One year after the NCA
Both State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing marked the anniversary by urging more ethnic armed groups to quickly sign on to the pact.
ON the one-year anniversary of the nationwide ceasefire agreement, both State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called for more ethnic armed groups to sign the truce.
Speaking at a ceremony in the capital on October 15, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called the NCA the first and most important step in the process.
“We are all aware that not all those who we would like to participate and those who it is worth having participate are included yet,” she said.
She added that rather than focusing on how to defeat each other in firepower, armed groups in Myanmar needed to show their willingness to prioritise extinguishing the fires of old wounds and bitterness.
“Should we want peace and a ceasefire, we had better start with extinguishing the anger and prejudices which are like a fire burning inside our heart and soul,” she said.
The nationwide ceasefire agreement, forged by U Thein Sein’s government, represents the culmination of two years at the negotiating table, but failed to deliver a truly nationwide pact. Just eight armed groups agreed to sign on to the NCA in October 2015, while at least five ethnic armed organisations waging hostilities against the Tatmadaw continued to stay outside the agreement.
Since the National League for Democracy-led government inherited the peace process earlier this year it staged a mass conference steeped in symbolism but light on any substantive path forward. August’s 21st-century Panglong Conference brought representatives from nearly all the ethnic armed groups, the Tatmadaw, the government and political parties to the table, and was hailed as a landmark event. But it was also riddled with problems of inclusivity, featured a walkout, ended a day early and achieved only a foundational airing of grievances.
In the weeks since the conference, military hostilities have escalated around the country, with renewed or intensified outbreaks of fighting in Shan, Kachin and Kayin states.
“All people around the country are watching our peacemaking process. They have high hopes for peace. They are watching what the government, the military and ethnic armed groups are doing, but I would like to say … don’t underestimate our people,” said State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
She encouraged the government, the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups to vie for a new kind of goal. “What I want to tell the government, the military and ethnic armed organisations is to compete ... [to see] who is more open-minded, who is more tolerant and who places more value on the future rather than the past,” she said.
Speaking at the same ceremony, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said, “It’s true that talks and meetings have taken place without ending fights which sparks doubts that we can ever not be mired in armed conflicts.”
He added that to pursue peace, trust must be built.
“If we accept democracy, we need to break down the obsession with armed struggle which is against democracy. To do so, we already have the NCA which has been ratified by many forces. The NCA clearly states the ceasefire process and future plans,” he said.
He also jettisoned ethnic armed groups’ proposal that the future federal Union be made up of states defined along ethnic lines. Citing ethnic breakdown statistics without giving the source of his information – the ethnicity data from the 2014 census continues to be withheld – the commander-in-chief noted that even the current states are a demographic mix that cannot be said to represent any one group.
“All of the regions and states in the Union should be considered home to all ethnics, not just a home for single ethnic group specifically,” he said.
He added that signing the NCA is a high-stakes, high-rewards endeavour that will ensure no more new clashes and regional stability that will allow people to earn their livelihood in safety and both sides to build trust.
“However, if it takes a long time to implement the peace process, people will face loss of life and property and the country will lag behind on development. As such, the Peace Conference needs to be followed up through signing the NCA as quickly as possible in the interest of the country and the ethnic groups,” he said.
A second Panglong Conference is expected to be called within six months of the first.
In the interim, the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) plans to hold a national-level political dialogue at the state and region levels in order to finalise the dialogue framework. Non-signatory groups are required to first sign the NCA if they wish to take part in the dialogue phase of the process.