Let the Children Cry Freely
Union Minister U Aung Min, the chief negotiator of the Government of Myanmar, often shares remarkable stories about war, peacemaking and negotiations to make his point in discussions. One story he shared is of children crying during the war. This story was passed down to him from a Karen peacemaker and veteran fighter.
Echoing the Karen peacemaker, the Minister recounts, “The children cannot cry freely during the war.”
This may be puzzling for those unfamiliar with armed conflict, yet it is true.
Children in conflict areas cannot cry freely, particularly during the height of war when families run and hide from military patrols. It is during these most difficult and stressful times, children cannot cry freely. And children may cry for many reasons. Children may be hungry while hiding for days on end. They may be frightened by the sound of gunfire or shelling. Or they may cry because they see other villagers running away.
And in some cases, when children cannot be consoled and cries cannot be stopped, parents must take extreme measures. They may stuff clothing or something else into their children’s mouths to stop their wailing. In some circumstances, children suffocate.
In Myanmar, a country gripped with armed conflict, death, and suffering, stories of survival abound. But for those of us deeply involved in the peace process, we can relate to Minister U Aung Min’s story. As a former soldier himself, Minister U Aung Min speaks from personal experience.
But now children in conflict areas cry freely. Because of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signed on October 15, cries flow freely, at least in the areas included in the agreement.
Even before the signing of the NCA, many bilateral ceasefire agreements helped to end fighting. In Mon and Kayah areas, not a single shot has been fired for more than three years since the bilateral agreements were signed. Unfortunately, however, small skirmishes and large conflicts continue to erupt in in some of the bilateral ceasefire areas, particularly in Northern Shan State.
While clashes with some non-signatories may continue, the NCA continues to reinforce current ceasefire agreements that are already working, and those that require more work.
I understand there are many critics of the peace process. The fact that only 8 EAOs signed the NCA is often cited as a problem and fingers are often pointed when fighting breaks out, prior to and following the signing of the NCA. But what is a success is that no fighting has occurred between signatories to the NCA. There are reasons to be optimistic. After the NCA was signed, both sides immediately began implementing necessary measures.
Most important of all, the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee, also referred to as the JMC, was formed. Toward the end of October, all sides met for three days to discuss JMC structures at the Union, State and local levels, terms of reference, and monitoring activities.
Within the allotted deadline, the formation of the JMC-U or the Union Level was accomplished. The CoC or the Codes of Conduct was drawn up and ratified in the ceasefire implementation meetings held in Nay Pyi Taw on November 17 and 18.
The JMC and COCs are the most important ceasefire-related achievements and the first of their kind in Myanmar. Given the unwavering commitment of both sides, the ceasefire situation looks promising.
This is music to the ears of so many parents affected by this war. Their children can now cry freely. It is also a time for the children and families of the Tatmadaw soldiers to celebrate. Because there is no fighting and because there are successful mechanisms to prevent clashes, there will be fewer losses.
Sadly, some of the EAOs refused to sign from the NCA due to various political reasons. The children living in those areas not protected by the NCA may not be so fortunate. Perhaps those EAOs that participated in the NCA negotiations but refused to sign should reconsider their position, and let their children cry freely.