Panglong Agreement: Burma’s Magna Carta

This year’s Union Day is significant, not only because leaders of all non-Burman states including armed movements that have been fighting against successive governments for so long, would be invited to join the ceremony in Naypyitaw, but also it coincides with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta (“Great Charter”) which falls on 15 June.

Whereas the Magna Carta, which was signed by King John (1167-1216), has been hailed as Democracy’s first victory and as the first declaration of human rights in reference to clauses such as:
War tax would be levied only with the general consent of the realm
That no freeman shall be seized or imprisoned

the Panglong Agreement contains firm pledges such as :
Appointment of the representative from Frontier Areas (now known as Border Areas) as minister responsible for the affairs of these areas
“rights and privileges which are regarded as fundamental in democratic countries”
“financial autonomy” (which means self-supporting)

Another similarity is also striking: its sacnosanctity. Statutes and laws conflicting with it are considered (“ruled” in British case) invalid. As in Burma, when the king reneged on the charter, there was rebellion. Only when it was reaffirmed after his death, the rebellion ended, because the rebels no longer possessed a cause to fight for.

This lesson from the British history may be a harsh one but vital especially for those trumpeting the three “sacred” causes: Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Solidarity and Perpetuation of National Sovereignty. Because nothing can be clearer than the precedent in British history.

Any Burmese leader, present or future, who has vowed to bring peace to this war-torn country must therefore realize that he/she cannot achieve it just by paying lip service to the Panglong Agreement but only by fulfilling the solemn pledges contained in it. Any other way invites only conflict and war.

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Rape-murder in Shan State shows peace process cannot remain at the top

Exactly 2 months after 23 cadets training at the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) camp near its Laiza base were blown up to death by the Burma Army’s 105 mm howitzer shell, another incident, which was even ghastlier, took place in northern Shan State, where two young Kachin teachers were raped and beaten to death.

SHAN had already reported in 2013 about Burmese authorities in Nam Kham trying to turn back Kachin villagers fleeing from fighting between the KIA and the BA to seek temporary sanctuary there. The reason cited by them was that the villagers were Kachin.

Which raises the question: Do the Burmese government servants and armymen consider the war between the KIA and the BA as the war between the Burmese (Burman/Myanmar/Bama) and Kachins?

Because while the Laiza shelling could be more easily dismissed as accidental, not even a six-year old child is not going to say the rape-cum-murder in Kutkhai was a chance occurrence.

Unless the perpetuators are apprehended soon and punished, the future of the ongoing peace process, already facing thorny problems which include the Laiza incident, could be at stake. (So far, Naypyitaw is still “looking into the case”, according to Washington.)

Moreover, these incidents that have been taking place also mean that peace talks at the top level, which was something of a novelty when it began in 2011, is no longer sufficient.

It’s high time authorities on both sides, especially the government-army side, educate its subordinates the new culture of making peace, that rapes and killings don’t make good ingredients for the future Union of Myanmar/Burma.

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Shan, Kachin leaders meet

Gen N.Ban La, Vice President of the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) and also Chairman of the 12 armed organization alliance United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), was received by Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) Lt-Gen Yawd Serk at his Loi Taileng base on Monday, 19 January, according to SSA sources.

“We found many points in agreement,” said a source close to the RCSS/SSA leader without offering elaboration.

N. Ban La left on the same day to Chiangmai where the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) that is negotiating with the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) for the much-awaited Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA), was holding a two-day consultation, 19-20 January, before meeting with the UPWC’s technical team, the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) on the following day.

A week earlier, Yawd Serk had told SHAN that since he had already signed both the state level and union level ceasefire agreements, the NCA was just another formality.

“All the same, we will need to deliberate on the final draft if it includes too many clauses on political issues,” he said. “But if it doesn’t dwell too much on political matters apart from fully guaranteeing that political dialogues will take place forthwith, we have no problems signing it.”

SHAN has not been able to interview Gen N.Ban La.

