Fifth nationwide ceasefire agreement draft ignores Panglong Promises: Sweeping core issues under the carpet won’t help resolve ethnic conflict
As United Wa State Army (UWSA) held conference, co-hosted by Mong La
and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), scheduled to start from 1 to 3 May,
in Panghsang, involving 12 Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), but not
all Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) members, approaches,
the NCCT is to meet on 29 April, to prepare for all its members to
gather, so that deliberation on the 5th Nationwide Ceasefire
Agreement (NCA) draft could be discussed and determined. The NCCT has
conducted such all-members meeting thrice; twice at KIA headquarters and
once at Karen National Union (KNU) controlled Lawkhila.
Ever since the completion of 5th NCA draft, EAOs have been making necessary review on it. The forthcoming NCCT members meeting would probably look into inputs, opinions and thrash out a decision on whether to go along and proceed with the draft as it is, or with alteration and additional clauses.
KNU meet on NCA
While news of KNU deliberation on the text was openly reported in the news media, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) emergency meeting from 11 to 13 April was held under-wraps and have not been seen or reported. However, its position on the NCA draft is seeping out, which signals the 5th draft that supposed to be final, from the point of government, is not really final, from UNFC perspective.
The KNU held a central standing committee emergency meeting to discuss about the NCA draft and the forthcoming ethnic armed organization summit, at its headquarters at Lay Wah, Hlaingbwe Townhip in Pa-an District from April 20-22, 2015.
According to Padoh Mahn Mahn, joint-secretary (2) of KNU, the discussion centered around 3 guiding principles – to safeguard sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and the regime’s stance of building federal system according to the outcome of political dialogue.
But Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein, vice chairperson of the KNU, according to Karen Information Center report of 23 April, in an exclusive interview spelled out quite a lot of points that needs clarification and what should still be included in the NCA. However, it is not clear, whether her points of argument are accepted or not by the KNU.
She clarified that the 5th NCA draft signed on 31 March 2015 was the approval of the text formulated between NCCT & UPWC, which needs to be viewed by ethnic leaders and decide what to do next. Not the signing of NCA.
She said that Ceasefire Code-of-Conduct ought to be included, so do the relocation of [Burma Army] troops in KNU [controlled] areas could be determined. Besides, in the ethnic nationalities areas, their status of self-governing authorities should be agreed and worked out, during the transitional period; that is the period between after NCA signing and political dialogue phase.
She further elaborates :“The signing of the agreement reached on the draft NCA will not bring any benefits if the draft agreement does not contain all the important issues. However, [as it stands] there will be more benefits for the government.”
She said: “There is no clear provision or procedure written in the NCA in order to amend or reword the 2008 Constitution. It is only stated that the issue will be discussed at the political dialogue level, there are no specific details.”
UNFC stand on NCA
Reliable, insider sources said that the UNFC held an emergency meeting from 11 to 13 April to reflect on the 5th NCA draft.
Accordingly, it was decided to push for NCA to include Ceasefire Code of Conduct, Joint Monitoring Committee; to stick to all-inclusive signatory stance of all EAOs; signing of NCA to include UN & ASEAN General Secretaries and 7 countries; actual nationwide ceasefire implementation on the ground, prior to NCA signing; Ceasefire area definition agreement – should include whole country, varying demarcation procedure according to individual party, to find common definition on unclearly defined vocabularies.
The meeting also decided that NCCT’s future role will be determined by the Ethnic Leaders’ Summit.
5th NCA Draft
The 5th NCA draft has 7 Chapters and 33 clauses. According to Aung Naing Oo of Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), “A careful analysis of the agreement reveals that 55 of the overall provisions are related to military matters while 35 points deal directly with political issues. The remaining points focus on various other issues aimed at strengthening ceasefires, such as confidence-building measures.”
The finalized draft, 7 steps roadmap agreed are:
- Signing of the NCA
Negotiations and agreement on the Framework for Political Dialogue within 60 days after the NCA signing (Negotiations on Code of Conduct and Joint Monitoring Mechanism to be completed within 30 days)
3. Launching of the Political Dialogue within 90 days after the NCA signing
4. Convening of Union Peace Conference
5. Signing of Union Peace Accord (UPA)
6. Submission to the Union Assembly for approval
7. Implementation of the UPA
Words and terminologies
Debatable words and terminologies were, more or less, shelved or watered down to the benefit of the government, while the EAOs long-held political position, related to their aspirations, were compromised.
