Media and some optimistic leaders from Ethnic Armed Organizations-Senior Delegation (EAOs-SD) and Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) have been hailing that the recent peace talks as a success and that the finalizing and signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) is just a step away, might be a bit overwhelming positive, for at best the situation now is only a “ stalemate ”, if one would take the pains of interpreting the outcomes and remaining unresolved issues that are still left to be iron out.
The UPWC and SD came up with a joint statement, dated 24 July, that stated the meeting took place at Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), in Yangon, from 22 to 24 July; have negotiated and discussed the EAOs’ amended proposal of 31 March NCA draft; have agreed to meet again to resume the talks within the first week of August; and vowed to finalize and sign the NCA together, to achieve long-lasting peace.
According to BBC, Burmese Section, on 23 July, 10 points have been touched, of which 5 are amendments alteration of words that don't change the meaning, while the other 5 are conveniently pushed on to appendix part as meeting decisions, which means the parties may or may not touch the issues.*
The remaining 3 are all-inclusiveness of all EAOs signing the document; participation list of signatories from regime and EAOs to NCA, and list of international observers and witnesses to the NCA, that still need to be negotiated.
However, DVB on 24 July reported, in addition to the remaining 3 points above that “ security reintegration, securing endorsement of the parliament - on Union Accord -, and land use and natural resources issues ”, still need to be discussed, which the SD would talk over with the EAOs' leaders, before the NCA text could be smooth-out.
Security reintegration is taken by the regime's side as Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), which is interpreted by the EAOs as “negotiated surrender”, but the SD prefers to implement Security Sector Reform (SSR) that would facilitate the reform of the present Bama-dominated, Burma Army to become Federal Union Army. According to SHAN report of 23 July, there was a heated debate on the issue for the ethnic wanted to include SSR in the main NCA text, while the UPWC didn't see eye-to-eye with the proposal. As a result, the pending issue would be discussed again in the forthcoming meeting, probably, within the first week of August.
The EAOs have decided to leave out “reintegration” and addressed as only “security” issue. The reason is that it could either be surrender or integration of the EAOs forces into the Burma Army. And as such could become a problem in further interpretation.**
In securing the endorsement of the “Union Accord”, which might be formulated later, if the peace talks move forward and all goes well, at the parliament, the EAOs proposed to insert a paragraph, that writes: “It is decided that it means, in endorsing the Union Accord to become law, the Assembly of the Union may not in any way refuse, reject and make postponement.” This also doesn't sit well with the UPWC and needs to be ironed out in the upcoming meeting. Signing a “Union Accord” or “Pyidaungsu Accord” is the second last step, in NCA’s seven steps roadmap.
The reason the EAOs insisted upon such a clarification or definition is to outline the importance of how it considers the parliament from ethnic point of view. Although the reason was not spelled out, it is clear that they see the parliament, executive and military as a combined unit, which identifies itself with the Bama ruling clique. And as such, the said entity personifies the Bama mass, in official sense, if not popularly supported by the majority. On top of that the SD has openly declared that it doesn't accept the military-drafted 2008 Constitution. Thus, the endorsement of “Union Accord ” must be taken as a treaty between the Bama representative government and ethnic states, which resembles the Panglong Agreement of 1947, where General Aung San signed the agreement on behalf of the Bama ethnic group or Burma Proper with the ethnic nationalities.
Another unresolved issue is the interim period arrangement. Since the transition time span could be long there are things that need to be worked out in cooperation or jointly between the two negotiating parties. In this respect, the EAOs have included an issue in the NCA text, which concerns “Land use and natural resources management”. This means, the hitherto regime sole responsible area of decision will have to be shared with the EAOs.
Thus the core issue of constitutional amendment or rewriting it anew is again pushed to the forefront, that the regime is so eager to procrastinate. But the regime did pulled through the amendment voting that ended all hope of power devolution and reasonable amendment, to push the country forward, for the military had blocked all the meaningful amendment proposals with its 25% veto vote. As any proposal amendment needs to overcome the 75% voting threshold, in order to sail through the first motion in the parliament.
The DDR-SSR, securing endorsement of the parliament regarding Union Accord, and demanding joint-administration and cooperation of land use and natural resources in ethnic areas issues are aimed at achieving “shared sovereignty”, rather then just accepting the sole ownership of it by the military-dominated regime. This in turn triggered the ethnic nationalities' demand of equality, democracy and rights of self-determination, within the mold of a genuine federalism.
Another important clause in the NCA draft has also been relented by the EAOs-SD, which should be a matter of principle for the ethnic nationalities to adhere to and pushed through to obtain genuine federalism.
