Treaty signing preparation begins with a rocky start as conflict continues
The 20 September meeting in Yangon was supposed to be a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) signing preparation meeting between the regime’s preferred 15 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and the regime. But, with only 8 EAOs attending the gathering it was unable to form the necessary committees to go ahead with the government’s plans.
It seems that the regime has been in such haste, probably because it is in the middle of an election campaign and needs to produce positive result fast, that it had given only three days’ notice to the EAOs to appear.
Notably absent were the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Chin National Front (CNF), the two EAOs that have already committed to sign the NCA, buttressing it with a four party joint-statement ahead of the 5 top-level EAOs leadership meeting with the President, which took place in Naypyitaw on the 9 September. The joint-statement, involving Karen National Union (KNU), RCSS, Karen Peace Council (KPC) and CNF, has made it clear that they are for signing the NCA, with or without the all-inclusive participation of all EAOs.
Surprisingly the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), also known as Mong La, was present and is seen as a Chinese proxy as was the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) which is considered a hard-line organisation firmly tethered to the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) thus making the situation even more unfathomable.
Whatever the reasons, it was reported that Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), SSPP, KNU, NDAA, KPC, All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF) attended at the Union Peace-making Work Commit- tee’s (UPWC) invitation.
The Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) reasoned that the low turnout of the EAOs was due to the short invitation time span, which was sent out just three days before the meeting. And so, the preparation meeting would be moved to the 3 October, with the aim of signing the ceasefire treaty in the middle of October, at least according to the regime’s functionaries.
Preparations for “Plan B” or open book signing
The government’s “Plan B” or open book signing which sees the initial signing of NCA with those who are in agreement, followed by others at a later date, looks more and more likely, as the 17 EAOs leadership are still bogged down by preparations for the upcoming NCA summit meeting at the end of September.
The EAOs summit meeting is designed to map out a common position on how to reply to the
regime’s pushy agenda of signing the NCA by the middle of October. One EAOs’ leader likened the situation to the Thai expression “Phook Mue Choke” or where a man’s hands are tied to be beaten up.
Well-meaning sympathizers have been doling out opinions from outright siding with the regime’s advocacy of signing the NCA as it is – as in forsaking the all-inclusiveness of all EAOs, so that actual political dialogue could be started, to suggesting that EAOs, try to squeeze out political concessions to a maximum, before signing the treaty.
But the hard facts are that the rank and file of such well-wishers’ failure to pinpoint the core problem of “political settlement” in a clear and unmistakable formulation, which is “power and resources sharing” through establishment of a genuine federal system.
Successive military regimes, including the present quasi-civilian regime of Thein Sein, continue to unfalteringly uphold the Bamar centric political system, with some democratic trappings, coupled with the denial of an equitable political power-sharing and resources-sharing arrangement.
The policy of ‘area conquering and administration’
The Myanmar terms “Nare Myae Soe Moe Yaye” could be roughly translated into “area conquering and administration”, and is a strategy which has been used constantly and continuously to justify the Myanmar army’s occupation of ethnic homelands. And, to add a legal touch to the notion, an international term has been applied, by making use of international norms of protecting the infringement of “national sovereignty”; meaning: the infringement of the ethnic resistance forces on its national sovereignty rights. Thus, lending legitimacy to the Myanmar military’s occupation and militarization of the ethnic homelands, under the pretext of “national unity”.
But this regime’s assumption of sovereign monopoly is contested by the ethnic resistance forces’ notion of “shared-sovereignty”, which the ethnic nationalities justify and see as their legitimate rights being robbed by successive, Bamar-dominated, military regimes, including the present quasi-civilian government of Thein Sein, and have therefore been struggling to reinstate their political rights through armed struggle.
The occupation of the ethnic homelands and reinforcement of the Myanmar army continues unabated, while the NCA deliberation, whether with sincere intention or not, is moving parallel on a different track.
Unlawful Association Act
And as if to add insult to injury, the regime has openly and actively employed Sections 17/1 and 17/2, Unlawful Association Act, as a tool to push the EAOs into signing the NCA.
The UWSA, and a number of other groups, was openly threatened that if it refuses to sign the NCA, it would not be given the right to participate in the political dialogue phase and risked being branded an illegal organization.
But the logic and even the legal prospect of employing the Unlawful Association Act as a trump card could backfire, as Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal advisor has pointed out, any agreement signed with an illegal organization would be nullified and void, as no such treaty could be legalized, without first lifting certain clauses of the unlawful association act.
But it seems that President Thein Sein has, somehow, become aware of such a possible legal implication, for a few weeks ago, U Aung Min told various media outlets that the President had ordered that particular sections of the Unlawful Association Act be lifted for those who are ready to sign the NCA, before the signing of the treaty takes place.
Military engagement with the EAOs
In a recent interview, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing when asked why armed clashes had occurred at the time of NCA discussions, replied that there were two or three places, where the battles were happening. But Min Aung Hlaing insisted that the Tatmadaw was not launching attacks on EAOs designated areas, implying that there were such demarcated areas of agreement, and that firefights occurred only outside of such areas.
RFA reported on 22 September that fighting in north-eastern Myanmar had pitted Shan and Palaung rebels against government troops resulting in the deaths of troops from both sides in Namhsan and Yatsout (Lawksawk) townships. The same report said that clashes also ensued between government soldiers and Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) troops in Kyaukme and Mongmit townships
SHAN reported on 18 September that Myanmar Army Battalion No. 152 clashed with RCSS/SSA at Wan Kong village, 10 miles from southern Shan State’s Kolam Town in the township of the same name. According to RCSS/SSA sources, three Myanmar Army soldiers were killed and one was seriously wounded.
In the ensuing battles, the RCSS’ Shan language website “Tai Freedom” reported that the military used five helicopters to locate RCSS/SSA soldiers on the ground.
An RCSS report released on 16 September, speculated that renewed clashes come amid the Myanmar Army’s efforts to take control of RCSS/SSA controlled-areas. The report describes a wider military strategy in which the Myanmar Army searches for and then attacks Shan troops in the region.
In addition, Kachinland News reported on 22 September, that the KIA and Tatmadaw fought battles near Nam Lim Pa in Mansi Township, a location between Laika village and Munghkawng village in Mansi Township, and Nam Gut and Maw Tawng in northern Shan State. Local sources said about 10 casualties from the Myanmar Army were taken to Bhamo General Hospital.
If the regime would like to make headway in a dignified manner, it would be well advised to seriously rethink its misled employment of defending its national sovereignty pretext to militarily suppress and occupy ethnic homelands; and its usage of the Unlawful Association Act as a trump card, for the legal implication would only nullify the whole NCA
Photo: Hong Sar/Mizzima