Three such words or terminologies, that need emphasizing are “national versus nationals or nationality versus nationalities”, usage of the word “Taw Hlan Ye – resistance or revolution”, and mentioning “Panglong spirit without Panglong promises”.
By accepting the word “national and nationality”, in a singular sense, the EAOs have capitulated and embraced the collective, common national identity of “Myanmar” imposed by the Burmese military, which they all along have resisted, by employing the usage of “nationals and nationalities”. In other words, the present forcefully enforced Republic of the Union of Myanmar and its corresponding imposed common, national identity “Myanmar”, without the consent or participation of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities, were accepted by the EAOs. Thus their all along held political posture that Burma is an multi-ethnic state, inhabited by a wide range of ethnic nationalities, and are still struggling to build their desired genuine federalism that is not yet completed, is being abandoned. In fact, for the time being, it should be taken that usage of “ethnic nationalities” is more appropriate and pragmatic in contemporary Burma’s political arena, for an all accepted common, national identity still has to be worked out, with all-inclusive participation and consent, after achieving the genuine federal system of governance. In short, a national identity imposed by the military has not taken roots, due to the failure of nation-building process, after all these years.
The usage of “Taw Hlan Ye”, which could be translated as “resistance or revolution”, in the NCA text is bitterly protested by the Burma Army (BA) for this implies the successive military regimes are oppressors and aggressors and the non-Burman ethnic nationalities are waging a war of resistance, a revolutionary war. But this is the reality and the UPWC, or rather the BA faction within it, agreed to the usage grudgingly, although it was agreed that it should not appear on the cover of the draft text.
As it turns out, the 5th NCA draft text did use the word “Taw Hlan Ye”, but not to in a sense the EAOs leadership has hoped for. They have wanted the regime to differentiate them from drug trafficking gangs and addressed them as dignified, revolutionary armies, as time and again, stated by Nai Hong Sar, the top NCCT negotiator.
One single word used in the 18 pages draft writes: “Understanding the ethnic armed organizations’ resistance/revolutionary based political aspirations, together with aimed, steadfast union spirit and those ethnic armed groups, that are eligible and ought to participate, sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement.” (Source: 5th NCA draft, Chapter 2, Clause 2 (d) – unofficial translation from Burmese text by the writer)
The formulation and its meaning is misleading and not at all clear, but would make sense if it is written “Understanding the ethnic armed organizations’ political aspirations based on resistance/revolution” . However, the text never once address or mention the EAOs as revolutionary armies, as desired by the ethnic leaders.
Again, mentioning “Panglong Spirit” only without “Panglong Promises”, in Chapter 1, Clause 1 (a), could be seen as giving up the long-held political legacy of all non-Burman ethnic nationalities, from the part of EAOs, that Panglong Promises, closely linked to the ethnic nationalities’ rights of self-determination, democracy and equality, have to be upheld, honored and is non-negotiable.
The 1947 Panglong Agreement underpinned the ethnic aspirations of democracy, rights of self-determination, equality and democracy, as could be seen by the three clauses included in the nine points accord.
- The Frontier Areas will enjoy full autonomy in internal administration
- Citizens of the Frontier Areas shall enjoy rights and privileges which are regarded as fundamental in democratic countries.
- Financial autonomy vested in the Federated Shan States shall be maintained
- When the ethnic nationalities leaders met again for the second time in Panglong in February 1947, Bogyoke Aung San came to join them. He had been to London to negotiate with Prime Minister Atlee for Burma’s independence, which was conditional on the unification of the Frontier Areas with Burma. Based on Aung San’s promises of democracy, equality and self rule, the ethnic nationalities agreed to work together with Aung San’s interim government to form the Union of Burma. Some of the historical quotations are as follows:
- “We stand for full freedom of all the races in our country, including those so-called Karenni states…” (Aung San, 14 January 1947 – The Times, London).
- “If the Burmese receive one kyat, the Shan will also get one kyat.” (Aung San at Panglong, February 1947).
On how the inclusion of secession clause enshrined in 1948 Union of Burma Constitution come about was documented by Pangmu Shayi as below:-
- Duwa Shan Lone recalled the exchanges that took place between the Nyaung Shwe Sawbwa (Prince of Yawnghwe) and Bogyoke Aung San thus:
- Bogyoke: Sawbwa Gyi, let me put to rest all your concerns regarding union with Burma. Federated or not, your rights to secession will be honored. I would strongly urge you to join hands with us to form a union after we gain independence from the British.
