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 right."

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 friend."

" 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 about."

"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 surrender." 

"So far, I understand in general what you have said. But what specifically do you mean by 'time' and 'conditions'?"

"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 it."

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 MTA.