Friday, March 25, 2011

တပ္မေတာ္ေန့အေပၚ မတူညီတဲ့အျမင္မ်ား

Burmese Army Trapped by its Turbulent History
The Nation, 30 March, 2000.

*Burma's 'Tatmadaw', facing an increasing number of desertion and lack of direction, badly needs to change its image for the better, writes Win Htein.

On March 27, 1945, General Aung San, the commander of Burma Independent Army (BIA) and the chairman of the Anti-Fascist Organization (AFO), declared zero hour to the Japanese in Rangoon and called on the people to "find and attack nearest enemy".

In Burma, March 27 became known as "Anti-Fascist Revolution Day". This year is the 55th anniversary of that day. But the Burmese junta has announced that the day will henceforth be known as Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) Day. The re-naming of the anniversary is very controversial, because it overstates the Tatmadaw's role in the Burma revolution.

According to Dr Aung Khin, a Burmese history professor in London, "The BIA was founded on December 26, 1941 in Bagkok". Earlier that year, 30 young Burmese rebels (later to become legendary as the '30 comrades) had secretlt left Burma to travel to Hainan Island in southern China, which was then controlled by Japanese troops. The Japanese army gave them military training for five months, to enable them to fight the British in Burma. They then traveled to Bangkok where they founded the BIA, before returning to Burma.

"Why does the junta say now that 'Revolution Day' is Tatmadaw Day? It's a lie about history,'' the professor continued in his radio articles broadcast on the Democratic Voice of Burma.

In fact, the Tatmadaw's role was not important in the revolution era because it had so few members, The FAO and Communist Party of Burma (CPB) were more important than the Tatmadaw because they could organize the people to rebel against the fascists. It was really a 'people's revolution', not just the Tamadaw's offensive.

Later on, several pf 30 comrades joined the CPB and began a civil war. After half century, the Tatmadaw said: "We have rescued the country from falling into the hell-holes of fascism, colonialism, communism and federalism''. Then they hammered into the people's mind that the Ttmadaw is not composed of just normal civil servants but is above the state. Everyone must obey its commands without any complaint.

But the All Burma Students' Democratic Front claims nearly 100,000 soldiers have ''deserted during the past 12 years. They are facing a shortage of food and medicine. And there are many problems among the officers, soldiers and the MIS (Military Intelligence Service).

A few months ago, the National Council for the Union of Burma founded a rehabilitation center in the Karen State to welcome the ex-soldiers. "Monthly, about 50 soldiers join us in the Karen National Union (KNU) controlled area" said U Maung Maung Tate, a member of the center. These are just in the Karen State. Many other deserters have gone to Thailand as illegal workers and some have joined other rebel groups along the border.

Last year, the Rangoon War Office ordered all front-line battalions to grow vegetables and raise livestock, as rations would be reduced. From then on, the front troops took whatever they wanted from the villagers. Many villagers were forced to work on the army's new projects. Some soldiers were disappointed about the order and its consequences for villagers. There were more desertions.

"Why do people join the Tatmadaw even through it has many problems" a reporter asked some ex-Tatmadaw men. One of the defectors, Maung Aung Kyaw Thein, a 19-years-old from a training camp for new recruits in Wetgali, answered: "I was arrested in Mae Sot by Thai police as illegal worker. Then they sent to me Myawaddy. On March 3, 1998, I was arrested again by LIB 32 in Myawaddy. They sent to me Wetgali Training School via Moulmein soldiers' conscription camp. After 10 days in the training, I fled here".

Another question is, "Why do graduates join the Tatmadaw? Ko Myint Wai, a defector from Burma Air Force, left the army to join the "8888 Uprising" with another 1,000 soldiers. He commented: "Once, before the 8888 Uprising, students were keen to become young Tatmadaw officers. It was a popular choice because it was an opportunity for a job and a guaranteed future".

Now he is working for a human rights NGO in Thailand. He compared the Thai army and Burma's Tatmadaw, saying: "There pasts are not too different. Both armies have staged coups. But today, the Thai army is obeying the civilian government, while our Tatmadaw is denying the legitimacy of the elected government.

"Another important point is their budgets. The Thai army has full facilities while the Tatmadaw men are very poor. The lowest Thai private's salary is Bt 4,000 while his Burmese counterpart receives 850 kyats (Bt 85). That's why the Burmese Tatmadaw rob villagers to support their family. There is no civil war in Thailand, so the army budget is enough for them".

When General Than Shwe, chairman of the junta, visited Bangkok in early March last year, it was suggested that he learn from the Thai army. But the problem is that the Burmese Generals never respect the Thai because in their minds, the Thai is Nhe-Naing (those beaten from young). Instead, they they have looked to and tried to emulate the Indonesian army as it was before the fall of Suharto's empire. They want an Indonesian-style parliament with an ex-soldier as president in Burma.

However, the Indonesian army is less willing now to be the toll of a dictator, and has moved towards supporting democracy. This has left the Burmese Tatmadaw in a dilemma, as it role model has changed. Many observers believe that there are two different groups in the Tatmadaw- the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) and the front-line troops. The First Secretary of the State Peace and Development Council, Lt Gen Khin Nyunt, controls the intelligence service, while the council's vice chairman, Gen Maung Aye, commands the front-line troops. Observers have suggested that Khin Nyunt now wants to change the image of the Tatmadaw. For example, his intelligence service has negotiated cease-fires with 15 ethnic armed groups during the past 10 years.

The MIS's next negotiation will be with Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. But Maung Aye's group does not agree with such negotiations. His group wants to fully control the country forever.

Win Htein is a correspondent for the Democratic Voice of Burma.


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