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Mizo ex-rebel: Peacemakers should be at peace

Former rebel and former chief minister of India’s Mizoram, who is on a visit to Thailand has urged peacemakers on both government and rebel camps in Burma to exercise infinite patience.

“You sometimes will find it necessary to outpatient your counterparts,” he told his hosts at the Chiangmai based Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue on Tuesday, 20 January.

Zoramthanga, 71, who was chief minister of India’s 23rd state, 1998-2008, said the peace process with New Delhi had lasted 15 years, 1971-1986, 5 of which were spent in clandestine negotiations. “Which also included 9 months in Indian jail,” he smilingly added.

One major factor that had expedited the process was the fact that India was already a federal democracy, if not in name. “We didn’t need to demand that it became one,” he said.

Mizoram, formerly part of Assam, became a full-fledged state by virtue of a constitutional amendment in 1986 following successful negotiations between New Delhi and the Mizo National Front (MNF), of which Zoramthanga has been a leading member.

Another significant fact is that India’s armed resistance movements in the 7 states of its northeast have never formed grand alliances like those in Burma, that have boasted the National Democratic Front (NDF) in 1976, Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) in 2001 and currently the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) since 2011.

Zoramthanga was accompanied by two assistants and No Than Kap, Chin affairs minister for Sagaing. Chins and Mizos are ethnic cousins.

Chin State is bigger than Mizoram, 36,000 to 21,000, but less than half the population of the latter, 1million.

Regarding Mizoram relations with Chin National Front (CNF), he said. “I have made quite clear to them (I hope) that we are with them in peace but not in war.”

He added that, on the other hand, 7 Kuki groups in Manipur had also asked for assistance. “I had advised them if they are trying to negotiate with the Indian government separately, there is nothing it (Indian government) can do for you. They have to form a single negotiation body to speak for all.”  

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BURMA PEACE PROCESS: Concentrate On Interests, Not Positions

As President Thein Sein hopes to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) on 12 February, Union Day, Commander-in Chief Min Aung Hlaing was said to be frustrated with the whole development, possibly due to the EAOs reluctance of signing the ceasefire deal for lack of political guarantee from the government side.

While Thein Sein told The Straits Times, in an interview, on 18 January, that despite slow progress due to the complexities of negotiating with as many as 16 armed groups, he still hopes for a nationwide ceasefire pact on 12 February, coupled with the assertion that Burma army will step back from its prominent role in the government once peace agreements are reached with insurgent groups, fighting erupted in Kachin state between the government troops and the KIA from 15 to 18 January.

According to Mizzima report of 20 January, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said peace was the "only path" if the country is to continue its democratization and development, in a rare interview with Singapore's Channel NewsAsia.

He said that if the EAOs really want peace there is no reason that they cannot have it. He further added that conflict parties cannot keep on disagreeing, for disagreeing hinders the country's development.

Meanwhile, according to Mizzima Burmese Section report, on 20 January, U Ye Htut, presidential spokesman said that Kachin Independence Army (KIA has been disrupting the peace process with prepared intention. He said the coincidence of arresting Kachin State Minster and his security team of policemen and the subsequent happening of running battles in Hpakant township were intentionally carried out.

He wrote in his face book: " I see it that by restarting armed clashes, it (the KIA) aimed to disrupt the peace process. As soon as the battles started in Hpakant and Lone Khin areas, exploding of mines and attacks of police stations happened simultaneously. If you look at this you could imagine that it is arranged beforehand."

As expected, each time the fighting flared up accusation, mud-slinging and blame game followed. But one sure thing is that the conflict parties are coming nowhere near to peaceful resolution.

