Why Did U Khun Sa

 Why Did U Khun Sa’s MTA Exchange Arms

 for Peace

Part I

Many questions regarding the armed national groups that

have achieved peace with the Government have been reported in the news media. The media has dealt with the process by which

these groups had reached agreement for peace, the efforts they had made as well as their hopes, aims and desires now that peace

was theirs. These newspaper accounts also explain how these groups viewed the National League for Democracy (NLD), which

at present constitutes the political opposition to the Government. Answers to these questions have been published in the daily

newspapers for the edification of the general public. But the case for the Mong Tai Army is different because it is not able to make

known its position, if any, regarding these issues. For since it is the only group to unconditionally surrender its arms it no longer

exists as a separate organization. Consequently there is no way for it to issue any announcement concerning its outlook and what its

views are on specific issues. But I think it is important for the general public to know the background and reasons that led to

their unconditional surrender; also, who mediated the negotiations and helped to bring about the surrender and how. It is also crucial

that the people know the hopes and desires of the former members of the MTA and what their general stand is today. This is because

the MTA played a considerable role in the establishment of peace almost countrywide. It was thus most fortuitous that a

former Shan leader of the MTA who also happened to be a friend of my youth moved into my neighbourhood after the

surrender. I was able to learn a lot from him about the situation of the MTA prior to its

surrender. I wish now to share with the people the important background

facts, in fact the inner story, he related to me.

U Khun Sa inspects his

troops on parade at

Ho Mong in June, 1993.

What he told me was of

absorbing interest. The first thing he made clear to me was the fact that the

MTA had certainly not surrendered because of losses in battle with the

Government Forces. At the time there were no large-scale offensives against the

MTA by the Government, only a few incidental skirmishes. Moreover, the MTA, at

the time of its surrender was still a force to be reckoned with. Its strength

was over 15,000 with a full arsenal of arms and ammunitions. Its weapons were

not homemade rickety guns nor were they by any standards obsolete. They even

possessed SAM-7 shoulder-fired missiles and 120mm artillery. Their sprawling

headquarters straddled the militarily strategic regions of Lwe Lan and Lwe Tun,

the Mong-Tawt – Mong Hta region and the Homong region. Thus they were in

complete control, east of the Thanlwin River. It is also a well known fact that

MTA forces were active in quite a few areas of Shan State, North and South. That

was why my friend had asserted so vehemently that it was not military defeat

that had led them to surrender their arms. It can be said that comparatively,

the MTA had greater superiority in both arms and men in relation to the other

armed national groups who had made peace with the Government. In terms of

finances also, leaving aside the means by which the MTA had acquired it, they

had ample funds, much more than any of the other groups. No other armed group

could equal them in arms, men or money. So my curiosity was aroused. Why did

such-a well – equipped force decide to surrender unconditionally to the

Government? I raised this question with my friend and was rewarded by a most

interesting and enlightening round of discussions, as you will see.

“If as you say, it wasn’t defeat

that led you to surrender  unconditionally, what then was the real reason

for your surrender?”

“There were many reasons that made

us surrender our arms, but to put it briefly, it was because we were convinced

that the

government’s national policy was


Inspection of another

parade in Ho Mong

in March, 1993.

“Maybe you’re only saying this to

please the government.”

“Indeed not. What I’m saying is

the truth. There are many things we like about the Government, but there are

still other things on which we don’t see eye to eye. I, for one, have yet to

give my full support my friend.”

“Right. It’s just a joke O.K?

Carry on please”

” When I heard that U Khun Sa was

making plans to surrender, I was most displeased and disapproved heartily. To be

quite frank, the thought of surrendering my arms had never ever entered my head.

I had been waging this armed struggle for over thirty years and had every

intention of carrying on the fight till the day I died. Looked at from a narrow

political perspective this view seems reasonable and right you know. But of

course, considered from a broader, more comprehensive view and taking into

account the many aspects of the situation, I was forced to accept the conclusion

that surrender was the correct course of action, even though from a personal

point of view, I did not like it.” 

“You’re confusing me my


” I can’t expect you to understand

with just a few bare facts. It would be like watching a Chinese martial arts

movie half way through. You’ll see the culprit being decapitated with the

Chinese version of the French guillotine but you won’t know what it’s all


“Talk about understanding the

government announcement on 5th January 1996 that U Khun Sa and his group had

unconditionally surrendered really took me by surprise. I wasn’t the only one

though. Everyone who heard the news reacted the same way.”

“It’s only natural I suppose. It

was a surprising turn of events. There has been no precedent in our country’s

history, where such a strong armed force as a whole had so willingly given up

its arms.” 

At the time, I was both surprised and

happy. Only after- wards a string of questions popped into my head. You know,

questions like ‘why?’ ‘What happened?’ and so on. It was  certainly beyond

my understanding.”


MTA Troops (male and

female) relax and chat after a parade.

