Thein Sein should wrestle back sovereignty from the military

The seventh round of peace talks between Nationwide Ceasefire Negotiating Team (NCCT) and Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC), after six days of deliberation, from 17 to 22 March, made an abrupt recess and would continue on 30 March, according to the government and NCCT sources.
The sequence or road map according to Salai Liang Hmung of NCCT, who was interviewed by RFA on 23 March, will be the signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), drafting of Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD), convening Political Dialogue (PD), calling for a Union Conference to reflect the issues pinpointed by PD, signing of Union Accord, tabling for the endorsement of the Parliament, and finally implementation of the agreed Union Accord.

He further said in the interview that some sticky points like recruitment of the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) will be discussed at the stage of PD, on how Security Sector Reform (SSR) and Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) should be implemented. The government side also wanted to include representatives of non-Burman ethnic groups -Taing Yin Tha – at the PD phase, but when asked for specification it still cannot answer. He said the NCCT would normally welcome the move for as an umbrella organization of the ethnic groups, it would be a plus point, but need to know who will represent the government endorsed group.

As the peace talks seem to be making progress, the Burma Army (BA) started its offensive on a lightly guarded Kachin Independence Army (KIA) position in Kachin state.

La Nan, spokesperson of the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), told DVB on Sunday that Kachin outposts in Mansi Township between the villages of Madan Yang and Kai Hteik were bombed by two fighter jets at 3:15pm on 22 March following an armed clash nearby the day before.

La Nan, made a remark to VOA on the following Monday the intention of the BA latest assault, as follows:

“Given the fact that we were attacked whenever we held talks in the past, [the Myanmar military] appears to be taking advantage of the current talks in Yangon by invading our small bases. But, the attack hasn’t seemed to disrupt the peace talks.”

The government, according to RFA report of 22 March, said that the military operations were aimed at stopping illegal logging and transportation to China through Sagaing Division, also known as Sagaing Region. The KIA, however, rejected it by saying that their camps are not on the smuggling route.

It seems the BA is escalating its military offensives in Shan and Kachin states, according to TNLA, KIA and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) sources. While Kokang offensive by the BA is meant to prove its military supremacy position and face-saving undertaking to its tarnished ego for losing so many combatants on its side, the recent attacks on KIA position is aimed at gaining more occupation areas and influence, prior to political bargaining at the PD phase.

Nobody knows for how long this BA posture of  “state within a state”, will continue, conducting its own affairs, mostly not in line, or even against,  the policy of quasi-civilian government of Thein Sein, which from the outset seems to be trying hard to achieve the signing of NCA.

Janet Benshoof, in her article titled “Its time for international community to address Burma’s constitution” argued that the international community acts as if development and engagement alone can secure a democratic future for Burma.  She said that this neither serves the people of Burma nor advances the global security sought by the international community.

This fallacy is that justice, democracy, and rule of law can be established in Burma notwithstanding the fact that the 2008 constitution establishing the “Republic of the Union of Myanmar” grants the “Defense Services,” under Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, complete and total legal autonomy over its own affairs, as well as immunity for its actions, however criminal or corrupt. The truth is actually quite simple: unless and until the military is placed under civilian control through constitutional amendment, talk of democracy and rule of law in Burma is just that, talk.

A nation’s constitution is usually considered to be a quintessential exercise of sovereignty, and not typically a matter for international action, but just who has sovereign power in Burma? The legal definition of “sovereignty” or of a “sovereign” state requires that the state have complete legal authority over the military and over the constitutional amendment processes. In this case, the “Republic of the Union of Myanmar” does not meet the standard of a sovereign state. (Source: Janet Benshoof – DVB 20 February 2013)

If this is so, Thein Sein regime would need to wrestle back its sovereignty and amend the constitution according to the aspirations of all ethnic groups residing within the boundary of Burma. It can’t possibly allow the BA to sabotage the peace process whenever it feels like it. Thein Sein’s recent interview with the BBC and endorsement of BA leading the country through with its “disciplined democracy” is not going to put his regime in a good stead.