When SHAN Opinion Section, on 12 January, highlighted how crucial peace is for the betterment of the country and the people suffering from the ongoing armed ethnic conflict. It writes:

The situation has prompted one from the government side to admonish, “Peace is bigger than any individual in the country”, while on the non-Burman resistance side, leaders like Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong are saying: “It is a mistake to delay the peace process just because we either like or dislike a certain party. It is not appropriate to gamble peace with politics. Make a visit to a refugee camp, take a look at children born in the war zones. One year for them is a very long and difficult one. It would therefore make life easier for them if we can bring peace to them as soon as possible, be it an hour , a day, a month, or a year earlier.” (Eleven News, 19 October 2014)

It is true that peace is bigger than everyone and also true that the refugees and IDPs are rotting and suffering in camps and make-shift shelters in the jungles, but there need to be a genuine desire to achieve peace, if this human misery and under development are to end. Not just dictating the adversaries the terms you want it or letting one signs without including concrete, core, political settlement issues. It is quite evident that "compromise" is the name of the game.

There is no denying on what Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian military theorist,  had said for centuries is still true today that "War is the continuation of politics by other means".

And as such, we have been at each others throats for more than six decades, with no side wining, but only becoming heavy burdens to our respective people physically, mentally and economically. True the non-Burman ethnic areas have to bear the most brunt of the war, but Burman or Bama also become "slaves of war" for the tyrannical regimes, without knowing, even though they were hoodwinked by the vision of being a superior race, who have the right to lord over other non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

And so to cap it, since we were unable to come to terms politically, after the British left us in 1947, we all resorted to war as a means to continue and impose our demands on one another. After more than six decades of warfare, we were reaching nowhere with the rising human and resources costs heaping down on us, as the war rages on until today. Like a blessing in disguise, in fact, we now have, at least, come to terms that "peace or normalcy" is needed, if we are to develop and progress, to be in par with the rest of the world. If this is so, why can't we strike a deal to make us win all?

We could now identify our common interest as wanting to achieve "peace, normalcy and development". And since the ongoing war is against our interest, we might as well stop it by advancing the proposition of "political accommodation".

So what exactly is that we have to accommodate each other. In a nut shell, the Burman and military elite are afraid to lose their "political monopoly and racial supremacy" aspirations, while the non-Burman ethnic nationalities are determined to regain back their fair share of "right to self-determination, equality and democracy".

There should be a way out from this deadlock position and one way to do is to concentrate on "interest" rather than "position" as Roger Fisher and William Ury suggest, in their "Getting to Yes; negotiating an agreement without giving in".

Maybe in trying to achieve the core common interest of "peace, normalcy and development", the contending parties should become partners, working side-by-side, in cooperation to reach the goal of common interest.

The recent report in SHAN, on 20 January wrote that the academic suggestion to use a neutral third party to conduct the single text procedure has run into deaf ears, according to Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) currently visiting Chiangmai.

“As far as the government is concerned it has already made substantial concessions,” an official of the MPC set up in 2012 by Naypyitaw, said. “There is therefore little or no need for a third party.”

Such a rigid position won't be helpful to attain the much lauded common interest, and if we are to achieve "peace, normalcy and development" as all desired, we would need to be more open to constructive approaches of any kind, not stone-walling them.

Last but not least, the powers that be would need to rethink if its steadfast position of "political monopoly" and "racial chauvinism" are worthwhile the price of sticking to the zero-sum game, which has devastated the country for so long.

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

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Burma not yet ready to employ third party for peace

Academic suggestion to use a neutral third party to conduct the single text procedure has run into deaf ears, according to Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) currently visiting Chiangmai.

“As far as the government is concerned it has already made substantial concessions,” an official of the MPC set up in 2012 by Naypyitaw, said. “There is therefore little or no need for a third party.”

The Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue, established August 2013 by independent researchers together with representatives from the armed opposition, had earlier recommended that for the single text procedure, being employed by the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the armed organizations’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) in their Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA) negotiations, to move forward more smoothly and rapidly, a mediating third party would be desirable.

One model that could be looked into is the 1978 Camp David summit, where US President Jimmy Carter had played the role of mediator between Egypt and Israel. According to Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement without giving in, it took him 13 days and some 23 drafts before Israel and Egypt agreed to sign it.

