Peace process collapses
An ethnic armed organization’s (EAOs) Summit Meeting was held at The Park Hotel, Chiang Mai, from 28 to 30 September to discuss the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire agreement (NCA).
Some one hundred participants from 19 EAOs – 17 National Ceasefire Co-coordinating Team members, and observers from the Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army – Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS) - were present.
At the end of the summit, 7 groups decided to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) while the rest remain reluctant to follow the government initiative of inking the treaty by mid-October.
Partial ceasefire signing
On 28 September, the first day of the summit, VOA Burmese section reported Chairman Hkun Myint Htun of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) as saying, “Some organizations clearly said that they would sign the agreement. But some, even though not rejecting to sign, said they are not ready and need more time. For example, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) reportedly needs more time to brief and secure agreement from their people. They agree with the President’s initiative, but need more time to work it out between themselves. That is the basic argument.”
To add more confusion to the already fragile issue of all-inclusive participation of EAOs, in signing the NCA, The Irrawaddy quoted General Mutu Say Poe saying: “I’ve already decided. I won’t take responsibility of chairing the meeting anymore, in any upcoming meeting. That’s why I’m tabling this (concern of mine). So how will the EAOs decide on my petition? Can you accept or reject it? My decision is, I absolutely won’t take responsibility as a Chairperson for the third day of the meeting. That’s why I’m tabling this paper (petition).”
At the start of the gathering, prior to Mutu Say Poe’s personal intervention in the summit meeting, Saw Roger Khin had already tabled a Karen National Union (KNU) petition concerning its leader’s rejection of taking the chairperson responsibility.
Highlighting the importance of the summit’s results, SHAN reported on 25 September, quoting U Aung Min, that for the government, the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) before the November elections is a mission that must be completed regardless of the number of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) involved.
Dr Min Zaw Oo, from the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), supported him by saying, “Ta-tetsa-le-kyetthun, Hna-tet-sa-le-kyetthun (Eat one section, it’s garlic; eat two sections, it’s still garlic — old Myanmar saying). It doesn’t matter how many EAOs are signing. It is an NCA. There’ll be an open book for those who are yet to sign.”
Thus, it could be said that the stage is set for a non-nationwide ceasefire agreement (NNCA), rather than a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), as had been planned from the outset. In other words, only a partial ceasefire agreement and not an all-inclusive nationwide ceasefire would be signed.
U Aung Min’s lobbying of EAOs
Over the last few weeks, U Aung Min, the regime’s top peace negotiator, and his team have been on a heightened lobbying tour, in their last-ditch effort to woo as many EAOs as possible to ink the NCA by the middle of October.
To date, his team have met the United Wa State Army (UWSA), NDAA-ESS, National Socialist
Council of Nagaland-Kaplan (NSCN-K), Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) in an attempt to persuade them to follow others in signing the NCA.
All the approached EAOs seem to be sticking to their not signing stance, regardless of the government’s threats that they will lose the chance to participate in the upcoming political dialogue and will continue to be listed as illegal organizations.
When U Aung Min recently met NMSP leader, Nai Htaw Mon, in Thanphuzayat, he told him that the Mon could sign the NCA any time before the political dialogue phase, and even participate in the dialogue without signing the NCA.
However, Aung Min also reportedly urged the NMSP to sign the NCA saying that it would not be able to participate in a leading role, if it refused to sign.
The Mon leader’s response was said to be non-committal, saying that his organization desired peace and would strive to attain it by working hand-in-hand with the other EAOs.
The TNLA was offered a bilateral ceasefire agreement, followed by the signing of the NCA. But the TNLA insisted that their two allies, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA) must also be included. It also said that it is hard to believe the regime’s overtures of a bilateral ceasefire, when there are on-going offensives against them.
In the same vein, Colonel Sai Hla of RCSS/SSA said that recent battles occurring with the Tatmadaw could derail the peace process. He said that he believed it is time that the battles be stopped. No matter who is to be blamed, battles should be terminated by negotiations.
In an interview with the Independent Mon News Agency (IMNA), U Kyaw Wan Sein said “We already discussed the topic with our chairman. The chairman said we aren’t ready to sign the NCA yet. And, there are some political issues in our group. We cannot find a solution for this by just signing the NCA.
Abel Tweed, head of the KNPP, said his organization could only sign the NCA, if there is an all-inclusive participation of the EAOs or if the USDP-Military government could satisfactorily show that it is working for all-inclusiveness.
Three possible scenarios
In a nutshell, the 7 EAOs geared to sign the NCA are KNU, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), Karen Peace Council (KPC), Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF), PNLO and Chin National Front (CNF), while those 10 groups abstaining are KNPP, NMSP, KIO, SSPP, Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), Wa national Organization (WNO), Arakan National Council (ANC), PSLF, AA and MNDAA.
Neither the NDAA-ESS nor the RCSS made any commitment one way or the other.
The summit meeting closed with the dissolution of the EAOs-Senior Delegation and the expiration of its mandate.
The government position has not changed from its stated intention of allowing 15 chosen EAOs to sign the NCA, with the MNDAA, TNLA, AA, WNO, LDU and ANC excluded from the process.
This being the case, one of three possible scenarios would likely emerge and pave the way for Myanmar’s political future.
One is the suspension of the partial-ceasefire agreement, due to the regime’s loss of face for failing to pull through a true nationwide ceasefire. The other is to muddle through with the open book strategy, starting with those who are ready to sign, hoping that it will gain momentum, and perhaps give satisfaction to the foreign donors and international community. And the final one is to put the issue on the back burner and hope for a bet- ter opportunity, after the election.
Whatever the case, the failure to implement the NCA is solely the shortcomings of the Union Solidarity and Development Party-Military (USDP-Military) regime.
First and foremost, the so-called single text NCA draft is supposed to be jointly owned by the EAOs and the regime, developing it and seeking to resolve the conflict as negotiation partners together. And when the government, all of a sudden, hijacked the draft, made it its own and even gave out invitations to its chosen 15 EAOs, the whole process deviated from its original intention and became a “deceptive détournement” with new meanings and a new context.
Thus naturally, most EAOs were taken aback and irked by the automatic demotion of their status from equal partner of the process to those of the underlings of the regime, having to follow the government’s lead in the peace deliberations and no longer on the same level as negotiation partners.
Secondly, the regime lacked a common and sincere vision with its negotiating partner.
The ongoing offensives on KIA, TNLA and RCSS, while peace talks were underway, is a stark reminder of such ill intention and is seen as insincere by the ethnic nationalities.
And finally, in Myanmar’s historical context, to facilitate reconciliation, it involves the repentance, acceptance and acknowledgment by all Bamar-dominated regimes, including the present USDP-Military government, of the breaching of the Panglong Agreement between Ministerial Burma and the ethnic nationalities and the subsequent failure to implement its promises of constructing a federal union.
As such, if an NCA is to be achieved, in the real sense of the word, the above mentioned factors or core issues would have to be taken into consideration. Otherwise, the present regime as well as the one that follows would only be muddling through the political waters without ever having a chance to resolve the decades-old ethnic conflict and achieving a future based on harmony and equality.
Talks in Chiang Mai. Photo: Phanida/Mizzima