seikyi Township and over 50% of Yebyu Township.  The villagers and communities in these Townships have been constantly suffered by various violations by tatmadaw troops, as they were suspected NMSP-sympathizers[10]

But the 1995 Ceasefire Agreement re-grouped all MNLA troops into 14 designated troops’ locations, which is mostly in Mon State, and remaining 6 temporary designated locations, which are in Tenassserim Division, far south from NMSP GHQs in Ye Township area. The Burmese Army planned to take over former MNLA active area in Ye Township and other areas.  Ye Township is very large and it has rich resources, rice fields, rubber plantations, betel-nut plantations and many other fruit plantations. 

In 2000-2003, the Burmese Army deployed about 10 military battalions in Ye Township[11] . They were deployed various parts of Ye Township; northern part in Lamine and Arutaung village tract areas, eastern part in Kyaung-ywa village tract, and southern part in Khaw Zar village tract.  During the military deployment, the Burmese Army confiscated from 200-500 acres of rubber, betel-nut and other fruit plantations[12]

The Splinter Groups and Armed Clashes

Mon unity in armed struggle and political leadership has never being unchallenged. NMSP’s leaders have faced internal clashes on corruptions, illegal cash – collection to the local civilians and other disciplinary matters within its members. After a long two divided-groups of leaders between 1976 – 1986, NMSP fosters its internal unity with a policy of ‘forgive or forgot’ attitude to the members who breached the party’s rules.

After the NMSP Administration and MNLA troops withdrew from Ye Township, the people felt they have no protection.   There were many retired MNLA commanders and soldiers in Ye Township, and they rose up to fight against the Burmese Army, since after the withdrawal of MNLA troops from the area in 1996-1997. In late 2001, Col. Pan Nyunt from a MNLA battalion split from mainstream NMSP and MNLA command and he founded Hongsawatoi Restoration Party (HRP) and a revolutionary army, Monland Restoration Army (MRA).  Since the various walks of Mon people are still suffered from the massive conscription of forced labour, taxation and extortion and land confiscation, and therefore, they believed that HRP/MRA can protect them. 

Col. Pan Nyunt and HRP could re-organize some Mon small splinter groups into his main military branch, MRA.  His MRA force grew to 500 troops suddenly within in one year.  They fought back against MNLA base in Baleh Donephai stronghold in summer 2002, where the NMSP resettled many thousands of refugees and IDPs in these border points.  However, MRA troops withdrew, after one of their man killed.  In fact, Mon armed resistance force is always faced to a political test when the only armed resistance way of operation is no longer can be reached to its self-determination goal in the country.

2010 Crises and new political environment for Mon people

Leaders of NMSP and other civilian Mon leaders maintains cease-fire agreement and peace process for an alternative political settlement in line with the wishes of the public of union of Myanmar under a democratic principle and standard of government. NMSP’s leader neither rejected to the civilian Mon politicians for a contest of General Election in May 2010. It is neither its legitimate role not its direct political matter under the electoral laws for any direction to any candidates.

The military regime, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), confirmed its military drafted Constitution in 2008 (which has been well known as 2008 Constitution), and planned to hold a democratic election in 2010.  Before the regime holds the first democratic elections, the regime also transformed their social organization to political party, from Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) to Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)[13].  The military regime, itself planned transforming civilian rules, and many of its senior military commanders took out their uniforms and joined to USDP leadership.

Many ethnic armed ceasefire groups withdrew their position in agreeing to be ‘border guard force’ while a few numbers of armed groups were transformed into BGF.  They are positioned along the borders with Thailand, and based these battalions close to other ethnic armed force, those are not agreed to transform themselves to be BGF, which means the Burmese Army could handle those groups easily and effectively, if the fighting was broken out. 

2012 Biliteral Agreement

In 2011-2012, after President U Thein Sein firmly formed the Union Government with key leaders from USDP and military appointed Ministers, and formation of State/Division Governments accordingly to 2008 Constitution, and then President U Thein Sein started considering the political reform.  The government released the political prisoners and lifted the restrictions against the media and tolerated for more freedom of expression.  In addition, he also considered for meaningful ceasefire agreement and moved up to political dialogue, as permanently demanded by the ethnic political parties and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs).