“To explain this whole matter is

going to take time. To understand the reasons that led to the unconditional

surrender, you’ll have to try to understand U Khun Sa’s personality first his

mental make-up, his convictions and his attitude towards life. You must know

something about him to understand why and how he arrived at such a momentous

decision. Then you’ll need to have some information about the MTA background

history, its situation, the leaders and yes even its ordinary armed members.

You’ll also need to have some idea of the conditions of the people and the

political developments both at home and abroad. You’ll have to understand all

these various factors first.” 

“What I really want to know is how

they brought this off.”

“You’ll come to understand that

too. An unconditional surrender such as this does not meet with a hundred per

cent approval. There is always the voice of dissent from those who don’t wish to

give up their weapons. But in spite of such reluctance and

yes, dissatisfaction too, the decision to surrender was carried out without a

hitch, without a single shot being fired. So, I agree, it is important to know

how this was achieved.” 

“The people in general know

nothing about these behind-the-scene developments. They really should know and

certainly the Americans who have preferred criminal charges against U Khun Sa

ought to be informed.”

“If I go into details at this

stage, then it’ll become a new version of ‘a thousand and one nights.’ But I’11

try to give you some of the high points and give you a brief summary with all

the essential facts as and when I can.” 

“Tell me the whole story later.

But there’s one question that’s disturbing me, so I have to cut in and ask you.

You said earlier, you didn’t want to surrender your arms. So why did you do so,

just give it to me straight and to the point.”

“Didn’t I say that the surrender

of arms, from a restricted political point of view, may appear wrong, but that

if you consider it objectively from a broader standpoint, taking into

consideration the many ramifications and implications, it is the only choice,

the right choice. From this broader perspective I accepted the surrender, and

whether I personally liked it or not was irrelevant.”  

“Yes, I know. But it doesn’t

explain much, does it?”

 “Oh! All right. I’ll try to

explain it as briefly as possible. First, the armed struggle was not the

solution. It wasn’t getting us anywhere. Even if we had continued the fight for

another 100 years there would have been no solution and our goal would still

have been beyond reach. Second, I don’t mean to sound righteous and pompous, but

the current political world climate has begun to change, both nationally and

internationally. I don’t think there is now much support for armed insurrection

these days. Third, one cannot resist the pressure of time and conditions. To put

it in a nutshell, it is time for peace in our country. That’s why, in spite of

my reluctance to part with my weapons I have accepted and obeyed the call for


“So far, I understand in general

what you have said. But what specifically do you mean by ‘time’ and


“It’s clear and simple enough my

friend. I’m referring mainly to the peace plan and proceedings of the Military

Government. The goal set is good, the means employed are right and there is

genuine goodwill. That was why the armed groups opted for peace. So when one

armed group after another availed themselves of the peace offer, this surge in

the general desire for peace spread to the neighbouring regions and reaching

people at the grass-roots level. They see this development and they also start

clamouring for peace. Who can really go against the wishes and will of the

people? These are the conditions I was referring to. As to time, you’ll begin to

see the light as our talk progresses.” 

“I’ll tell you what I think, I

think your MTA people themselves began to yearn for peace, like the other

people, when they saw peace settle over other regions.”

“Right you are! As you know, a

single event or effect is not due to one cause or one condition alone. Only a

combination of conditions can give rise to an effect. So don’t be in too much of  

a hurry to understand and jump to conclusions. As we go on with our talks some

things will become clearer.” 

“Yes, of course. But all the same

I think it can be said that this surge of peace has infused the entire country

and this is what made peace possible.”

“Sure. We had fought for nearly 50

years. But in trying to establish peace throughout the years7 no one was able to

silence nearly all the guns all at once, as the present Government’s peace plan

has done. Tell me, who, throughout these years, do you think profitted from the

fighting. Absolutely no one.”

“There’s no gainsaying that.

Fighting each other is like the game some children play. Two opponents knocking

each other’s hard-boiled eggs to see which will crack. Neither is the winner.

The vast majority of the people go through real suffering. They

are the real victims. You know the Myanmar proverb, ‘the grass  is trampled

on and crushed when two water buffaloes clash and fight.’ Nobody benefits from



A partial view of the

residential ward near the MTA Headquarters at Ho Mong.

“Just before we surrendered, I was

very critical of the armed groups that had elected to make peace. I even voiced

the opinion that this time the Armed Forces had won its greatest and most

historic victory with its use of ‘Peace’ as a weapon.”

” You know it really made me

ponder the fact that when all is said and done, it is obvious that everyone

wants peace.” 

” It couldn’t be more true. I did

say that the word peace has the power to stir a person’s heart and make it

throb. That’s why, even I, who had vowed never to give up arms, in the end did

what went against my grain for the sake of peace. “

” Well I’m beginning to have an inkling of why you people finally decided to

surrender.? “

“Yes. You’ll come to understand

the situation better as our talk goes on. But let’s call it a day for now. We’ll

meet again later.”

Since I met my friend I had begun to

realize that it was not military defeat that had prompted the surrender, but

that it was the desire for peace which was the principle factor. What he told me

that day had so stimulated my interest that in subsequent

conversations I always made it a point to find out as much as I could about the