Whither the Panglong Spirit?

February 21st, 2020  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  6 minute read
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“There has not been a single year of peace in over 70 years since the signing of the Panglong Agreement”

The shelling of a school in Rakhine State brought Myanmar’s civil war into the spotlight yet again. This type of indiscriminate shelling and military operations, particularly by the Myanmar military, are an everyday occurrence, and will continue after the brief moment in the headlines that the shelling of this school generates. The accompanying displacement and abuses will also continue until the rainy season serves to temper, albeit temporarily, the military ambitions of the Myanmar military, but until the currently stalled peace process is revived and substantive progress is made, civilians, such as those schoolchildren, will continue to suffer.

On 13 February the post-primary Kha Mwe Chaung Village school was shelled, injuring 21 students in Buthidaung Township, in war-torn Rakhine State, coming after clashes that occurred that morning between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA). Neither the Myanmar military nor the AA have taken responsibility and it is as yet unclear who was responsible. One thing that is clear is that this is a pattern for civilians in Rakhine State. Just to give a few, but certainly not comprehensive list of examples, local media have reported of a 17 year old boy killed by an explosion after cutting wood on 13 February, a 50 year old woman was severely injured after a shell hit her leg on 12 February, a 9 year old child was killed and 5 others injured after playing with unexploded ordnance on 10 February, while three members of the same Rohingya family were killed on 12 February after a shell hit their home. Several UN experts have raised concern regarding the escalation in fighting, stating that in just 10 days, 1,100 people have been displaced in addition to the horrific killings and injuries, noting that the “International Court of Justice ordered the provisional measures in relation to the Rohingya minority and they must be followed.”

Added to this situation in Rakhine State is the continuing Government-policy of an internet shutdown that now reaches seven townships in Rakhine State and one in Chin State. This is ostensibly for security reasons but in reality, it is about ensuring people, both in the conflict zone and outside, cannot access essential information about the current situation. It has prompted both Myanmar civil society, as well as foreign diplomatic missions of the UK, Sweden, and Canada to release statements calling for an end to the war and a lifting of the internet restrictions.

Meanwhile in Karen State, tensions between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Myanmar military continues to increase as the Myanmar military aggressively makes inroads into KNU territory for its project to build a military road. After several instances of shelling and indiscriminate firing into villages that resulted in 300 people being displaced and two injured over the last few weeks, this prompted the Karen National Liberation Army’s 5th Brigade to send a complaint letter to the Myanmar military, indicating the damage it does to trust and peace building. This is despite the fact that the KNU is a signatory to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), demonstrating the deep flaws in a broken peace process.

Despite the continued armed conflict and increasing tensions with ethnic peoples, the Myanmar government still celebrated Union Day, the commemoration of the signing of the Panglong Agreement on 12 February 1947, with a dinner attended by President Win Myint, members of the Myanmar military, members of signatory organizations of the NCA, and political party leaders. Yet while the original Panglong Agreement was aimed at forging an agreement between the Burman majority and ethnic nationalities based on equality and self-determination, such aspirations are becoming ever more distant. The commemoration of Union Day each year is serving not as a celebration of a united Myanmar that strives and succeeds because of its ethnic diversity. Rather it serves as a stark reminder of the failures of successive Burman military regimes and governments to build an inclusive, federal, democratic state that respects, protects, and promotes the rights of Myanmar’s myriad of ethnic and religious minorities.

There has not been a single year of peace in over 70 years since the signing of the Panglong Agreement, and the shelling of Kha Mwe Chaung Village School is yet another significant but not unusual footnote in Myanmar’s post-independence history of violence and bloodshed, of which the Myanmar military bears the ultimate responsibility. Hence moves towards accountability, to end the impunity of the Myanmar military, are vital in reigning in its violence, and contributing towards the conditions for a sustainable peace, where schoolchildren are not running for their lives and afraid of their school being destroyed as they attend their lessons and ethnic nationalities can rebuild their communities and livelihoods after the decades of devastation they have faced and enjoy equal rights under a genuine federal democracy.

[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

Lift Internet Restrictions in Rakhine and Chin States

By 29 National and International Non-Governmental Organizations

Statement on Shelling of School on Myanmar’s Children Day

By 126 Civil Society Organizations

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံကလေးများနေ့တွင် ကလေးငယ်များ လက်နက်ကြီး ထိမှန်ခဲ့မှု ဖြစ်စဉ်အပေါ် သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By 126 Civil Society Organizations

ရခိုင်ပြည်နယ်အတွင်း လတ်တလောကိစ္စရပ်များနှင့် စပ်လျဥ်း၍ ပူးတွဲသဘောထား ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက်

By All Burma Federation of Student Unions

Rohingya Drownings An “Avoidable Tragedy”

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Civilians Stranded as Clashes Between Tatmadaw and AA Kill One and Injure Two as Passenger Boat is Fired Upon

By Chin Human Rights Organization

တပ်မတော်နှင့် AA တွေအကြားတိုက်ပွဲကြောင့် ပလက်ဝမြို့နယ်က လူရာကျော် ကျောက်တော်တွင် ပိတ်မိနေ

By Chin Human Rights Organization

Embassy of Canada in Rangoon Released Statement Concerning the Loses of Civilian Lives in the Ongoing Armed Conflict in Arakan

By Embassy of Canada in Rangoon

29 International and Myanmar-Based Organizations Call for End to Internet Shutdown

By Fortify Rights

Statement on Internet Shutdown

By The Embassy of Sweden

UNICEF Statement on the Injury of at Least 17 School Children, in Buthidaung Township, Rakhine State, Myanmar

By UNICEF in Myanmar

ကရင်နီပြည်သမိုင်းအမှန်ဖော်ထုတ်သည့် လူထုလုပ်ရှားမှု တစ်နှစ်ပြည့်အခမ်းအနားမှ ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက်

By Union of Karenni State Youth

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”