Many were openly amazed and even questioned the “self-appointed savior of the nation and champion of democratization process” posture of the military, when the successive military regimes, starting from 1962 military coup, have been the culprit that destroyed the nascent democracy.  The benefit of doubts that Thein Sein might be enjoying as a reformer is fading fast, with such statements and that he might be playing “good cop, bad cop” scenario, and in fact working for the military clique  to which he also belongs, is gaining more currency with each passing day.

To top this doubtfulness, the Union Peace-making Central Committee (UPCC) is almost identical with National Defense and Security Council (NDSC), dominated by the military. In the UPCC setup, Attorney General and President’s Office Secretary were inserted, while Minister of  Foreign Affairs was omitted, which is included in the NDSC line up. However, the members count of eleven is maintained. UPCC makes negotiation policy and decision for UPWC, which negotiates with its counterpart, the NCCT.

Thus, it is of course, not at all clear whether the President is functioning within the capacity of a head of state or leading the NDSC military-dominated setup, when conducting peace negotiation with the EAOs.

According to Myanmar Times report on 23 March, NCCT said it did not have the authority to sign a national ceasefire agreement and that the ethnic groups’ leaders, would call a conference of the armed groups to decide on the matter.

The report said that the reluctance of the EAOs might be the lack of trust.

U Aye Maung, chair of the Rakhine National Party, said: “It seems that ethnic armed groups are taking their time to decide, because [the government] talks peace on the table and fights on the ground.”

“If the Tatmatdaw declared it wouldn’t make any military offensives for maybe one month or two or three weeks and invited all ethnics for political dialogue, then I believe that all would … certainly join the dialogue.”

In the same vein, Roland Watson, who runs “Dictator Watch” website, in his recent article “Burma NCA negotiation update 2” writes:

“In conflict ceasefire negotiations all around the world, if one side attacks again and again, there is – normally, and rightly – no possibility of a ceasefire. For the side being attacked, to agree to any deal is a surrender – to accepting the other side’s right to attack, and even more to signing because the other side has attacked.”

Whatever the case, the issues of federalism, federal union army formation and anything to do with structural change of political system boils down to the need of “constitutional amendment”, or should we call it “constitutional debacle”, which have plagued the country since the independence from the British, in 1948.

This ongoing peace talks might be the best chance to achieve viable solution to this decades-old ethnic conflict. And to do it, the regime only needs to show “political will” by reining in the unruly military, stop the absurdity of lionizing it as a savior, democratic crusader, and should instead listen to the voice of the people and act accordingly. Otherwise, the regime runs the risk of going down the drain for being “birds of the same feather that flock together”.

The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor

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Kokang's legitimate negotiation stance should be accepted

As Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) and Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) started to meet again on 17 March, for the seventh round of peace talks, aided by the historical meeting between the Kachin Independence Organization/ Army (KIO/KIA) delegation with the President and Commander-in-Chief at Naypyitaw prior to the peace negotiation, fierce Burma Army offensive on Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) goes on unabated.

The MNDAA offensive, which has started out on 9 February, has now turned into a prolonged defensive nature and it seems the government troops are having a hard time trying to dislodge the Kokang fighters and their allies Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), which have openly declared that they are fighting along side against the Burma Army. KIA, Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Mong La were also accused of giving a helping hand to MNDAA by the the government, but all denied to be involved in the Kokang fighting.

The government side maintains that the MNDAA started the fight and it is not going to give the party the legitimacy of a negotiation partner, but only determined to flush out it fighting forces, annihilate or swing them to surrender.

The MNDAA sees its offensive to retake the Kokang area as its home coming to reclaim its legitimate right back, which the Burmese military has unfairly robbed from MNDAA. The then military regime, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), sided with Peng Jaisheng's deputy and chased him out, as he declined to accept the military demand to come under Border Guard Force (BGF) program. His deputy yielded to the Burmese military demand and was eventually made the ruler of the Kokang Special Administrative Area.

