Written by By Staff Writer
After years of campaigning, some Burmese activists are pushing for sanctions on their military leaders to be renewed by the U.S.
Two Myanmar nongovernmental organizations, the Myanmar Peace Network and the National League for Democracy in Burma (NLD) Peace Network, hope that Congress will swiftly vote to renew the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which bars U.S. financing for oil and gas infrastructure in Burma if the leaders “knowingly aid and abet … armed anti-democratic political groups or terrorist groups such as the Arakan Army.”
Opposition from within its ranks
The advocacy groups’ action comes as the U.S. Fifth Fleet has recently reported having encountered anti-Harapan protesters, who are aiming to protect the city of Sittwe from the arrival of the Siachen Glacier, on the border between India and China.
“Nearly all (opposition party) MPs and activists are against the gas deal and the rising number of ethnic conflicts — mainly in the Rakhine and Kachin regions. The generals are getting impatient with the timing and pressure from outside,” said NLD peace network co-founder Eeng Yar Chaung, who is also active in humanitarian relief programs in the Arakan, Kachin and Shan states.
But Am U Kyaw, president of the Association of Progressive Democratic Forces (APDF), which is allied with the NLD in government and seeks to work toward peace, was surprised by the advocacy group’s assertion that military leaders themselves were endangering the peace process.
“They can also join NLD, NSDP and MNDFP and achieve political goals,” Kyaw told CNN.
NDAA as humanitarian help
More than 400 people, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have called for the NDAA renewal in recent weeks on social media, urging lawmakers to oppose renewed sanctions, according to Van Massing, an activist who recently campaigned with a local U.S. film-maker, Sam Laachman, for the initiative.
The Burmese authorities have recently suggested that Burmese nationals fighting with the Arakan Army — an armed, stateless ethnic group — pose a greater threat to peace than the security forces, which are accused of human rights abuses in Kachin and Rakhine states, Kyaw said.
“It’s not enough for the U.S. to focus on security. We also have to recognize and help the people who are trying to win peace,” he said.
The lobbying came as the National Defense Authorization Act passed in October 2018 with 93 votes, ten more than a hurdle a year earlier, after the expected “no” votes came from around 10 members, Kyaw said.
Since the military leaders’ crimes were later denounced in the international press, “some younger members are changing,” he said.
Living proof that justice is possible
Amateur film-maker Sam Laachman filmed a group of Rohingya Muslims chanting “Victory for Myanmar!” as Myanmar troops attempt to drive them from their camp, in Rathedaung on October 27, 2017. Photos: Sam Laachman
Roughly 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims have been driven from Myanmar into Bangladesh, following what the United Nations said was a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
NLD peace network co-founder Eeng Yar Chaung admitted that there was a “time lag” before things changed and that it was a sad reality that only a few NLD members turned out to vote for the NDAA in October last year. But, he added, “people supported sanctions last time around because it proved that the only way to stop the military violence is through the judiciary.”
This year, if lawmakers did choose to extend the sanctions, the case of detained Aung San Suu Kyi, whose political party now governs as part of a quasi-civilian administration, could weigh on their minds.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate remains under house arrest and is unable to meet the public, run the country or decide her party’s policies.
“We need a resolution of her case and re-engagement of Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party with the government — and not only by the U.S.,” Kyaw said.
The upcoming general election will be dominated by the two main pro-military parties and will not include independent candidates. If they get enough seats in the lower house and assembly in May, the military will control parliament.
The new government’s first priority, Kyaw said, would be the court cases against alleged war criminals on trial in courts, and post-election, he expects that the military will try to pressure members of the next government to do their bidding.