Nationwide ceasefire non-signatories defend cautious approach to peace process engagement
NON-SIGNATORIES to the nationwide ceasefire agreement have insisted that they are taking the necessary time to prepare for future dialogues, not delaying the peace process, as State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi implied at last week’s meeting of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) in Nay Pyi Taw.
Speaking in her capacity as chair of the UPDJC, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said time was limited and urged groups outside the official negotiations framework not to create delays, advising government negotiators, signatory groups and political parties to find alternatives for the participation of non-signatories in the ongoing peace process.
“We should make them have the sense of responsibility in this peace process,” she was quoted as saying in a statement from the Office of the State Counsellor.
General Sai Htoo of the Shan State Progressive Party objected to the state counsellor’s characterisation, saying members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) – a coalition of seven non-signatories – were not creating delays.
He said reticence to rush headlong into the next phase of the peace process, in his group’s case, reflected reservations born out of perceived flaws in two bilateral ceasefire agreements the SSPP signed with the previous government.
Despite having ceasefire accords at the state and Union level, he said the SSPP had been involved in more than 500 hostile engagements with the Tatmadaw since the documents were signed in 2012.
“We are not making delays. We are taking time and preparing for the peace process, which is important for us,” he said. “If we could negotiate with the government on the eight points of demand quickly, then we could sign the NCA quickly and participate in the next steps.”
He was referring to eight terms set out by the Delegation for Political Negotiation, a body of the UNFC, that it wants met before committing to the NCA.
Of the eight points, the DPN and the government’s peace commission reached agreement on four during negotiations last month.
One DPN demand is for the formation of a neutral tribunal to enforce the terms of the NCA that involves domestic and international law experts and judges that are acceptable to both parties.
Khu Oo Reh of the Karenni National Progressive Party said the presence of a third party on the tribunal was necessary to resolve problems that would inevitably arise in the future between NCA signatories and the Tatmadaw.
“Since we are warring parties, our points of view on disputes, and conflicts that would arise in the future, requires a non-warring third party,” he said.
At the one-year anniversary of the NCA’s signing on October 15, Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing warned that a drawn-out peace process risked further losses in terms of the property and well-being of the public, as well as hindering the country’s development.
But Shwe Myo Thant, secretary of the Karenni National Progressive Party, urged a patient approach to the process’s next steps.
“I don’t think time is a limitation. No one should force the others to sign the NCA. If it [signings] happened because of pressure or being forced, the ceasefire won’t even last,” Shwe Myo Thant said.
“I think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wants to do too many things during her term. It is not good.”
Her National League for Democracyled government, which was sworn into power in late March, has made the country’s peace process a top priority for its five-year term.
The International Crisis Group, an independent research organisation based in Brussels, suggested last month that the new government should make timelines flexible and give space to ethnic armed groups.
Ethnic Shan politician Sai Nyunt Lwin of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) said peace negotiations were not to be hammered through, and rather should proceed on the basis of achieving mutual agreement among the concerned parties. The SNLD official said his party would actively participate in the nationallevel political dialogues based on ethnic affairs, which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said will be convened later this month.
Political commentator U Than Soe Naing said limits to who can participate in the national-level talks should be dropped. He referred specifically to two powerful groups along the China-Myanmar border that have enjoyed autonomy for more than two decades, as well as the UNFC members.
“Granting seats at the nationallevel talks only to those who sign the NCA is a bad approach. I think the government does not have a plan for the inclusion of such groups as the Wa and the Mongla. The National Reconciliation and Peace Centre should have a plan to bring them into the peace negotiations ring,” he said.
Relations between the two allies along the China-Myanmar border – the United Wa State Army and the National Democratic Alliance Army, better known as the Mongla group – have been strained of late.
Neither group participated in the peace talks that led to the drafting of the NCA, nor the subsequent signing of the pact.
“The NCA is another Union-level ceasefire document. Because they both have had bilateral ceasefire agreements since 1989, barring them will not create peace and reconciliation, but instead take more time for [achieving] peace,” U Than Soe Naing said.
Another meeting between the DPN and the government’s peace commission is scheduled for November 15 and 16 at the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre in Yangon, according to Gen Sai Htoo.
‘I think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wants to do too many things during her term. It is not good.’
Shwe Myo Thant Karenni National Progressive Party