On 12 February 2015, “ Deed of Commitment for Peace and National Reconciliation Statement ”, a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding, was signed by four Ethnic Armed Groups, some ethnic academics, some ethnic political parties, including 29 Ethnic Affairs Ministers, the Government (led by the President and his two VPs), Hluttaw, Tatmadaw, and political parties.
The first point of the statement 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.”
The same phrase “in accordance with the outcomes of Political Dialogue” is also included in the NCA latest draft of 31 March 2015, which the EAOs failed to correct. The EAOs' leadership summit meeting at Law Khee Lah, from 2 to 9 June 2015, has accepted the phrase, as it is, even though it was rejected by many of its members. General Mutu Say Poe, Chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU), headed team, which was entrusted to rule on issues that were stalemated, reportedly decided not to alter the phrase.
When one looks at the said phrase generally, it seems quite reasonable. But if read between the lines, from the outcomes of political dialogue could mean from retaining the present presidential unitary system of governance, minimum or maximum devolution of political power within the mold of presidential unitary system to fully fledged federal union government. And by failing to buttress the demand of federalism based on national states, as envisioned by the founding forefathers of the union, in the NCA, the EAOs might have softened their stand unnecessarily, which could have far more complication than have anticipated, in future political negotiation with the regime.
The recent constitutional amendment debacle and the refusal to compromise on the NCA deliberation in Yangon indicated that the regime is committed to its power monopoly and leading position, as has been the case for 53 years.
Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing has repeatedly been voicing his intention of “ total surrender ” of the EAOs as the sole way out for the betterment of the country. He again reiterated his hardliner position, in his interview with the BBC, on 20 July 2015. In the interview, he confirmed that the military will be present at all political decision-making level for as long as necessary, until there is peace within the country, and that this could take from five to ten years, depending upon the situation. To put it differently, until all EAOs lay down their arms and demobilize, the Burma Army or Tatmadaw will be around to take the lead in political arena.
Last, but not least, the attacks on Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) and Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) in Northern Shan and Kachin states even during the peace talks in Yangon, from 22 to 24 July, is a stark reminder that the military is not keen to accommodate peaceful solution, in a fair and equal manner. The military has also conducted offensives recently against Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), in Karen state.
The hurdles that the EAOs have to overcome, at the negotiation table and as well, the armed engagement with the regime's forces, despite state-level and union-level ceasefire agreements, are many and the military-dominated regime keep raising the bar higher. One concerned ethnic observer said: “If the EAOs-SD continues to give in too much, so that a compromise could be reached, they might soon find themselves with no space to even stand.”
To sum up the present situation, this stalemate situation could be only overcome, if the regime's side, particularly if the Tatmadaw would change its mindset. No amount of propaganda that the military is already a union army and proclamation of sole ownership of country's sovereignty could justify its military occupation and suppression of the ethnic homelands. Even more so, to proclaim that the military will take the lead in all political and social lives under the pretext of “national unity ” and lack of peace, which in its point of view is “total surrender” of all EAOs. Ethnic conflicts have been going on for decades, with no one winning, at the expense of the country and its people. As such, the military needs to question its position of “self-appointed savior” and turn a new leaf to really serve the people, so that the country could move forward. Otherwise, all parties concerned will never be able to get out of this vicious circle of violence and achieve reconciliation. It is as simple as that.
Note by editor
According to the NCA draft:
*On decisions made outside the NCA text, “In implementing this agreement, in line with respective categories and subjects, we agree to include the implementation of all agreed meeting minutes and decisions struck between the two parties, which are adopted during the negotiations for the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.”
** Meeting Decision #23: “We agree that concepts concerning security related reintegration and procedures will be continued to be discussed.”
After reading, Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) top trouble shooter and government's leading peace negotiator, U Aung Min and Ethnic Armed Organizations' Senior Delegation (EAOs' SD) leader, Naw Zipporah Sein opening speeches, one could clearly see the difference of opinion, in approaching the issues and problem areas, which need to be thrashed out, so that the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) text could be smoothed, finalized and signed by all warring parties.
The first obstacle is the insistence of the SD that “all-inclusiveness” of all EAOs, or at least, all Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) members of 16, should be involved in the signing of NCA. U Aung Min's position, according to his opening speech is to stick to the UPWC original stance from the outset, that is signing only with those that are involved presently in the negotiation, as a first step.
This means, the regime will hold on to its exclusion of Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which have been engaged in armed conflict with the regime's troops and have yet to sign any bilateral agreement with Naypyitaw. Besides, it also refuses to accept ethnic organizations like Arakan National Council (ANC), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) and Wa National Organization (WNO) that have no organized armed forces. Naypyitaw’s present policy is to sign the NCA with 15 EAOs.
