Mak­ing his­tory on the long road to peace

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - By Aung Naing Oo

An his­toric tri­par­tite meet­ing among rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Gov­ern­ment of Myan­mar, po­lit­i­cal par­ties and eth­nic armed groups took place at the Myan­mar Peace Cen­ter on Au­gust 18. It was an his­toric event in the sense that they met for the first time in Myan­mar’s his­tory. It was also sig­nif­i­cant that the meet­ing took place on the third an­niver­sary of the be­gin­ning of the peace process.

The seat­ing was in a tri­an­gle for­mat but the dis­cus­sions were three-way. The tone of the con­ver­sa­tions was frank and col­le­gial.

As it was an his­toric event, the me­dia was al­lowed to cover the meet­ing un­hin­dered. The United Na­tions spe­cial en­voy on Myan­mar, Mr Vi­jay Nam­biar, also at­tended the meet­ing to ob­serve the his­toric ex­changes among the three groups.

The over­all agenda was peace. But the spe­cific agenda was to in­tro­duce of­fi­cially the next step of the peace process after a na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment is signed: the de­vel­op­ment of a frame­work for po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue, which will form the ba­sis for po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue.

There are only five points re­main­ing to be ne­go­ti­ated be­fore agree­ment can

be reached on a na­tion­wide cease­fire. It is highly likely that the ne­go­ti­a­tions will be con­cluded at the next round of talks due to take place later this month. When that hap­pens, ne­go­ti­a­tions will need to be­gin im­me­di­ately on the frame­work for po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue.

The terms of the draft cease­fire agree­ment re­quire the frame­work for po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue to be de­vel­oped and ne­go­ti­ated within 60 days. They also stip­u­late that the po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue must be­gin within 90 days from the sign­ing and val­i­da­tion of the cease­fire agree­ment.

It is an am­bi­tious pro­vi­sion but the terms of the cease­fire agree­ment must be met. The process to de­velop the frame­work for po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue must be­gin in par­al­lel with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the cease­fire. There will not be a mo­ment to lose

Po­lit­i­cal par­ties have had to watch from the side­lines as the cease­fire ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tin­ued be­tween the gov­ern­ment and eth­nic armed groups. The tri­par­tite talks can be re­garded as an an­nounce­ment that the peace process is be­ing ex­panded from two-way ne­go­ti­a­tions to three-way talks.

Par­tic­i­pa­tion in the po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue will not be limited to the three main di­a­logue part­ners. The process will also have to al­low for the par­tic­i­pa­tion of ex­perts, women and civil so­ci­ety, with the tri­par­tite group form­ing the core of the po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The Au­gust 18 meet­ing is an in­di­ca­tion of the dra­matic changes that have taken place in Myan­mar in re­cent years. It bodes well for Myan­mar’s fu­ture. From the per­spec­tive of con­flict res­o­lu­tion, the meet­ing pro­vided a huge boost for con­fi­dence-build­ing among dis­parate po­lit­i­cal groups.

Look­ing back at the po­lit­i­cal land­scape of a decade or so ago, the idea of tri­par­tite talks is not new.

As early as 2000, po­lit­i­cal and eth­nic op­po­si­tion groups called for a tri­par­tite di­a­logue. They wanted it to in­volve the then mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment, eth­nic groups in­clud­ing those that were armed and pro-democ­racy groups led by the Na­tional League for Democ­racy. The UN sup­ported the idea of tri­par­tite talks.

After op­po­si­tion leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met mil­i­tary lead­ers in 2000, ex­pec­ta­tions rose for tri­par­tite talks but they never ma­te­ri­alised.

This was be­cause, said op­po­nents of the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment, there was no po­lit­i­cal will on its part to em­bark on the road to di­a­logue. It must be ac­knowl­edged that the junta was not ready then for such a di­a­logue. This is be­cause, es­sen­tially, the au­thor­i­tar­ian polity did not pro­vide any space for po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue.

At that time, eth­nic groups not only talked about the need for three-way ne­go­ti­a­tions but also out­lined what needed to be dis­cussed. They said tri­par­tite di­a­logue should fo­cus on three pri­mary is­sues: the con­sti­tu­tion of the fu­ture Union of Myan­mar, democ­racy and the fu­ture of the armed forces.

Given the likely com­po­si­tion of the forth­com­ing po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue, there is lit­tle change in who may be in­volved. The only ex­cep­tion is the ex­pan­sion of par­tic­i­pa­tion to groups beyond the tri­par­tite.

In terms of agenda, it will re­volve around the same is­sues raised a decade ago but its fo­cus will no longer be on pol­i­tics. It will be based on peace, which was not men­tioned when the idea of a tri­par­tite talks was mooted in the past.

The his­toric Au­gust talks went ex­tremely well. In the face-to-face talks, the gov­ern­ment, politi­cians and eth­nic armed groups raised con­cerns about cease­fire talks and prospects for peace and pro­vided sug­ges­tions to main­tain mo­men­tum to­wards progress.

They ex­pressed mul­ti­far­i­ous po­lit­i­cal stances but they were cen­tred on a will­ing­ness to co­op­er­ate for peace and the fu­ture of the Union and to re­solve age-old griev­ances. Most im­por­tantly, many par­tic­i­pants ex­pressed their vi­sion for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

More­over, while the gov­ern­ment fo­cused on the im­por­tance of in­clu­sive­ness and com­mit­ment for the po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue, eth­nic armed groups talked about the rea­sons why they took up arms. On the other side of the tri­an­gu­lar ta­ble, po­lit­i­cal par­ties called the meet­ing “a new chap­ter in Myan­mar his­tory.”

The likely agree­ment this month on a na­tional cease­fire sig­nals the im­mi­nent be­gin­ning of the po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue. All stake­hold­ers are en­er­gised by the pos­i­tive out­come of the tri­par­tite talks last month. But they are just the be­gin­ning. There are many more ahead.

It has taken more than a decade for the tri­par­tite talks to ma­te­ri­alise. Sac­ri­fices have been made. I hope the talks yield the re­sults for which we have all been wait­ing.

(Aung Naing Oo is as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of the Peace Di­a­logue Pro­gram, Myan­mar Peace Cen­ter. The opin­ions ex­pressed are his own).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.