- Sao Shwe Thaike: Bogyoke, we the Sawbwas and the people of Shan States have complete trust in you, but we cannot say the same about the other Burmese leaders around you.
- Bogyoke: I am glad to hear your expression of trust in me, but let me tell you this. Do not put your trust in man. Rather, trust the constitution that we will be drafting. I can assure you here and now, that all matters such as the right to secession and other safeguards you wish included in the constitution, will be fully addressed. So please join hands with us in the Constituent Assembly where further details will be discussed and thrashed out. (Source: Kachinland News – 20 April 2015)
Interpretation and approaches on federalism
Accordingly, the UNFC has total desire for all to pledge and sign an “Agreement relating to the establishment a Federal Union” together with the government led by President U Thein Sein, on the occasion of 68th Anniversary of the Union Day, which falls on February 12, 2015, to uphold the establishment of a Federal Union based on democratic rights and national states, with full national equality and self-determination, as yearned for by the entire people. The UNFC issues this position statement that by signing this Agreement together, the President and ethnic nationality leaders will further strengthen mutual trust and recommit to concluding the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement without delay. (Source: UNFC Statement 29 January 2015)
Thein Sein, however, rejected the UNFC proposal and come up with his own version of Deeds of Commitment.
In comparison, the Deeds of Commitment Statement, prepared and headed by President Thein Sein, doesn’t mention anything about Panglong Promises or legacy that has to be honored. One from five of the paragraphs writes:
“Aiming to safeguard sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity on the basis of the peace process; and building a Union based on democratic and federal principles in the spirit of Panglong and in accordance with the outcomes of Political Dialogue to ensure freedom, equality, justice and self-determination for all citizens”.(Source: Deeds of Commitment for Peace and National Reconciliation – Naypyidaw, 12 February 2015)
To sum up, the Panglong Promises are non-Burman ethnic nationalities’ political legacy, that is non-negotiable. To be more precise, the combination of 1947 Panglong Agreement – where ethnic and democratic rights are enshrined -, 1948 Union of Burma Constitution – where secession clause is explicitly promulgated, even though it is federal in structure but unitary in practice -, and 1961 Federal Proposal – which all the non-Burman nationalities seek to amend the constitution to ward off the then brewing, armed conflict and amend it to be federal – are the political aspirations of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities and as well, their political legacy, which still need to be materialized.
The USDP-Military regime tactics is, intentionally or unintentionally, to disregard the Panglong political legacy with vague “in accordance with the outcomes of political dialogue” statement, which could be anything less than the ethnic and democratic rights enshrined in the Panglong treaty. The diversified seven divisions/regions from one single entity “Burma Proper” created by the military regime, in 1974 Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) Constitution, presumably, to off set the veto power of non-Burman ethnic states, should the country become federal in the future; and implementation of a unitary system in BSPP and Military-drafted 2008 Constitutions were promulgated with aimed intention, to subordinate the non-Burmans ethnic nationalities under Burman-dominated regimes to come.
Conceptual difference on issue of armed conflict
As the name is NCA most clauses are concerned with ceasefire arrangement and rightly so. The hardest task seems to be drawing demarcation lines, to separate the respective confronting forces to a distance, so that actual ceasefire could be maintained.
The frequent armed clashes that have occurred even with those that the regime has signed union -level ceasefire agreement, like Shan State Army (SSA) South and Shan State Army (SSA) North, not to mention with the KIA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) that the regime still has not signed ceasefire, is due to the implementation of territorial gain and cleansing policy of the regime.
While the regime views its activities as trying to protect the country’s sovereignty, the EAOs see it as a war of aggression and occupation and that they are waging a just war of resistance. This conceptual difference is also a hindrance in resolving and implementing the actual ceasefire on the ground.
The original demand of the EAOs was the total withdrawal of the regime’s armies from ethnic homelands, before any peace deal could be started. But now they seem to have changed to a less rigid posture and are engaged in the peace process and the military should as well, be more flexible, by withdrawing its troops to their respective mothers’ units, or at least, to a safe distance without fuss. After all, these armed conflicts are occurring in ethnic homelands and the Burma army is conducting occupation offensives and not EAOs raiding or occupying Burma proper or Burmese heartland. Besides, the claim of sovereignty monopoly by the regime have never been accepted by the ethnic nationalities and all along maintained that it is a shared-sovereign, which the successive, Burman-dominated regime have hijacked and robbed them of their birthright legacy.