The second problem is the timing of signing the NCA, which should be pulled through, as soon as possible, according to the the regime's desire and point of view. For if it is going to drag on until after the election, it will be derailed and the process might have to be started anew and cannot be sure whether negotiations would take place again, with all stakeholders together, for it would solely depend on the new incoming government. As the election campaign will be in full swing, beginning September, and the peace process or NCA will be put on the back-burner, until the election is over.
But this worry is more important and real for the regime than the EAOs, for the latter is more concerned on how much political guarantee and settlement promises are included in the NCA text and not rushing to sign it, just to fulfill the government's preferred deadline. Of course, it is perfectly understandable that the regime is keen to secure the NCA, for it could enter the election campaign fray with this success in hand, which would increase its popularity and political standing, besides securing the promised international donors' help, to rebuild socioeconomic infrastructure, that hinges upon the signing of the ceasefire document by all ethnic armed groups.
And apart from the disagreement of the international observers and witnesses, revising the NCA (Draft) in accordance with the decision made at the EAOs Summit at Law Khee Lar could also be daunting. U Aung Min, in his opening speech said: “ The said amendment points – 13 points proposal of SD – will be explained to the SD as have been discussed with the NCCT, point by point. We understand the background and anxiety of the ethnic groups' some amendment points, which stem from Law Khee Lar. In order to reduce it - anxiety - , we are ready to explain again. Some points might be very hard to touch and change. But to smoothout the NCA text, we could do necessary correction.”
As if the finalizing of the NCA is not hard enough to achieve, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing reiterated his hardliner position, in his interview with the BBC, on 20 July 2015. He again confirmed that the military will be present at political decision-making level for as long as necessary, until there is peace within the country. He said it could be from five to ten years depending solely on whether peaceful atmosphere could be achieved or not. In other words, until all EAOs lay down their arms and demobilize, the Burma Army or Tatmadaw will be around to take the lead in political arena, which also means the 25% appointed MP seats in the parliament will be retained without alteration and the military possession of the three portfolios: defense, home and border affairs will remain intact.
A day earlier, General N' Ban La, Vice-President of Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and chairman of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), gave an exclusive interview with Kachin News Group's editor Lahpai Naw Din, shortly after he met U Aung Min in a two-hour closed door meeting. U Aung Min told reporters in Chiangmai, Thailand, after the “informal” talks with N' Ban La, on July 19, that the KIO had decided to sign the national ceasefire accord (NCA).
When questioned, if what U Aung Min's statement to the media is correct, he replied: “ Yes. It is not that we want ceasefire only now, we've wanted it since then – long time ago -. That's why we've had had ceasefire four or five times. We Kachin wants peace the most. That's why we've ceasefire with successive governments. Also all young and old people want peace immediately. Because of this, - when asked - if we want to sign eternal peace agreement, we are ready. But how much guarantee is there? How much of our demand could be given? It depends on this. How can we sign ceasefire, when it is – the military – conducting offensives? This is not acceptable and cannot be signed. Therefore, all military units conducting offensives must all withdraw, if real ceasefire and peace are to be achieved. Military units that are on the mountains must come down to the main road. If such trust – sincerity – could be given, we can even sign the ceasefire in the middle of the night. I was explaining just that.”
It looks like, Min Aung Hlaing's hardliner, “total surrender” policy of the EAOs is matched by General N' Ban La's commitment of “not to sign the NCA, without political guarantee”. While Min Aung Hlaing's statement hampers trust and the ongoing peace talks in Yangon, between the EAOs' SD and UPWC, N' Ban La's no signing of NCA, until real peace and political settlement could be worked out stance would also be hard to bring the peace talks to fruition.
At this writing, according to BBC and DVB reports, from SD proposed 13 amendment points, 6 were chosen to be discussed, of which 4 have been already agreed. The negotiation is said to be followed by “all-inclusiveness” of EAOs in the signing of NCA; who would sign the agreement from the part of EAOs and government's side; and the issue of international witness signatories to the NCA.