According to 19 March VOA report, Myat Htun Lin, MNDAA spokesman made it plain that its recent military operations are due to Burma Army's 2009 military actions against it, using various false accusations.

The then military regime accused MNDAA with weapon production and drug trafficking as pretext to chase Peng Jaisheng and its MNDAA out of Kokang area.

It was speculated that the MNDAA, in fact,  only wants to establish its legitimate political presence, within the mold of NCCT and United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) to bargain for its rights of self-determination. But with the Burma Army's ego badly hurt for losing so many combatants on its side, it is highly unlikely that the UPWC will accept MNDAA as negotiation partner for now.

Hla Maung Shwe, senior member of UPWC, recently said in an interview that the directive of Union Peace-making Central Committee (UPCC) doesn't include MNDAA, although NCCT insists that it is one of its member.

The same VOA report, Burmese Section, pinpoints the frustration of MNDAA, aired by its spokesman Myat Htun Lin, when he said: “ I couldn't understand anymore. This is like waging a defensive war against foreign invasion, using heavy weapons, fighter bombers, tanks and all. I've already said that we cannot accept this for we Kokang people are citizens and indigenous of the Union of Burma and also geographically a part of Burma, which is accepted by all.”

Regarding the Kokang conflict,  Naing Han Thar, chair of the NCCT, said in his opening remarks at the start of the seventh round of formal talks on a draft ceasefire in Rangoon, “In order to implement genuine and lasting peace, at the talks we need to discuss the issues happening in Kachin State, Palaung region and Kokang region to decrease tensions,”  according to Myanmar Times  report of 18 March.

He further elaborates:“We believe we will get eternal peace if we can hold all-inclusive political dialogue that includes all ethnic armed groups, after signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement.”
Meanwhile, TNLA released a statement pointing out that the increased military offensives in Kokang and Palaung areas are in no way conducive or beneficial to the ongoing peace talks in Rangoon and questions the sincerity of the government.

With the poisoned China-Burma relationship, due to Burma's warplane accidentally bombing the Lincang county of Yunan Province, killing five Chinese and wounding eight of them, the Kokang conflict has turned into an international issue. While talks of compensation, investigation, apologies and punishment of the responsible parties are on the Chinese government agendas, the real pressing, core problem is on how to resolve the border conflict and at the same time. maintain friendly relationship between the two countries.

The priority of the Chinese is to restore peace and normalcy along the border and to protect its vast economic interest within Burma. But this doesn't mean that China is going to dump MNDAA or the people of Kokang and side with the Burmese regime. This means the regime needs to employ a more accommodating political settlement through negotiation and not waging a total annihilation war, just to satisfy its ego, against Kokang and other ethnic groups along the border. For prolonged war along the border with China will, sooner or later, brings direct conflict with China, as the recent accidental bombing in Yunan shows.

For China, sealing the border or creating a border buffer zone is also not a solution, as its vast economic interest will be in jeopardy. And so it is left with the only option of pushing the warring parties to negotiate for a peaceful settlement. China has once intervened, by convening peace talks, to reduce tension between the KIA and Burma Army in 2012, when Burma Air force dropped bombs on Chinese soil in pursuit of the KIA troopers seeking sanctuary along the Chinese border.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail within the Thein Sein regime and should earnestly consider the NCCT's proposal of “all-inclusive” negotiation atmosphere, so that peace and harmony could return to Kokang and the rest of ethnic homelands.

The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor

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Wa still "undecided" about NCA meeting

The United Wa State Party/Army( UWSP/ UWSA) still has yet to decide whether or not it would attend the upcoming 7th round of meeting between the Armed resistance movements' Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team(NCCT) and the government's Union Peacemaking Work Committee(UPWC) to discuss the 5th draft of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement(NCA) as an observer, according to its spokesman.