On top of this, the EAOs’ desire to include military code of conduct (CoC), Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), all-inclusive signing of NCA by all EAOs, and prior implementation of actual ceasefire on the ground, before ratifying the NCA draft.
Core principle issues swept under the carpet
But the most formidable task that has been swept under the carpet, with the reason of first signing the easily agreed parts and move on to harder agenda later, might be a smart approach, especially if practiced in personal and corporate conflict settings. But ethnic conflict, which stems from the basis of union formation between major ethnic groups, pertaining contractual obligation and corresponding violations of the treaty – Panglong Agreement or Accord – is something, much bigger and more sophisticated, to apply with such conflict resolution approach. For it has something to do with violation of contractual obligation, between states, and not just a household dispute, or mere internal conflict, that has to be settled between kinship. We should all be reminded that the Panglong Agreement involved, at least four political entities – Burma Proper, Federated Shan States, Kachin Hills and Chin Hills- that have previously nothing much to do with each other, but coming together voluntarily to achieve speedy independence from the British, through legally binding political contract, and form a new political entity, the Union of Burma, in 1947-48.
Originally, the NCCT position has been to at least secure a minimum commitment of national state-based federal setup, before signing the NCA. But the latest 5th NCA draft doesn’t include any of the Panglong political legacy and thus, it could be said that the NCCT has cut the preliminary deal, which would discussed about the political system in a later political dialogue phase, without even insisting to include the Panglong political legacy.
And as such, the discussion of Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) and Political Dialogue (PD) phases will be looking at the core issues of political system based on federalism and the reformation of the Burma Army. In other words, it would be the tackling the issue of “constitutional amendment or rewriting” directly or indirectly again, for it is this political settlement or decision made here that will determine, whether the peace process will succeed or fail. To put it differently, it will be the contest between the installing of genuine federalism in a true sense, spelled out by the ethnic nationalities and the watered down, consideration of Burman-dominated, unitary system with some federalism trappings, if the military mode of thinking all along and its recent statements on systemic governance are to be taken as indications.
As it now stands, the future and real political fight will not be avoidable, even if the 5th NCA could be ratified, as expected by the Thein Sein regime, but seems quite skeptical, from the part of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor
A source close to the district office said that local officials were fearful of accepting the complaint because it was linked to the military.
The incident happened on April 17, but the girl’s family had been too scared to file a complaint until April 22.
A local news source said that the incident occurred at about 6:00 pm on April 17 in Kong Kon village, Dong Nao tract, 13 kilometers south of Loi Lem district.
The 14-year-old girl, daughter of Khun Nai and Nang Kham (not their real names), was staying at her house when Lance Corporal Myint Thien attacked her, he said.
LCpl. Myint Thein is a soldier from Loi Lem-based LIB 513 led by Maj. Aung Myint Thu and Capt. Kyaw Myint Niang.
He tore her shirt and tried to rape her, according to the local news source, but fled when the girl’s parents heard their daughter’s screams and confronted him. Her parents were able to arrest him with the help of their neighbors.
After the incident, Maj. Aung Myint Thu said the soldier would be punished for the incident, but villagers were dissatisfied that justice would be served.
After failing to get any response from the military, the parents and other villagers went to the district administration office on April 22 to file a complaint, but it was not accepted.
Naypyitaw’s reaction was also understandable. It had reportedly protested against the inclusion of three EAOs currently engaged in heavy fighting with the Burma Army: AA, MNDAA and PSLF/TNLA. (see attachment)
The Wa spokesman U Aung Myint aka Li Zhulie no doubt did his best to answer these questions. It wasn’t his fault that his answers failed to convince anyone.
The inevitable new question thus comes up.
What’s behind the Wa-Kachin-Mongla organizers’ decision to host such a conference? Or rather who? And more inevitably, was it China?
There are several indicators, according to observers:
- China, in 1994, had pressured the KIO to conclude a ceasefire with the then military government of Burma. Now, it no longer does.