The one-text (single text) procedure, its authors say, “is almost essential for large multilateral negotiations. One hundred and fifty nations, for example, cannot constructively discuss a hundred and fifty different proposals.”

U Aung Min, the government’s principal negotiator, upon hearing it, commented, “As you know, successive governments of our country have an allergy to mediation by outsiders.”

PI then suggested there was the South African model where talented members of the country’s business community were chosen as facilitators to use the one-text process. “While the business community was hardly neutral, everyone understood that its overriding interest was to maintain stability and prosperity and avoid a civil war,” explains the book.

“Surely we have talented people from other communities, if not from the business community,” Khuensai Jaiyen, PI’s Managing Director said at the meeting with U Aung Min and the MPC on 1 December. “If we don’t have them, we’ll be facing the same problems in the upcoming Framework and Political Dialogue stages.”

One major problem of the current negotiations, according to academics, is that as the two sides are meeting each other face to face to work out on the single text, it is not easy to separate people from the problem and direct the discussions to interests and options, as required by the technique. Dale Carnegie once said: “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic but creatures of emotion.”

The NCCT is currently holding a meeting in Chiangmai in preparation for the next meeting with the UPWC.

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NCA On Union Day Unlikely
KNU USDP-Military Regime Relationship Not Benifitting UNFC

Monday, 19 January 2015

Interview conducted at United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) office, Chiangmai, Thailand, on 15 January 2015, from 09:30 to 11:00, with General Secretary of UNFC, Khu Oo Reh, on behalf of SHAN. Interviewed by Sai Wansai, regular contributor to the SHAN, Opinion Section.

Do you think Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) could be signed on the upcoming Union Day, according to the wish of President Thein Sein?
It won't happen. But our members could change mindset and participate individually, due to differences of political views. "Bo Shu Khan" – grand military parade - invitation on Independence Day, by the President and the attendence of some Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), including UNFC members, is an example.

What is the position of UNFC regarding 2008 Constitution?
We don't accept it, as Khun Okker, a leading Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) member and as well UNFC member, has repeatedly said. In retrospect, we also have not formed opinion on the 2015 election's outcome.

Has KNU officially resigned from the UNFC?
No. Officially it has not resigned. Medias might report differently, but the official stand of the KNU is "temporary deactivation of the UNFC membership".

What is the position of the organization, regarding the extraction of natural resources?
Thein Sein government has no legitimacy to claim sole ownership on that. Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) also are representatives and the owners of their respective homelands or states and have every right to the usage and extraction for the benefit of their people, including the protection of their peoples and territories from Burmese military occupation.

What would you say of a government minister recent posturing an accusation of sovereignty infringement, regarding timber extraction in Kachin State?
The government has no such legitimacy to claim total sovereignty as have mentioned earlier. And thus have no right to posture as sole ownership of the natural resources and sole resources extraction rights over all union territories.

Taxation of EAOs have been tarnished by the government by calling it as protection money or "Set-je" in Burmese, what is your response to the accusation?
It's not "Set je" or protection money but revolutionary tax to fight for the rights of our ethnic peoples.

Shared-sovereignty has been mentioned several times by Gen Gun Maw of Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) and top UNFC leader, what do the organization mean by that?
Sovereignty belongs to the people and the present regime can't be taken as coming from the people for the people. We are still in the process of a struggle to get back our fair share of sovereignty and the rights that come with it, as individual and collective ethnic groups residing within Burma.

Please clarify the UNFC position on 8 States-based and 14 States-Regions-based federal union?
We are generally for the 8 State-based union, even though we are open for more new states creation according to the needs of the people.

Will UNFC accept if EAOs are given state police administration, when DDR is implemented?
Security Sector Reform (SSR) should be worked out first, after which Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) would follow. For now, it's still early to say anything about accepting the state police administration offer.

Do you have grand strategy to cope with if the peace talks break down, altogether?
So far, we have still not worked on the long and short terms strategies, but this will definitely come at the appropriate time.