Speaking to SHAN this morning, U Aung Myint aka Li Julieh, said the party has been holding its annual meeting which is expected to last until 17 March, which coincides with the first day of the NCCT-UPWC meeting. Altogether 605 top members are gathered in Panghsang, the Wa capital on the Sino-Burmese border. " We are yet to decide whether or not we should go," he said.

The group's closest ally, the National Democratic Alliance Army(NDAA), whose headquarters is located southeast, meanwhile, told SHAN it had already chosen two representatives for the NCA meeting. "We are only waiting for Panghsang's decision," an NDAA official was quoted as saying." If they go,we go."

The two groups have been undergoing a tense relationship with Naypyitaw since the latter's accusation that they had been aiding and abetting the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army(MNDAA) Kokang group that has been at war with the Burma Army since 9 February.

Meanwhile many of the NCCT members are on their way to the former capital. The two sides,apart from the NCA, are scheduled to discuss reduction of conflicts, military Code of Conduct and joint monitoring mechanisms. " Now we're really getting down to business," said a member on condition of anonymity.

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When who came last becomes first

There are several things I had been wondering throughout my struggle through life. And one of them was why Malaysia, or Malaya as it was known before, wasn’t granted Independence at the same time  like India and Burma, if the British really were in such a hurry to get rid of their colonies after World War Ⅱ.

Of course, I could have found out the answer if I had just persisted. However I was so busy doing several things at the same time that I felt lazy to launch a full inquiry. The outcome: I didn’t find out any answers.

The only thing Shans know about Malaya/Malaysia is that their Federated Shan States (1922-1947), their first taste of federalism, came into being after a study trip to Federated Malay States (1895-1946).

“Please don’t waste your breath on us by trying to preach us about federalism,” U Tun Pay, the late prominent Shan politician, was reported as saying, in response to a statement made by a Burman leader who was apparently trying to convince Shan counterparts that there were better ways than secession to resolve differences between the Burmans and the non-Burmans. “We know by our own experience how acceptable it is to us. What you should do instead is to go and teach the generals who seem to be having a cock-eyed idea about federalism.”

In 1945, the British emerged from the World War, a victor but an economically spent one. The new Labor government led by Clement Atlee, despite protests by the Conservatives like Winston Churchill, who won the war but lost the elections nevertheless, decided to grant independence to her colonies, whether or not they were ready to become their own masters.

In the case of Burma, many, including old hands of Burma, have blamed London for the slapdashery that, according to them, have resulted in chaos and war for more than 60 years.

However, with Malaya/Malaysia, even the Labor government had taken its time. What happened?

Dr Paul Lim

According to Dr Paul Lim, who visited Chiangmai, 10-12 March, and who knew the country well, having lived there, the answer was simple. “It was Malaya’s rubber and tin industries that had kept the British economy afloat,” he told his listeners from Burma. “That’s why even Labor refused to let it go, at least not right away.”

I then looked up in D.G.E. Hall’s History of Southeast Asia (1955) and found his answer, though short, made sense.

Tin and rubber together had accounted for 86% of the country’s exports. Earnings were $519 million in 1948 and $1.195 billion two years later. And the British owned tin mines alone accounted for two-thirds of the production.

The outcome: Independence to Malaysia came only in 1957, 9 years after Burma. And compared to Burma, its problems are, according to one commentator, pint-sized.

With Burma, the peace process initiated by President Thein Sein, seems to be the last hope. Let us therefore support and encourage the peacemakers on both sides to do better and faster, instead of blaming one side against the other(s), so the vicious circle, on rather the cycle, ends soon and we can catch up with the likes of Malaysia.

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Fighting in Kokang and Kachin State Citing the recent heavy fighting in Kokang, northern Shan State, and continued clashes in Kachin State, some analysts/observers have concluded that the peace process in Myanmar is dead. How valid is this conclusion and what are the prospects for peace in Myanmar?  

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2015 elections: How tigers can make room for each other

Yes, many Shans are worried about the two tiger parties contesting the November general elections.