Regardless of such a mixture of positive and negative developments, concerning the peace talks, all parties should be aware of not to fall into “zero-sum” game pitfall. All stakeholders have been muddling through this vicious circle of violence and the result have been decades long internal armed conflict, leading only to “lose-lose” outcome. It is time to change it and move towards “positive-sum” outcomes that would benefit the whole country.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democracy Union (SDU) -Editor
The present USDP-Military regime has its origin in Revolutionary Council (RC), headed by General Ne Win that came to power after the military coup, in 1962, followed by successive military regimes – Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The SPDC created the present quasi-civilian, USDP-Military government basically out of “group survival” mentality, surging international trend of democratization process and “anti-totalitarian” tendencies, that have swept the Arab world, known as “Arab Spring”, at the turn of the century. In short, the military’s change of heart is not out of love for democratic principles, but first and foremost, its “group survival” consideration, to protect its military and Bama racial supremacy stance, using political power monopoly to maintain and achieve its strategic aim. The “guided-disciplined democracy” is the term thought out to support this aim and in no way, with the commitment to foster real democratic norms or principles in mind, for the betterment of the society as a whole. In other words, it is a creation of fall-back position, with a touch of democratic window-dressing, while the political arena will still be dominated by the military. This is, at least, the basic consideration thought out by the military clique and is still the driving factor for its involvement in Burma’s political arena.
As such, the military or Tatmadaw is entrusted with the task to uphold and protect the military-drafted, 2008 Constitution, which is designed to maintain military supremacy position in all aspects of social and political lives. And thus, in handling the much talked about democratization process or resolving of the ethnic conflicts, the military is determined to tackle the problems by holding on to total monopolization of political power, and act accordingly to maintain its “top dog” position, at all cost.
The recent constitutional amendment debacle is the case in point. As all know, all meaningful Sections that need amendment were all voted down, by using the 25% military’s veto votes. Many already speculate that the ongoing NCA could also meet the same faith.
But this may be looking at the contemporary political situation solely from the pessimistic point of view, for there are, somehow, optimistic development that need mentioning, where adherence and rising awareness to the democratic principles are concerned; and might have even taken roots among some of the military’s USDP members.
One positive outcome of the constitutional amendment debacle is that, even though all crucial Sections to low down the voting threshold of military veto votes from 75% plus to a mere 70% were voted down, when one looks at the voting pattern, it is quite evident that the USDP MPs voted in diversified manner and not together as a bloc. But in contrary, the appointed military MPs exercised their voting as a disciplined, solid bloc and strictly followed the Commander-in Chief order on how to go about with it. According to the constitution, the military is allotted with 25% appointed MP seats within the parliament. It seems, the USPD-Military regime might now be burdened with hardliner and reform factions, even though people tend to think, rightly or wrongly, that it is an entity solidly controlled and directed by the former military strongman General Than Shwe, architect of the military-drafted, 2008 Constitution, behind the scene.
It is astonishing that the pro-amendment vote counts were mostly over 60%, even though they failed to achieve the 75% voting threshold, for this could be taken as exceptionally high, which the NLD, ethnic and other small opposition parties combined wouldn’t have achieved. The answer this is that the other pro-amendment votes come from the ruling USDP. The Myanmar Times, on 26 June, report the rejected vote count as follows:
Section 59(f) – 371 votes, 58.6%
Section 60(c) – 386 votes, 61%
Section 418(b) – 386 votes, 61%
Section 436(a) – 388 votes, 61.3%
Section 436(b) – 388 votes, 61.3%
Of course, it is explainable that it is an inner-party factions’ conflict played out in the open. For the friction and competition between President Thein Sein and House Speaker Shwe Mann for presidential post are well known; and that Shwe Mann has been trying to bring the military under the party wing, by changing the criteria of presidential nominee to be an elected MP and not nominated by the Presidential Electoral College, without even having to be an MP, as is presently the case. But first, the 75% voting threshold has to be lowered to 70%, if other Sections were to be amended. And thus, the voting of Section 436 amendment, which basically might be able to do away with the military veto votes, was essential as a first step, which was initiated and engineered by the pragmatic presidential candidate and current Speaker, Thura Shwe Mann, quite possibly with Aung San Suu Kyi’s knowledge and consent, followed by amendment proposal of other Sections.
Whatever the case, this is a small positive development and Shwe Mann has to be credited for his awareness that constitutional amendment is a necessity, if the country is to move ahead, although getting rid of the Thein Sein faction as a presidential competitor could also be the motive behind.
According to the Eleven Media report of 16 July, Lower House MP of USDP, Thura Aung Ko said that only constitutional amendment will end conflict and establish a correct judicial system.
“The main requirements of our country are to ensure national reconciliation, eternal peace, a genuine federal union, the rule of law, the correct judicial system and to end conflict. To fulfill these requirements, we must change the Constitution in accord with the public desire,” the MP said.
He also called for a directly elected president.
As the above mentioned scenarios suggest, the blind obedience of upholding the military supremacy doctrine might be eroding, although it could not be concluded that democratic awareness already outweighs the military’s power monopoly desire for the majority within the USDP. But there is hope that the awareness-building of democratization process might be gaining momentum and it is a positive development.
