RANGOON — Burma’s peace processes risk creating “mini-cronies” in ethnic minority areas, if concerns about economic development in the resource-rich borderland regions are not addressed.
The granting of business licenses and concessions to ethnic minority militia leaders as part of Burma’s peace processes is seen by some observers as “a ploy by the government to turn ethnic leaders into ‘mini cronies’ while also performing a public relations stunt to attract more foreign investors,” according to a report published on Monday by Burma News International (BNI), a coalition of Burmese news agencies.
Most of the ethnic militias “have asked for specific business concessions during peace negotiations with the government,” the report said, listing some of the deals struck. Some of the projects have turned out well, BNI added, but others did not.
“This is due to management problems (as many do not have business skills), or in other cases the military has blocked their activities.”
While acknowledging that economic development is needed in Burma’s minority areas, the site of on-off fighting between the Burma Army and local militias for decades, the report said the nature of business in Burma contributes to fighting, citing clashes close to big projects such as dams as well as oil and gas pipelines.
“These economic activities are bringing more military to the [ethnic minority] areas in the name of security,” said Nan Paw Gay, development officer at BNI, which runs the Myanmar Peace Monitor website, set up to track Burma’s various peace processes involving the government and the country’s array of ethnic minority militias.
“The military is using force to protect business interests in minority areas, including the military’s own business interests,” added Nan Paw Gay.
Many of Burma’s ethnic armed groups are meeting this week in Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the larger minority militias, to debate a common position ahead of talks later in the week with the government in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina.
According to the Myanmar Peace Monitor website, there have been seven meetings between the government and ethnic militias so far this month, with 14 ceasefires currently in place between the government and ethnic militias.
The government hopes those talks will pave the way for a showcase national ceasefire deal by the end of the year, taking in all of Burma’s militias, though the KIA and the government have yet to sign a ceasefire, and there were reports last week of the Burma Army attacking Kachin villages.
If it comes about, the nationwide ceasefire deal will be a milestone, according to one long-time Burma watcher.
“The one issue remaining for those who advocated regime change in the past is the minority issue,” said David L. Steinberg, speaking last weekend at the Myanmar Peace Center, a government-associated organization that facilities the various talks between the government and the ethnic militias.