Officially, the 26 year old Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), known as the Tiger Head for its logo, is waiting for the amendments of the 2008 constitution before any decision to enter or not enter the polls could be made. But some leading members are already pushing for Yes, as the number of MPs defecting from the 5 year old Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), better known as the White Tiger for its logo, swells up.

During the October meeting between the two sides, both had rejected the overwhelming calls for a merger, saying there was little time for preparations before the elections. They could only consider it after, not before, them.

That was a big disappointment for the people everywhere. “At first, they said they would unite if it’s the wish of the people,” one reader complained to SHAN. “Then after more than 3,600 monks and people from 52 townships presented a signed petition, they are giving us this excuse. I’ve started to wonder whether each is working for his/her own party or for the people”.

However, a further disappointment seems to be in order, because a number of hotheads from both sides are pressing for a no-holds-barred competition. “It’s democracy,” one fumed. “Why should we be restricted from doing things we want to?”

The answer is straight and simple: Neither is going to win when each ends up being a spoiler for the other. And more.

“I voted in 1990,” said a frustrated middle-aged lady. “I voted in 2010 too. But I think I’ll vote No to both this time, and clap my hands for the Peacock (National League for Democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi) or the Lion (the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party), because it’ll be one of them that’s going to win.”

She was just short of adding, “It’ll serve them right,” but, with all her vehemence, she didn’t need to.

The 2012 by-election results in northern is chosen here as a prime example, because, unlike the 2010 elections, it was known as one with less irregularities.

There were 5 parties contesting for the Amyotha Hluttaw (National Assembly) seat vacated by Sai Mawk Kham, USDP, who became Vice President. And the results are as follows:

Party Candidates Votes Percentage Difference
SNDP Sai Sam Min 47,226 29.1% 1,526 votes
NLD Sai Myint Maung 45,700 28.1% 480 votes
USDP Nang Keng Phawng Tip 45,220 27.8%
KDUP Luo Xingguang 17,894 11.0%
UNDP Yaw Thup 6,360 3.9%
Total 162,400

It was a close call for Sai Sam Min. He was the least well known among the top three. Sai Myint Maung, also a Shan, was a lawyer who had helped several people in their legal cases. He was also the winner during the 1990 elections. Nang Keng Phawng Tip, another Shan, meanwhile, was a practicing physician and was also active in women’s affairs.

The two had lost to the SNDP candidate for no reason other than that both were seen as working for Burman-dominated parties, but Sai Sam Min wasn’t, according to local sources.

But suppose the same thing were to take place in November, the only difference being there’ll be two Shan parties, instead of one, scrambling over each other for the one seat, the result would be obvious. As the former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra said to the rival Democratic Party, after votes were split between its two competing leaders, “Want to become a government? Wait for the next life, when the sun is high up in the sky.”

But there are ways to remedy this, only if both parties are willing to listen to cooler heads and place the interests of the state above one’s own party:

One is already been a somewhat worn-out suggestion: For the two parties to avoid contesting the same constituencies. It still deserves consideration nevertheless.

The other is more strategic:
  • The Tiger Head wants to change the constitution. So why not contest the Lower House and Upper House seats (Lower House: 55 seats, Upper House: 12 seats)?
  • As for the White Tiger, it has already announced it is aiming for the state government house. So why not contest the State Assembly seats (110 seats in all) and leave the Upper and Lower House to the Tiger Head?

That way, both will win. What’s more, the people of Shan State will win. What is more important than that: beating others together or beating each other?


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STALLED PEACE TALKS: Acknowledging interethnic preconceptions paradigms a way out?

The Kokang's rude awakening, on 9 February, has disturbed the normally quite tranquil landscape and sent tremendous ripples, in today's ethnic political arena. While the nature of inter-ethnic conflicts, accusation of waging proxy aggression war from neighboring country, or a personal vendetta of a formerly disposed don, staging a specultacular comeback are said to be the reasons behind this violent outbreak of war, no single reason is comprehensive enough to explain the abrupt explosive situation that has unfold, with vengeance. The truth, however, is likely to be a mixture of all the facts mentioned above.