Security Sector Reform
Another point to ponder is the reformation of the Tatmadaw by implementing Security Sector Reform (SSR), which is considered to be a tool for national integration and the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) see it in the light of reformation of the existing Burma Army into a federal one, where equitable, ethnic quota system could be implemented, apart from employing the rest of ethnic troops as state police forces, for example. But in contrary, the present the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hliang is very much in favor of keeping the the military setup of Burman or Bama-dominated army as it is. He has often voiced his opinion of pushing through the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) option, which the EAOs see it as a “negotiated surrender”. Besides, the Commander-in-Chief maintains that the present Burma Army is a “Union Army” for many non-Burman ethnic soldiers are already participating in it. Thus, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the ethnic armies are the only sensible option from his point of view.
While it is important that the Commander-in-Chief should not be clinging only to DDR as a means to an end, to eradicate ethnic rebellion by hook or by crook, once and for all, it is equally essential not to reject SSR as a tool to clip the wings of Burman-dominated Tatmadaw, from its total domination of the establishment. For this line of reasoning would only lead to “lose-lose” outcome, as the stalled Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) has proven, accepting the SSR would produce a “win-win” situation for all the warring parties.
In an article titled “Building “National” Armies—Building Nations? Determinants of Success for Post intervention Integration Efforts”, Sven Gunnar Simonsen, Oslo-based independent analyst and international reporter, wrote:
“In societies where the front lines of recent armed conflict have followed ethnic boundaries,the political salience of ethnicity is very high. For both locals and outsiders, it is easy to perceive ethnic identities as fixed in both character and intensity. Ethnic integration in the sense of assimilation (re-identification into a dominant group) is very unlikely to take place under such circumstances. However, integration and nation-building are both understood as describing a process of (re)building a sense of community within a polity, without the need for members of different ethnic groups to change the character of their ethnic identity. Even in a post-conflict situation where “everything is ethnic,” a reduction of the political salience of ethnicity can take place and may even be essential to securing a fragile peace.”
To make his point, he further stressed:
“Security sector reform is now widely acknowledged as a core component of comprehensive peace-building efforts. In post-conflict societies that are deeply divided along ethnic lines, the building of a new, more inclusive army is a major challenge. If it is done successfully, however, such a force may contribute toward nation-building that transcends ethnic divisions, reducing their salience—and thus the risk of new armed conflict. With an externally driven process, the military can be more than a mirror of society and its cleavages. A national army could, if not build a new nation on its own, then at least influence perceptions of what a nation might constitute.”
The argument that needs to be emphasized here is if SSR could be viewed as a national integration tool, in line with the formation of a federal army, where equitable quota system is applied to benefit all warring parties, this would benefit all stakeholders. And if the military top brass could think out of the box and willing to restructure with the SSR guidelines, Burma has a good chance to achieve it much easier than expected for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, all non-Burman ethnic nationalities have long resolved that federal union form of government that is tune with “unity in diversity” is the way to go and have long abandoned their previous secession aspirations. Secondly, the present situation could be taken as really ripe, for all conflict parties – EAOs and Tatmadaw – are of the opinion that peace is a necessity, essential and only achievable through negotiation or dialogue and not armed confrontation, as decades long armed conflict have not produce a clear cut winner, but only permanent stalemate, which have dragged on until today, hindering peace and development, at the expense of the whole country. At least this reality and crucial factor is accepted by all warring parties.
Although almost all EAOs have shown “political will” to adhere to the already signed state and union level ceasefire agreements, Burma army has insisted upon “ area cleansing and control”, under the pretext of sole sovereignty claims, employing offensives and military occupation of the ethnic homelands. This has been the main reason why ceasefire could not be maintained. The military could have easily stopped all the offensives and, at least, withdraw all its front-line forces to their respective mother units, to show that it means business and also sincerity. In fact, the EAOs have earlier demanded that the military should withdraw from all ethnic homelands, before any negotiation started, but lower down their demand and commit themselves to the state and union level ceasefire agreements.
Consequently, the offensive wars continue unabated in Northern Shan, Kachin and Karen States, making it hard to advance the peace process and finalizing the NCA.
The military top brass should also take cue from the rising democratic awareness of some USDP members and start to think of themselves as part of the solution than a liability, by agreeing to reform of the military, to become part of the national integration process, rather than sticking to its rigid, military supremacy doctrine.
According to a reliable source near to the regime, information minister , U Ye Htut was said to have stressed that, “The regime have created a mechanism where the military, political parties and ethnic peoples can work together, from which a sense of reconciliation can be forged, problems that arise can be handled, and the military taken as part of, not out of, the solution.”