Even NMSP was active member in UNFC, it has signed the 2nd Bi-literal Ceasefire Agreement with Mon State Government and Southeast Command in February 2012. Since NMSP had already signed 1995 ceasefire agreement, the 2012 bi-literal ceasefire agreement just followed all points of 1995 Agreements, on territorial demarcation, civilians and IDPs/ refugee resettlement areas, and operation of liaison offices[14]

Nai Rotsa, Vice President of NMSP, led the NMSP delegation to sign agreements and U Aung Min was leading the government delegates.  Many political observers agreed that NMSP’s 2nd Bi-literal agreement was much better than 1995 ceasefire agreement, which has political guarantee for further Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and political dialogue to build peace and federal union of Burma/Myanmar.

Shedding a New Light for Peace

U Thein Sein government adopted three steps of peace-building process during his rule.  The first step is to have bi-literal ceasefire agreements with all EAOs including armed student organization like ABSDF.  Therefore, U Aung Min attempted to meet all EAOs, and as a result, the USDP U Thein Sein Government could sign 34 bi-lateral State- and Union Agreements on Ceasefire with 14 EAOs between 2011 and 2013[15]

The 2nd Step was the achievement of signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and therefore, soon after signing the bi-literal agreement, the Government called for drafting NCA. NMSP leaders re-engaged in drafting for nationwide ceasefire agreement along with UNFC members and non-UNFC members, and after various rounds of discussions with tatmadaw and government representatives. EAOs formed up a negotiation collaboration group, in the name of Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), drafted a single text for Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement[16].

The final text of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was finalized on August 7, 2015[17].  Then, the President called to all EAOs to sign for NCA, and move to the 3rd Step of Political Dialogue or Peace Dialogue based on the Chapter 5 of the NCA.  But there was a new conflict among EAOs, whether to sign NCA as individual organization or as Alliance, UNFC.  The Government signed NCA with 8 groups of EAOs on October 15, 2015, as an initial step to move toward ceasefire in entire country[18]

Based on the NCA Chapter 5, Guarantees for Political Dialogue, the NMSP has opportunities to express about the agreement points in NCA to its publics. Therefore, NMSP could hold two public consultation meetings with publics in its area, in Nyi Sar village and Wae Zin village respectively in March and April 2018. 

Then, the NMSP by collaboration with Mon political parties and Mon CSOs, the Mon national level political dialogue was held from May 6-8 for three days in Ye.  In the opening ceremony of Mon National Dialogue, many government authorities and NRPC leaders have attended to the ceremony and gave opening speeches.

During three days of political dialogue, about 800 representatives from all walks of Mon people, discussed for the recommendations to the establishment of Federal specially based on four issues adopted in the political dialogue. 

Conclusion

In comparison to other mountainous ethnic communities, the Mon people lives in low land and their military position is not good enough to defend the offensives of Burmese Army.  Since 1970s, they gradually lost their controlled low land areas, and the main bases moved back to the border area with Thailand. 

1995 Ceasefire Agreement was an opportunity for NMSP, to extend its political space and explained it’s policies and objectives to the Mon people in the country, and the people have better understood on the position of NMSP.  It has fought for literature, culture and educational rights along with its people at the beginning.  Mon local people have been engaging and fostering with NMSP’s leaders for formation of Mon Union Affairs, Mon CSO’s Forum, Mon Women Organization, Mon Youth Progressive Organization, Mon Writers Association and to be name a few.

Finally, the ceasefire agreement, although it has many challenging issues, it not only has some benefits to NMSP to involve in peace process and serve public administration in its controlled area, but it has been also received wider supports from Mon people, because of its mandate to liberate its people from oppression.  A newly form Mon Unity Party and its members are in fact enjoy the fruits of long year of Mon armed resistance led by New Mon State Party and its political movement of the late Mon leaders since 1940s regardless of personal and political ideology.


[1] The regime and Southeast Military Command of Burmese Army finally agreed to recognize 14 pin-points of MNLA Troop Locations, in which each location was 5 miles diameter in width.  Then, both sides agreed to set up the relocation sites of IDPs and refugees.  But there was no guarantee of political dialogue demanded by NMSP.  Gen. Khin Nyunt said that they were military regimes, NMSP needs to talk to next civilian government. 