The first accusation from the regime is that Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) has employed foreign mercenaries from mainland China and also conducting the offensives with the help of Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Shan State Army (SSA)North, Ta-ang National Liberation Front (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), United Wa State Army (UWSA) and MongLa, also known as National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) and not to be confused with MNDAA. The second allegation is the infringement of Burma's sovereignty and territorial integrity, with the help of foreigners across the border and collaboration with the said ethnic resistance forces, which in effect means, abettors of the foreign power. This in turn makes them the enemies of the state, which must be dealt with decisively.

As the war in northern Shan State of Kokang area drags on, with little likelihood to forcefully end the MNDAA and its allies military activities, the ensuing armed conflict would likely continue within Kokang area and beyond. Peng Jiasheng's home coming would be a prolonged one, even though the Union Solidarity and Development Party- Military (USDP-Military) regime is determined to flush him and MNDAA out of the area.

DVB reported, on 6 March, that the MNDAA claims that the number of its troops has risen to around 5,000 since conflict reignited with Burmese government forces on 9 February. According to the report, Tun Myat Linn, the spokesperson for the Kokang rebel militia, said that about a thousand civilians from the local ethnic Kokang population in northeastern Shan State have signed up into its ranks in the past few weeks.

“The people support us and they want to join with us, because they have a sense of duty to protect their people and their homeland,” he told DVB.

And so the regime's accusation that it is not against the people of Kokang, but with drugs traffickers and criminals that are out to overthrow the legitimately elected self-administrative body of Kokang, holds no more truth, if the swelling of MNDAA ranks is to be taken as a popular uprising indication.

As Kokang's violent outbreak, started out by MNDAA offensive, is part and parcel of the whole ethnic conflict spectrum, and the regime's attempt to portray it as a separate incident, having to do with some narcotic trafficking gangs disturbing normalcy, is not at all convincing. Instead, the regime should start to entertain the idea to resolve the interethnic conflict in a holistic manner and not just “piecemeal” solution, which will bring us nowhere. We should all be reminded that Peng Jiasheng was a respectable national race leader until 2009 for the military regime and only falls out of grace, becomes drug trafficking menace, all of a sudden again, when he refused to become part of the military's Border Guard Force (BGF) plan.

The problem with the successive military dominated regimes have been the refusal to acknowledge the legitimate ethnic rights of self-determination, and instead tend to portray it as developmental and poverty reduction issues, rightly or wrongly. In short, the regimes have been downplaying the aspirations of non-Burman ethnic groups and refused to even accept that ethnic conflict exists and it is the main core problem that has to be resolved, if Burma is to get out of the conflict mode and progress further.

According to Wsevolod W. Isajiw, in his research titled “Approaches to ethnic conflict resolution: paradigms and principles”, he writes:

Three types of such preconceptions are singled out: the preconception of ethnic groups as pre-modern, the self-conception of the majority group in society as non-ethnic and the often-assumed “command” character of the mandate carried out by appointed administrators dealing with minority ethnic groups. These preconceptions have contributed to ineffectiveness of efforts at interethnic conflict resolution in as much as they have excluded the principle of identity recognition, regarded here as a basic metaprinciple of interethnic relations.

Let us ponder a bit more on Wsevolod W. Isajiw's three types of preconceptions, in relation to Burma's interethnic conflicts.

The traditional preconception of ethnic groups, together with ethnic upsurge and interethnic conflicts have been there for as long as humanity exists and the tendency would likely continue for foreseeable future. According to  Wsevolod W. Isajiw's findings “researchers have identified 575 ethnic groups as being actual or potential nation-states, and one has estimated that there are as many as 3,000 -5,000 “nations” in the world.”