- The same goes for the MNDAA, better known as Kokang Army, led by Peng Jiasheng that the Burma Army has yet to defeat after more than 2 months of fighting.
- The Chinese special envoy Wang Yingfan, during the 8 day marathon Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) negotiations, had tirelessly tried to lobby the government’s negotiators to put the Kokang issue on the agenda, only to be rejected by them.
The result was that although several nations had welcomed the successful completion of the NCA draft, China was not among them.
- The UWSA is also oddly acting out of style. In the past, it had always done its best to avoid confrontations with the government. Even when there were credible reports of clashes between the two sides, it had always disclaimed them. But now it doesn’t seem to care about Naypyitaw’s outcry against the inclusion of the AA, MNDAA and TNLA in the conference.
- Those that have been invited are all based along the Chinese and Thai borders. On the other hand, those on the Indian side, except for the AA that is headquartered on the Chinese border with the KIO, are invited. Notably the Chin National Front (CNF) of Chin State that shares the border with India’s Mizoram is unabashedly left out.
Clearly, Beijing’s aim is not against the EAOs signing the NCA. But it appears to be against Naypyitaw leaving out any groups, especially those that are based along the Sino- Burmese border.
It is also obviously concerned that if the conflict is allowed to go on, international intervention may be coming, the last thing it wants.
The best solution that will benefit all those concerned therefore appears to be the inclusion of all EAOs, as suggested not only by China but by all the EAOs.
Finally, whatever the conclusions are here, the upcoming Panghsang conference, 1-3 May, will be worth keeping an eye on.
Non-NCCT members, are the UWSA, the Mongla group and Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), and groups that the government refuses to acknowledge as participants in the nationwide ceasefire process are Arakan Army (AA) and the Kokang‘s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). Both parties, including TNLA, have been involved in heavy fighting with the Burma Army in northern Shan State in recent months.
In this sense, the NCCT called meeting, involving all members still need to take place, so that EAO leaders could decide upon the fate of NCA draft, which would either lead to ratifying it with or without alteration, from the part of the ethnic leaders, or call another round of discussion between Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) and NCCT to finalize the latest draft, should there be additional clauses, from the ethnic point of view. Either way, the EAOs need to gather and talk about the latest draft among themselves first and foremost.
The EAO leaders past meetings were held in Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) capital Laiza and Karen National Union (KNU) controlled Lawkhila, with the military’s tacit knowledge and regime’s endorsement. However, the venue of the upcoming meeting is still not decided, at this writing.
Since logistics is the most important factor to hold such meeting, involving EAOs spreading all over the country, this has to be in place or arranged, so that it could materialized. The past meetings were made possible, due to the regime’s endorsement and help, regarding transportation of the ethnic leaders to the meeting destination. During that period, the relationship between the Tatmadaw and the EAOs were quite good, if not excellent, and it had yielded to the regime’s desire. But these days, the relationship is worsening, especially with the MNDAA, KIA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and AA, with offensives and daily armed clashes going on in northern Shan State and Kachin State. Apart from that, the military has openly voiced its displeasure for the invitation of MNDAA, TNLA and AA by the UWSA, which the regime doesn’t acknowledge as its negotiation partners. It even issued warning, invoking paragraph 17/1, association with illegal organizations act, and threatening to arrest those who might be involved. This means, it could arrest all EAO members and those who support them anytime, when they pass through the military controlled areas. And this means, it could block the movement of the ethnic leaders and could sabotage the meeting, whenever it chooses to do so.
Even though the up-coming Panhgsang meeting will be able to be convened, presumably with the participation of MNDAA, TNLA and AA, due to the favorable geographical location of the Wa headquarters, other locations like Laiza and Lawkhila will become problematic to reach, which have to make use of Tatmadaw controlled routes, without its willingness to endorse the free passage for all EAO leaders.
As such, the regime and as well, the military should view the peace process as a whole package for the betterment of the country, of which the EAOs meeting is also part and parcel of the whole undertaking; and allows smooth logistics flow to make the NCA deliberation of the ethnic leaders possible.
And given that the Thein Sein regime’s insistence and eagerness to proceed by its tightly scheduled plan, to start political dialogue before the general elections, slated to be held in November, there is no time to lose, from the part of the government. It will certainly be an embarrassment, if the military were to lay stones on the road peace process for any reason, whatsoever.
