THE NEED FOR TRUST
– Ethnic public consultations could invigorate the peace process
It seems the new Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)-signatory New Mon State Party (NMSP), which has just joined on February 13, is experiencing the same fate of obstruction and prohibition in holding public consultation meetings or national-level political dialogues. Like its counterparts, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) it is understood as a necessity to gather public opinion and input for the forthcoming third 21st Century Panglong Conference, scheduled to take place sometime in May this year.
According to the Mon sources, NMSP Central Executive Committee member Naing Win Hla said that the Tatmadaw's South-Eastern Command authorities prohibited the holding of the public consultation meeting, stating that it should be within the limit of 30 participants and not over 200, as planned by the NMSP.
Reportedly, on March 10, the NMSP was preparing to hold a meeting, to clarify why it signed the NCA, to discuss plans and to gather input at its Thaton District Headquarters with the participation of some 200 people, including political parties, civil society organisations and family members of the Mon Army. However, the meeting was prohibited by the Tatmadaw saying there were too many participants.
The Mon national-level political dialogue had been planned in five places with about 250 participants each between March 10 to 27 by the NMSP.
Naing Win Hla said: “We have tabled and explained the situation of the meeting postponement due to a complaint of high participant numbers to the Peace Commission (PC) and also the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC). And we are waiting on how they will resolve the problem.”
Although openly irked by the situation, Naing Win Hla said they are determined to continue with the political negotiations adding: “We just signed the NCA so we could enter the political negotiation meeting. Now this month, it has not happened according to our plans. And also the same is happening in other places. We still have a lot of groups that haven't signed, and I conclude that this could result [organisations] in having less faith in the NCA.”
The RCSS spokesman Col Sai Nguen, whose organisation also faced the same problem in Shan State said: “We are entitled to hold free consultation meetings widely within our people's areas. But the Tatmadaw sees just the opposite. That's why we are now trying to settle the different views through informal meetings between the government, Tatmadaw and us.”
Regarding the NMSP problem, Sai Nguen suggested that if a bilateral agreement between itself and the Tatmadaw couldn't be reached, the way to proceed is through the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) which is responsible for political dialogue and directing the whole peace process. And if the UPDJC is unable to resolve the problem, the NMSP should proceed to Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) that is the highest organ that delegates the whole NCA-based peace process.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that U Aung Soe member of the PC had said the problem with the Tatmadaw has been negotiated and resolved. He explained that U Khin Zaw Oo, who is the PC Secretary and also Tatmadaw representative is instrumental in resolving the misunderstanding
Aung Thu Nyein Director of the Institute for Strategy and Policy – Myanmar (ISP – Myanmar) said: “The problem is that the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), government and the Tatmadaw don't understand each other. The ethnic nationalities take is that comprehensive and wide consultation is needed to gather opinion and formulate position papers for the peace conferences, and they also want to do it repeatedly. But the government, especially the Tatmadaw, wants them to conduct such meetings with the limitations on time and space.”
The government and the Tatmadaw will need to consider if such a limited public consultation mechanism for the RCSS, ALP and NMSP will foster trust-building. For all its trumpeting that the NCA approach is jointly owned, the powers that be need to show broad-mindedness now and get rid of its angst that the ethnic population is against it.
A degree of trust combined with calculated risk is the way to go for the government and the Tatmadaw. And to say the least, it is a low-risk undertaking in agreeing to ethnic public consultation meetings in ethnic states. Such activities could stimulate trust-building and who knows, maybe taking a calculated risk by trusting the ethnic nationalities would go a long way to empower the now stagnated peace process.