A group of young people take a tour around the country to stop civil war with their songs. (Photo: P

A group of young people take a tour around the country to stop civil war with their songs. (Photo: Phyu Zin Poe)

Ethnic rebels have been at war with the Burmese military for more than six decades. 

And attempts to finalize a peace deal between the groups have always been underscored by deep mistrust.

Since the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party or NLD, last November, ethnic groups are hoping the new government will have a better chance at securing a peace deal.

Phyu Zin Poe has more from Kayah State. 

Khuu Phaw, a mother of four, is looking after her children in this refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border.

She has been living in the camp for more than 20 years.

But she remembers clearly the when the government army entered her village of Loikaw.

“We collected our belongings and run away from the village,” she recalls, “I was so scared and cried. Soldiers had burned down houses in our village and our family had to run to the top of a mountain.”

Khuu Phaw’s parents were involved with Karenni revolutionary fighters and the Karenni National Progressive Party. 

Founded in 1957, the group has been fighting against the Burmese military government for self-determination in their state. 

Like Karenni, many other ethnic groups in the country claim they have been treated unfairly and are not given a fair share to the natural resources in their state. They also want self autonomy on their land.

When the army launched its offensive in her village, Khuu Phaw and her family were forced to keep running.

“We had to run to one village after another. We ran from Nan Oung village to another village and then we ran to the Thai border to hide from Burmese soldiers,” she says.

After reaching Thailand, her family faced another struggle, finding enough food to survive.

Khuu says they went to homes of Thai families and chopped wood for money to buy food.

Now, Khuu Phaw is 40 and much of her life has been spent in this refugee camp.

Her village was burnt to the ground and is now covered with landmines. She says she doesn’t even recognize it anymore and it’s not safe to return.

Conflict between ethnic groups and government forces has been going on for more than six decades.

There are more than 51 different armed ethnic groups in Burma, including 8 main ethnic groups and 135 ethnic subgroups. 

After General Nay Win took the power in 1962, many ethnic groups took up arms. 

The government of Thein Sein signed a ceasefire agreement with some rebel groups earlier this year, but the largest groups refused to sign. 

Shwe Myo Thant, from the Karenni National Progressive Party explains why.

“The government needed to prove to us that their will was genuine. But that did not happen, as we expected,” he says, “On the one hand, they are calling all ethnic group to sign the Nationwide ceasefire agreement, while on the other hand the government armies are still launching offensives for battles. It is really hard to believe their promise.” 

Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD party to a historic win in Burma’s election last November.

During the campaign, Suu Kyi said solving ethnic conflicts was one of her priorities. 

Shwe Myo Thant welcomes the NLD’s plans but he remains skeptical. 

“We know how long it has taken us to discuss the ethnic conflict issue. We have been building trust between key players of government peacemakers. But at that time, the NLD didn’t get involved in the peace processes and they remained as an opposition party,” he says, “Will the NLD understand us? We don’t know what sympathy they have for us. We are worried about that.”

Some political commentators say the NLD will face enormous challenges when dealing with the Burmese military. 

But Kyaw Htin Aung, an activist from Union of Karenni State Youth association, argues the NLD is held in high regard by different ethnic groups. 

“Since 1988, the NLD proclaimed reconciliation and they are leading talks with both the military and armed ethnic groups,” explains Aung, “We believe they understand the need from both sides and they can achieve a permanent peace deal through political dialogue.”

But can the NLD really achieve this goal?

To find out I have been calling them all week, but each time have been told to call back.

Now I am in front of the NLD office to meet one of top NLD leaders who can tell me about their plan for a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

But again, the NLD has refused to give any concrete answers...

The fighting between ethnic groups and government troops escalated right after the November election. 

Still, Khuu Phaw is hopeful a solution will soon be achieved. 

“I hope the new government can deal with other armed groups and stop the civil wars. If the government can do so we can go back our home,” she says, “We will have our civil right in our country. I don't want to be a refugee anymore.”

No one is really sure just how successful the NLD will be. 

But the way it looks right now, it certainly won’t be easy.

 

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