Having said that, the military should now rethink its rigid posture, abandon its territorial gain offensives and opt for cooperation, especially where the forth-coming Ethnic Leaders’ Summit is concerned.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor
Meanwhile the number of civilians that have fled the killing zone on the Sino-Burmese border is somewhere between 50,000-90,000.
The number however is less important. The point is more about the citizens of Burma who are giving up their lives to satisfy the whims of their leaders. On the contrary, if the war were fought only between the said leaders themselves in a duel without involving their soldiers and people, it would be more preferable.
The message here is especially for the government and its armed forces. Because all the trouble in the country today could have been avoided if they were more open to reason.
And also because it was the President himself who told his Kachin visitors on 16 March, according to U Hla Maung Shwe, Myanmar Peace Center’s special advisor: Anyone killed on the battlefield—whoever they are—is a loss to the country. These words should apply to those killed and wounded in the Kokang battlefield too.
Sun Zi (BC 551-467), the universally respected author of the Art of War, has counseled:
A government should not mobilize an army out of anger
Military leaders should not provoke war out of wrath
Act when it is beneficial, desist if it is not
Anger can revert to joy
Wrath can revert to delight
But a country destroyed cannot be restored to existence
And the dead cannot be restored to life
Therefore an enlightened government is careful about this
A good military leadership is alert to this
This is the way to secure a nation and keep the armed forces whole
(The Art of War, Chapter 12)
Master Sun’s master Lao Zi is even more explicit:
Weapons are instruments of fear
They are not a wise man’s tools
He uses them only when he has no choice
Peace and quiet are dear to his heart
And victory no cause for rejoicing
When many people are being killed
They should be mourned in heartfelt sorrow
That is why a victory must be observed like a funeral.
(Dao De Jing, Chapter 31)
A good soldier is not violent
A good fighter is not angry
A good winner is not vengeful
What is more, how can a peace process that excludes some of the active armed movements inspire confidence even from those who have signed ceasefire agreements? They are certain to count themselves as the next possible targets of the government and its armed forces and focus more on preparations for war than for peace.
At stake is the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) which was successfully drafted on 31 March. At stake is the peace that the country has been deprived of for so long.
It is therefore hoped both the President and Commander-in-Chief will conduct a critical review of the peace process and the war in Kokang—together, not seprately—and decide on an enlightened course of action that will benefit both themselves and the country.
The highlight of the day is the visit by the President himself “to pull a propaganda coup”, according to his opponents.
“I was watching the TV reportage last evening and was so happy that I couldn’t go to sleep,” he tells us.
All right, I say to myself. This may a publicity stunt. But you have to concede that it is also the culmination of his offer given 3 years and 7 months ago. What would have happened to him if there weren’t this day for him to make the most of?
A signing ceremony to mark the completion of the NCA drafting is presided over by him. Which is later criticized by some. “You hadn’t finished reviewing your draft, and you signed it?” asks an incredulous scholar who is considered an authority on peace processes around the world. “That is a very risky way of doing things.”
Later in the day, U Aung Min has time to chat with me. “Are you happy with the draft?” is my question.
“The draft has 18 pages, 7 chapters, 33 articles and 86 clauses. But three guarantees stand out among them: That this country will be federal, that there will be exemption from Unlawful Association Act, and that there will be political dialogue. What more could I ask for?”
He ends his reply with his favorite passage from one of Sai Kham Leik’s greatest hits:
Making what is easy difficult
That is the way of the world
I know what he means. He had wanted a shorter NCA, a one-page document, to be able to start the Political Dialogue as soon as possible. But the peace process that the President and himself had spawned also happens to have a life of its own which either has little control.
So what comes nect?
According to the draft NCA, the roadmap to peace has 7 steps:
- Signing of the NCA
- Negotiations/Adoption of the Framework
- Launch of Political Dialogue
- Holding of Union Peace Conference
- Signing of Union Peace Accord (UPA)
- Ratification by the Union Assembly
- Implementation of the NCA
There is also the time factor. The President has promised with his Deed of Commitment (DOC) on 12 February the political dialogue will be inaugurated before the elections in November. Which means there are only 5 months to complete the first 3 steps:
April-May – Signing of NCA
June-July – Agreement of Framework
August – Political dialogue launched
September-October – Election Campaign
November – General Elections
If all goes according to plan, work committees will be formed to work on the dialogue topics before a new legislature and a new government are installed by March 2016.