And as such, there is little the social scientists could do to curb the rising tendency, but to devise a compromised, co-habitation model, acceptable to all parties. But Burma's interethnic conflicts situation could be seen as fortunate, or a blessing in disguise, for most Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) have already abandon their total independence posture and have opted for federalism to resolve the conflict. The initiative now lies with the quasi-civilian regime of Thein Sein and to what extend political accommodation could be meted out.

If one compares the self-conception of the majority group situation to Burma's ethnic conflict spectrum, the Bama or Burman majority group has indeed assumed itself as a non-ethnic society and has taken over the mantle of the British colonial master, from the period of independence to this very day. Bama has never has a state of its own, but instead, as Burma Proper, usurped the powers of the union, at the expense of all the non-Burman ethnic states. In other words, Burma Proper refusal to become a state,  as all the other states within the union, effectively block the realization of federal union in a true sense. And as a result, military's political power monopoly continues to be the order of the day, even though the setting now might suggest it is already a quasi-civilian government.

Exclusion of ethnic identity recognition, which is a basic principle, is what we are witnessing today. Successive military-dominated regimes often pay lip-service regarding the ethnic identities, but failed to recognize them as equals, with corresponding rights that the ethnic groups are entitled to enjoy. In other words, as a result, only the subordinate type of ethnic groups, without rights of self-determination, exists in today's Burma.

The biggest stumbling block, however, is the deeply rooted conceptual differences between the regime and non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

The successive military dominated regimes, including the ruling USDP-Military regime, see Burma as an existing unified nation since the reign of Anawratha (1044-1077?). As such, all other non-Burmans – Shan, Kachin, Chin , Arakanese, Mon, Karen and Karenni – are seen as minorities, which must be controlled and suppressed, lest they break up the country.

On the other hand, the non-Burmans maintain that the Union of Burma is a newly developed political, territorial entity, founded by a treaty, the Panglong Agreement, where independent territories merged together on equal basis.

Against this backdrop, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team/Union Peacemaking Working Committee (NCCT/UPWC) peace talks is scheduled to take place in Rangoon, on the 16th of this month. According to the Myanmar Peace Centre's (MPC) officials, technical team of the UPWC, this seventh round of peace talks would be a “make-it-or-break-it” event. If the former, stage after stage formula will be employed. If the latter, parallel negotiations, at the same time; that is Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and Framework (FW)/ Political Dialogue (PD) negotiations simultaneously. It is, however, not at all clear how the MPC would like to pull through the said parallel negotiation process.

The government and the EAOs have been meeting for more than two hundred times, but decisive, positive outcome is still not in sight, mainly due to pre-conceived, acquired mindset and refusal to think out of the box. And as such, the upcoming seventh round of peace talks will likely be the same.

The peace process has been going on for more than a year, employing the so-called “single text  negotiation” procedure. But the problem is that it is neither a single text nor negotiations structured according to the original framer. For example, the already agreed issues were back-tracked at will or continuously amended, apart from not even employing mediator, third party team to oversee the fairness of the process, which is crucial for positive outcomes. In short, it is single text in name only and all could see it is reaching nowhere.

The name of the game should be “win-win” oriented negotiation, which is at the heart of single text negotiation. But the situation on the ground is that while the EAOs want devolution-maximum within the genuine federal structure, the regime might just wants the opposite and give in, as little as possible, presumably within the mold of present, presidential unitary system. In other words, the regime is against any move that would make Burma Proper – now diversified as seven regions – an equal state, like all the other ethnic states.

For the EAOs and non-Burman ethnic nationalities as a whole have already made concession by abandoning their original demand for total independence and instead opted for genuine federalism. The USDP-Military regime should as well abandon its aspiration for political power monopoly and accept the fact that federalism is only possible, if all states are equal.

Refusing to acknowledge the fallacy of preconception in resolving interethnic conflicts will eventually lead to peace process failure. Thus if the regime is sincere enough, there is no other way than to rethink its failed strategy and embrace Wsevolod W. Isajiw's three types of preconceptions as guiding principles to resolve interethnic conflict earnestly.