The source also said regarding the SSR, the military had visited South Africa in April of this year, and were said to be impressed with the SSR process there, especially the negotiation of the new structure, followed by demobilization and re-enlisting.
It is true that the retired military old hand in civil and active military personnel are still in control of the country’s political arena and continue to steer the political course. But even a guided -disciplined democracy, designed to serve the military class, could not forsake to mention the democratic principles; and because of this, political awareness have sipped into those party functionaries, who started to question the wisdom of serving a particular interest group, rather than the people.
Thura Shwe Mann, Thura Aung Ko and the protest voting pattern of some USDP MPs might be a pioneering move to serve the interest of the people, which could snowball into a genuine people’s party.
At this writing, there is only a faint hope for some military personnel had begun to look at the SSR implementation in South Africa, but still far from the commitment that comprehensive reform of the military establishment, to be all- inclusive and federal, is underway.
But the military has the choice to either stick to the old way and risk having to make do with the “lose – lose” situation, or accepting the reform of the military and reap the” win- win” outcome.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor
The EAOs are scheduled to consider the final draft that would be re-negotiated in Rangoon, 22-23 July, between their 15 person Senior Delegation (SD) and the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC), and decide whether to sign it or not.
Meanwhile the Burma Studies conference will be holding several panels as well as round tables on the Thailand’s western neighbor.
Two interesting panels are expected to be on Ethnic Politics and Citizenship, participated by well known scholars such as Martin Smith, Matthew Walton, Ardeth Thawnghmung and Helene Kyed. The latter’s paper focuses on the 5 integration options for the EAOs after the peace talks: in the security and justice sector, political parties, civil service, large-scale businesses and CSOs.
The two panels are to be held at 10:30- 12:00 and 13:00-14:30, on 24 July.
Two no less interesting round tables will be held on 25 July, 14:00-15:30 and 15:45-17:15. The topic will be on the ongoing peace process in the country. One will be on the latest update in the process and the other will be on how it is expected to move ahead. They are to be moderated by Pyidaungsu Institute director Khuensai Jaiyen and Dr Chayan Vaddhanaphuti respectively.
Representatives from EAOs, Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) and National League for Democracy (NLD) as well as preeminent academics like Hannes Siebert are among the invited participants.
The conference opens at 08:25 on 24 July. Other participants whose names are familiar to Burma watchers include:
- Mon Mon Myat and Aung Zaw: Media and its role in Democratic Transition
- Ashley South: Ethnic Armed groups and Political Parties
- Khin Ohnmar: Vibrant and Independent Civil Society
- Paul Sein Twa: Land confiscation in Burma
For more details, please consult attached schedules.
Conference Schedule 18.7.15
ICBMS updated schedule 18.7.15
Sources recently returning from Naypyitaw say generals who have been participating in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) negotiations with the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) would like it to be signed before 8 August.
8 August is the deadline for the application for candidacy in the November elections. Many to-be-retired generals, especially those in the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC), are reportedly planning to contest the elections.
Sources have requested anonymity.
“The army thinks the signing should be done even if all are not ready to sign,” recounted one. “Those that have signed bilateral agreements but not ready to sign the NCA will be asked to observe the bilateral ceasefire. Those that have yet to sign bilateral agreements will be invited to sign them. As for those that have no organized armed forces, we may have to find a way for them, perhaps as members of the NCCT (EAOs’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team that had, together with the UPWC, co-drafted the NCA).”
However, “It would be best if all EAOs that have concluded bilateral ceasefires, including the United Wa State Army (UWSA) sign the NCA,” a general was quoted as saying.
Naypyitaw’s present policy is to sign the NCA with 15 EAOs. Three others: Arakan National Council (ANC), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) and Wa National Organization (WNO) have no organized armed forces. The remaining three: Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) have yet to sign any bilateral agreement with Naypyitaw.
Author: Jiwon Lee, Political Science, Yale University
It is always nice to receive a different opinion from someone who is friendly yet may possess some information you may have missed or overlooked.
Especially for someone like me, who likes to say he upholds the words of his Chinese teacher Lao Zi (601BC-531BC) who has counseled:
Trustworthy people, I trust
Untrustworthy people, I trust
This young author, who may be wise beyond her years, argues her that both the Sri Lankan and Burmese governments are only using the peace process “to consolidate their central power over the minorities.”