Even so, the completion of the NCA draft has only managed to chop one of the Hydra’s heads. Already two more has emerged: Getting the Yes from each and every one of the EAOs concerned and getting it signed. And it will only be the end of the first step.
Unless we have a firebrand and someone like Iolaus to hold it and use it, our Herculeses are going to have a hard time beating our 7 headed Hydra. At least that is how it looks to me.
So after an 8-day suspense, we are all back. My worries, fortunately, have not taken shape. The 7th NCA meeting, Party two, is on. The magic is still there.
It begins with a wish-well message from the Union Assembly Speaker Thura Shwe Mann. Then the two sides are off to tackle their 4 remaining contentious points.
- On the recruitment issue, the NCCT proposes that it will be dealt with “in accordance with the progress in the implementation of the NCA and the security related reintegration,” which is accepted by the UPWC
- On the “Three National Causes” issue, the UPWC proposes that “matters that are detrimental to (them) will be avoided,” which in turn is accepted by the NCCT.
- On the “ethnic representatives” issue, the two sides are unable to find common ground, but the NCCT is comforted (if not satisfied) by the guarantee from the UPWC that none from the government-controlled Border Guard Forces/People’s Militia Forces will be selected as ethnic representatives
- On the Interim Arrangement issue, the UPWC, reportedly with the green light from Naypyitaw, cut short the debate by accepting clauses proposed by the NCCT
One surprising thing about it is on the narcotics issue. The government’s initial 8 point guideline had called for cooperation against drugs, among others. But when it was brought up by the NCCT, the UPWC had rejected.
I ask U Aung Min, during the break what happened? “The UPWC was worried the EAOs would use it as an excuse to gain recruits, “he explains. “But we later decided we might have been overly suspicious.”
The day ends with the agreement to straighten out the wordings in the text tomorrow.
I hope the officials are not fooling us when they tell us there are 913 “national races”, according to the last head count which was conducted last year. Which is even more than what I had heard from the population minister U Khin Yee last February: 750.
The information comes about while we are waiting for the NCCT and the UPWC to formulate a solution to the 4 points of disagreements that will be discussed today. One of which is about having a separate “ethnic representatives” category to participate in the planned political dialogue.
“How come?” I ask. “Last year’s census was supposed to have chop down the number from 135 to something like half of it, wasn’t it?”
A UPWC member who didn’t join his fellow members into their private brainstorming session explains:
“This is how it goes. If your father is, say, a Shan and your mother, a Kachin, it means you have acquired a new identity: a Shan-Kachin. You then marry, say, a Mon and have children. They no longer bear your ethnic identity but a new one, that is Shan-Kachin-Mon. The latest figure, 913, was achieved in this way.”
If it’s true, then, somebody is obviously trying to further muddy the already murky waters, not to clear them.
Understandably, the two sides, try as they may, are not able to come up with an acceptable solution on any of the remaining major 4 points, including the following new one which is being discussed today: Interim Arrangement.
The UPWC proposes a new clause: local development programs in accordance with the requirements of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiatives (EITI). The NCCT point out while it is not against the EITI, which the country has applied for membership, what has already been agreed between the two sides in December is a different clause.
I ask what they are, while the two sides return to their private brainstorming rooms and this is the answer:
- Recognition of each EAO
- Security of each EAO
- Rule of law
- Recognition of land policy practiced in each EAO’s area of operations
“Without these, there is no guarantee for the EAO during the interim period,” says a grizzled NCCT leading member.
The day however is not without agreements. One of them is: Submission of the NCA to the Union Assembly in accordance with the procedures for ratification.
If there is a fly in the ointment today, then it is a report that comes toward the end of the day’s session after the two sides agree to meet again on 30-31 March: Burmese fighter planes attacking KIA outposts at 15:15.
According to a government report, the military was pursuing a convoy of contraband timber that was taking a passage through the KIA territory in Mansi township, Bhamo district, near the Sino-Burmese border. The KIA retorted the accusation by saying as the consignment was coming from government-controlled areas, it was just a lame excuse and just another violation of the agreement to deescalate the fighting.
Which puts many of those concerned panic-stricken. Will there be a 7th NCA meeting, part two at all?
Which includes myself, for I have learned to respect and admire negotiators on both sides for their patience, tolerance and reason.
But as things prove later, all of us who hanker for peace are not going to be disappointed. At least on that score.