Is there a State-based restructuring plan for the UNFC?
We have fixed our eyes on the proposition for quite sometimes, but we have to treat cautiously, due to having members in UNFC from various sub-ethnic or minorities armed resistance groups, within each state. Shan state is a good example at that; for we have Palaung (Ta'ang), Pa-O and Kokang groups as members in the organization. Perhaps individual state should take time to work out a kind of united front to represent the state as one party for the state in question.

Is President really above Commander-in-Chief or it is just the opposite?
I don't think the President has such an authority on Commander-in-Chief. It looks more like the other way round. At the recently held "Bo Shu Khan" or Independence Day military grand parade, on 4 January, Commander-in-Chief MinAung Hlaing and other top ranking, military top brass didn't even salute the President, according to Eleven Media Groups' report. Unlike the days of President Sao Shwe Thaike, President U Ba Oo and President Mahn Win Maung, when the Commander-in- Chief saluted the President with pomp and ceremony on such occasions.

Is KNU closeness to Burmese army and Thein Sein government useful for UNFC?
I wonder, if this relation between KNU and Commander-in-Chief /President Thein Sein relationship is benifiting us in anyway. We were not shared any information, whatsoever, or have achieved any positive understanding with the quasi-civilian regime of Thein Sein, for the UNFC as a whole.
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China no more ‘paukphaw’

One bad thing that has come out of Burma’s reopening to the outside world, especially to the West, is that there is less and less trust between China and its former protégé, according to news coming from Naypyitaw.

Zhou Enlai addresses the Bandung Conference. Zhou Enlai led a delegation to attend the Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, April 1955. Behind him on the left are Jawaharlal Nehru and U Nu.

“The government, particularly the military, hadn’t been happy in the first place about China’s apparently strong relationship with Wa and Mong La,” said an informed source. “And now it’s distrust has been reinforced by grave suspicions of its support to the Kachins and Kokang.”

All the 4 mentioned armed groups: Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) better known as Kokang, United Wa State Party/United Wa State Army (UWSP/UWSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) better known as Mong La, are based along the Sino- Burmese border.

“All four groups, especially Kokang, seem to Naypyitaw have become stronger militarily during the past 3 years,” said another source. “Kokang led by Peng Jiasheng, for instance, was only a group in name after the Burma Army’s attack and occupation (of his territory) in 2009. But now it appears to be no less than 1,000 strong. Many of its troops captured dead on the battlefield were  found to be carrying Chinese documents.”

A Chinese scholar that visited Chiangmai last year has an explanation for this latest development in the Sino-Burmese relations, when he was asked why China had pressured the KIO/KIA to conclude a ceasefire with Rangoon (then Burma’s capital) in 1994 but did nothing when the KIO/KIA refused to sign a new one with the Thein Sein government later.

“The reason is obvious,” he replied. “Before 2011, Burma had no close friends outside of China. It was in China’s interests to pressure the Kachins then. But now things have changed. With Naypyitaw welcoming Western countries with open arms, Beijing is no longer sure about its trustworthiness. My conclusion is that unless there is some sort of cast-iron guarantee from the Burmese government, the present state of ambiguity will continue.”

The Burma Army, since 2011, has broken the ceasefire with the KIO/KIA in 1994, and has been fighting against it and its allies, Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) Shan State Progress Party/ Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) as well as the MNDAA. With regards to the UWSP/UWSA and NDAA, so far there has been little or no fighting. But the two are reported to have been beefing up their defenses. The Wa in particular are also reported to have been supporting the KIA, TNLA,SSA and MNDAA with arms and ammo.

“This, together with other factors, can affect the ongoing peace process,” the source returning from Naypyitaw concluded.

Burma and China are the two major signatories of the Bandung Conference’s famous 5 principles of co- existence in 1955, 60 years ago, which are:
1. Mutual respect for each other’s territonal integrity and sovereignty
2. Mutual non-aggression
3. Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs
4. Equality and cooperation for mutual benefit
5. Peaceful co-existence

‘Paukphaw’, an affectionate name for China by the Burmese, means ‘sibling’.

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