[2] NMSP Vice President, Nai Htin, led NMSP delegate and the SLORC-NMSP ceasefire agreement ceremony was held in the morning of 29th June, 1995, in a ceremonial hall in Southeast Command.  Gen. Khin Nyunt and the Commander of Southeast Command hosted the ceremony. 

[3] In 1996, NMSP President Nai Shwe Kyin wrote an official letter to military regime to allow the Buddhist Scriptures Examination in Mon language, which was prohibited by the regime for decades. The regime allowed the examination in Mon language, and teaching of Mon language in Buddhism has been officially recognized.

[4] Htoo Company get involved in logging in NMSP controlled areas, to cut 40000 tons of timber with SLORC’s permission and sold timber to Thailand official.  NMSP obtained income from this logging businesses. 

[5] The NMSP is an ad hoc government in its controlled areas and in mix-administrative areas.  In its formation, it has three main sectors such as Political Sector; Administrative Sector and Military Sector.  In the Administrative Sector, it has many departments such as judicial, education, health, forestry, taxation, etc.

[6] Teaching in Mon national schools in mother tone is possible in Mon villages and communities, as the Mon people have single speaking and writing language, which is different from other ethnic people who have many different speaking languages.  Mon schools prioritizes teaching Mon history, which is not allowed to teach in government schools.

[7] There are three Mon National High Schools operated over 20 years, and they are: Nyi Sar, Ann Din and Weng Kapor Schools, which were built in Ye Township in Mon State and Kya-inn-seikyi Township respectively.

[8] The SLORC or military government had experience of building many government schools in other ceasefire areas in Shan State, under the name of Ministry of Education (MOE), and they also sent government teachers to teach government curriculums in schools.  But in Mon areas, Mon National Schools stood as competition to government’s education system, and it opposed the government’s influence on education in its controlled area.

[9] New military battalions deployed during 1990-1991 are 10 battalions from LIB No. 401 to No. 410, and the other local battalions, IB No. 282, IB No. 273, IB No. 284 and IB No. 356 were responsibility in security for construction of Yatana gas pipeline. 

[10] Burmese Army or tatmadaw has used four cuts campaign against NMSP and the civilians who were suspected NMSP-sympathizers from 1970s till 1995.

[11] The Burmese Army battalions deployed in Ye Township in 2000-2003 were: Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No.583, No. 584, No. 585, No. 586, No. 587, No. 588, No. 589, No.590, No. 591 and No. 19 Military Operational Management Command. 

[12] Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM), 2003, No Land To Farm Report documented about 7,780 acres of lands were confiscated by the Burmese Army’s battalions in Ye Township alone. HURFOM documented land confiscation not only in Ye Township, but other townships such as Thanbyuzayat Township in Mon State, but also in Yebyu Township of Tenasserim Division. 

[13] Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) was formed in September 1993, as social organization under the patronage of SLORC/SPDC. 

[14] NMSP retreated back to its GHOs, District and abandoned its offices in Mawlamyine in March 2010, and then, they can re-operate after operate their liaison office, business office and development office in February 2012. 

[15] UN Women Report, 2016, The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in Myanmar: A Gender Equality and Womens Rights Analysis, p. 7, https://www2.unwomen.org/-/media/field%20office%20eseasia/docs/publications/2017/02/mn-nca.pdf?la=en&vs=3331

[16] Myanmar Peace Monitor, Burma News International, 2013, NMSP Vice President, Nai Hong Sa, was the Team Leader, and it has 13 members representing the EAOs.  NCCT has 16 member organizations. https://www.mmpeacemonitor.org/1661

[17] Ministry of Information, Government of Myanmar, 2015, A Mile Stone in Myanmar Peace Process – The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, https://www.moi.gov.mm/moi:eng/?q=news/8/11/2018/id-4940

[18] Reuters, 2015, Myanmar signs ceasefire with eight armed groups, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-politics/myanmar-signs-ceasefire-with-eight-armed-groups-idUSKCN0S82MR20151015


[1] Nai Kasauh Mon is founder and Executive Director of the Human Rights Foundation of Monland, and this article is also distributing to 25th Anniversary of NMSP ceasefire agreement with the successive military regimes, SLORC/SPDC, and then USDP and NLD Governments.

Comments

Got something to say?