In the Sri Lankan case, she says, “the new United National Front (UNF) regime that took power in 2001 had no option but to initiate a peace process with the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), as the previous regime’s strategy of ‘war for peace’ had failed with serious economic consequences.” (Uyangoda) But the peace-building period had “allowed the government to regain legitimacy and take time to rearm. Ironically, it was during the peace process when the government was able to strengthen its position to combat the Tamils. Thus, the Sri Lankan civil war shows that if employed even before the settlement of a war, the peace building strategy of the government can actually become a state-building strategy to win the war.”
To her, it is the same situation in Burma. It is national reconsolidation, rather than national reconciliation. The government simply regards “ceasefires as part of its state-building mechanism.”
Studying the 1989-2009 ceasefires, she finds they were largely a gain for the central government:
- They served as a tool for the government to bring ethnic regions on the periphery into the sphere of influence of the central military, enabling it to enforce heavier militarization, widespread land confiscation, and development in these areas
- They also enabled the military government to move unprecedented numbers of troops, teachers, the police, and bureaucrats into the ethnically demarcated states (Ashley South)
- It has also built more roads, railroads, dams, bridges and irrigation systems since 1988 than all the governments since independence in order to gain what David Steinberg calls “Legitimacy through construction”
- Lastly, it had held the National Convention for the minorities to participate in politics. Such appearance of promoting ethnic participation granted even more legitimacy to the government (Zaw Oo and Win Min)
Her conclusion: In Sri Lanka, the prospect for peace is even worse because the government has only repressed the Tamils by force. If the LTTE still holds its aspiration for autonomy and its self-perception as a state-like polity, then there is no guarantee that they will never express their dissatisfaction again. In order to achieve lasting peace it is crucial that both governments start devising the political solution instead of trying to dominate over the minorities by focusing only on their state-building projects. That way, they will be able to work toward a true peace building strategy.
No doubt the Sri Lankan experience has a lot of lessons not only for the Burmese government, but also for the non-Burman resistance movements. By the look of things, both sides are seeing the peace process as a game that two can play, knowing what the chances and the risks are.
The question remains: Who is going to be the better player?
Note: The full paper is to be published by The Irrawaddy.
The United Wa State Party/Army (UWSP/UWSA) should be one of the signatories of the planned Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), said U Aung Min, Vice Chairman of the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) on Saturday, 11 July, while meeting representatives of the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA) and Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) at Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Rangoon.
The UWSA and its closest ally National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) have so far maintained that as the ceasefire which was concluded in 1989 is still observed by both sides, there is no need to sign the NCA. Both say they are waiting for the political dialogue to start so they can join it.
But U Aung Min says the NCA is not just about ceasefire. “It also includes sections on political dialogue, federalism and the Unlawful Association Act (better known as Section 17/1)” he told the Shan and Karen representatives. “Only by signing the NCA, these guarantees could be fulfilled.”
An MPC official added, “If the Wa are allowed to take part in the political dialogue without signing the NCA, then it is likely other groups may also follow suit. How can we let that happen?”
The UWSA, since 1993, has been calling for a separate statehood and NDAA for a Self-Administered Zone (SAZ) status.
U Aung Min said a union minister had been assigned to talk with the Wa leadership. No details were given.
By now, it is becoming evident that the recent constitutional amendment debacle has already shown the military’s unwillingness to compromise over it’s veto power or political edge and make way for easier, future amendments, to the chagrin of most ethnic and opposition parties.
The constitutional amendment of Sections 59(f) and 436 were voted down, on June 25, by the military members of parliament, under direct command of Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hliang, where the military has total veto power over the amendments.
In the same vein, amendment of Section 261 that had been pushed by non-Burman ethnic lawmakers, to allow state and divisional legislatures to elect their own chief minister, which is currently the responsibility of the president to appoint an individual to the post, was also rejected by the military veto votes.
Section 436 amendment proposal is aimed at doing away with the military’s veto voting power by lowing the voting threshold from 75% to 70%, while Section 59(f) is to remove the prohibition designed to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National Legue for Democracy (NLD), from ever becoming president, due to her two sons’ British citizenship.
The military is allotted with 25% appointed MP seats, which in turn gives the military bloc the veto power that could vote against any constitutional amendment, for more than 75% votes is needed, to sail through the first parliamentary motion. Thus, it becomes clear that no changes could ever happen, without the consent and willingness of the military.
Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement
Parallel to this constitutional amendment debacle, the ongoing NCA between the regime’s Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) and the Ethnic Armed Organizations’ (EAOs) Senior Delegation (SD) still cannot be finalized. According to Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (ENAC) Briefing, No. 11, 9 July 2015:
On 3-4 July 2015, the Senior Delegation (“SD”), formed by the Law Khee Lar Leadership Summit and led by Naw Zipporah Sein, met with Union Minister U Aung Min, Vice Chairman of the Union Peace-making Work Committee (“UPWC”), Union Minister U Khin Yi and Myanmar Peace Center officials in Chiang Mai, Thailand. During this preliminary negotiation, the SD delivered a clear message to the UPWC that the SD is committed to addressing remaining issues in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (“NCA”) draft and signing it before the end of President Thein Sein’s term.