The only way to build trust and move forward would be to accept the facts that the Bama, projecting itself as a non-ethnic society and assuming new colonial master posture has to be repealed, together with recognizing the non-Burman ethnic identities as equal negotiation partners. Apart from that the powers-that-be would need to wean itself of the ethnocentrism, better known as Burmanization, if the pre-conceived mindset is to be altered. Anything less than the said radical mindset change would never be able to produce result.

It should be clear by now that the basic theoretical concept has to be changed, so that all would be able to think out of the box. Otherwise, we will never be able to get out of the vicious circle of petty bargaining and senseless long hours debate over wordings, which won't bring us any near to resolve the interethnic conflicts.

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CSSU: A bridge for peace

If Shans have something to be proud of, this is it. On 15-17 October 2013, 8 of the groups met in Chiangmai and agreed to form the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU). The principal aim: To act as a common voice for the people of Shan State in the ongoing peace process.

CSSU meeting

The groups are:

  • Shan State Joint Action Committee (a coalition of Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army, and Shan State Militia Force)
  • Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP)
  • Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA)
  • Shan CBOs
  • Tai Youth Organization
  • Shan Lawyers Network
  • New Generation Shan State
  • Tai National Association Thailand

Since then, they have already met twice, the first time was on 2-4 October 2014, when they agreed on the 12 guiding principles:
1.)   To practice decentralized administrative system
2.)   Shan State’s sovereignty derives from its people
3.)   Resolution of political issues by political means
4.)   Equality among Shan State nationalities and protection of minority rights
5.)   Promotion of human rights and women’s rights (plus children’s rights)
6.)   Multi-party democracy
7.)   Secularism
8.)   The right to defend the security of the state
9.)   Independent judiciary
10.)Financial autonomy
11.)For all Shan State nationalities to perpetually share the good and bad times together
12.)Shan State’s natural resources, above-and underground,, above-and under water, and in space belong to the people of Shan State

The second time was on 25-27 February 2015, when they adopted the CSSU charter, the draft of which was drawn and distributed for comments and suggestions six months earlier.
The main features of the 10 chapter charter which has 22 articles can be seen as follows:
4. Criteria for membership
4.1 An organization set up by Shan State nationalities
4.2 Recognition by all CSSU member organizations
4.3 Agreement to be bound and abide by the charter and carry out the obligations of membership
5. Summit
5.1 CSSU Summit shall comprise the chair persons/presidents or the leading bodies of the member organizations
5.2 CSSU Summit
a. Shall be the supreme policy making body of the CSSU
b. Shall deliberate and take decisions on issues pertaining to the implementation of CSSU objectives and matters of importance to member organizations
c. Shall deliberate and approve the progress report by the Secretary General
e. Shall appoint the Secretary General of CSSU
5.3 CSSU Summit shall be held twice annually and hosted by the member organization holding the CSSU chair
9. Decision-making shall be based on consultation and consensus.
12. The CSSU chair shall rotate annually, based on the alphabetical order of the English names of member organization

14. The motto of CSSU is: “Common Aim, Diverse Actions”

As can be discerned, the CSSU charter is comparable to that of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The reason is simple: A permanent chair proposal was turned down by some of the members. The logical consequence therefore was having a permanent Secretary General (whose term is yet to be determined).

Peunkham Payakwong
One of the advisors to RCSS/SSA, Peunkham Payakwong , was unanimously confirmed as the first Secretary General.

The chair for the first year also went to the RCSS/SSA, as both the SNLD and the SNDP were going to have a busy year with the upcoming general elections.

Lt-Gen Yawdserk, the RCSS/SSA chair, during his closing speech, promised he would not be backing either side. “For myself and for all of us, the priority is the peace talks,” he said. “To be able to speak in one voice, we need unity and I will not do anything to impair the unity we have achieved this far.

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