Two core issues remain to complete the NCA draft: a) inclusiveness, and b) domestic and international witnesses. During the recent preliminary negotiations of July 3-4, the SD and UPWC acknowledged that the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (“NCCT”) and the UPWC had not finalized these issues on March 30, 2015. They remain to be negotiated.
The government and the SD are scheduled to meet during the third week of this month.
Consequently, according to the SD-UPWC Meeting Note (3-4 July 2015), the UPWC tabled four points. The first is to stick to the 31 March NCA draft without amendments and Law Khee Lah resolution should be kept as meeting decision between SD and UPWC. Second, in the signing of NCA, 14 organizations that have already signed ceasefire agreement and KIO will be involved; but the remaining groups will be allowed to participate in political dialogues, only after signing bilateral ceasefire agreement. Third, the regime would consider “all-inclusiveness” only at political dialogue stage. Fourth, witness to NCA signing will include only UN, ASEAN and China.
And as such, the ongoing NCA failure or success will depend on military’s accommodation of the SD proposal and how much more the EAOs could compromise on regime’s position.
The general assumption is that if the military is unwilling even to reduce the vote-ceiling of 75% to a mere 70%, as shown in its Sections 436 and 59 (f) voting pattern, the SD’s 12 points, amendment proposal also won’t be easy to make the military agree. And if there couldn’t be agreement on NCA, the much anticipated signing of it won’t also materialize.
One affirmative development is the announcement of nationwide election in November 8. It is positive in a sense that the regime has kept its promises and the influential political parties like NLD and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) have confirmed to participate, unlike the 2010 election, where both parties refused to take part, due to the rejection of military drafted 2008 Constitution.
In 1990 nationwide election NLD win with a landslide and SNLD came out the second winning party, but were refused to form government by the the ruling military government.
According to DVB report of 13 July, NLD has announced that it intends to run in as many constituencies as it can in this year’s general election, but that it is willing to abstain from competing for certain seats to avoid clashing with its allies.
The Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP) was formed in 1998 by the NLD alongside other parties that won seats in the 1990 general election, results that were not recognized by the then-ruling military junta.
The other parties who were signatories to the 1998 alliance were: Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, led by Hkun Htun Oo; the Arakan League for Democracy, led by Aye Thar Aung; the Mon National League for Democracy, led by Nai Tun Thein; Kyaw Min’s National Democratic Party for Human Rights; the National Democracy Party, led by Soe Win; the Zomi National Congress, led by Cin Sian Thang; and Htaung Ko Thang’s United Nationalities League for Democracy.
SHAN report of 11 July also confirmed that NLD resolved to form coalition with ethnic parties and refraining to run in their constituencies, which are positive moves that have the potential to change the Burma’s political landscape and equation.
The report quoted Hkun Htoon Oo as saying: “ Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to participate in the election and to form coalition with ethnic parties are welcome. We’re old friends that have come through – thick and thin – rain and wind, hand-in-hand.”
It looks like NLD is resolved to further pin it’s hope of constitutional amendments within the parliament with the help of other opposition, ethnic parties and protest votes from the government Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Apart from that, it also said that the naming of presidential candidate, other than Aung San Suu Kyi – for constitutionally she is not qualified – will be from within the NLD, narrowing it down to U Tin Oo and U Win Htain, both with military background.
According to The Irrawaddy report of 11 July, when asked who would be presidential candidate, one NLD MP said: “ Although U Tin U is 88 years old, his health is excellent and could still carry on his duty. But U Win Htain, though only 74, is not so healthy. So, if I say this much you should understand.”
To sum up, the much anticipated constitutional amendments couldn’t be materialized, at least during this legislative period; NCA amendment proposal is still in the limbo and couldn’t be sure how much the regime is prepared to compromise; and the November election outcome is still a speculation, although NLD could pocket more votes than the regime’s party and push the country into a new era by amending the constitution. But still frustration might linger on, even if the NLD and ethnic parties could form a coalition government, provided that they garnered enough votes, for the constitution still allows the military to simply suspend the government and take over whenever they like.
Given such a backdrop, the status quo scenario that is now the order of the day, would be hard to maintain and change is going to be inevitable, after the November election. Only, for now, it will be hard to predict, how Burma’s political course will look like and pushed into.