A glim­mer of peace

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Front Page - CHAN THAR chan­[email protected]­times.com Photo: EPA

The uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion by the coun­try’s pow­er­ful mil­i­tary to halt op­er­a­tions against some armed eth­nic groups pro­vides a glim­mer of hope to re­vive the stalled peace process.

THE de­ci­sion by the Tat­madaw (mil­i­tary) to uni­lat­er­ally de­clare a four­month cease­fire in a lim­ited area has cre­ated a new chance to move for­ward the gov­ern­ment-ini­ti­ated peace process.

The Fed­eral Po­lit­i­cal Ne­go­ti­a­tion and Con­sul­ta­tive Com­mit­tee, which is com­prised of armed eth­nic groups who have not signed the Na­tion­wide Cease­fire Agree­ment (NCA), hailed the move as a cru­cial step in the ef­fort to end decades of fight­ing in the coun­try. But while the cease­fire, the first de­clared since the peace process was ini­ti­ated in 2015, raised hopes for the prospects of the peace process, it is still up to gov­ern­ment ne­go­tia­tors to seize the mo­ment to keep the talks go­ing.

Peace is a top pri­or­ity of the rul­ing Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD), though the peace process has foundered since it took power in 2016. The gov­ern­ment’s goal is to seek fi­nal agree­ment with armed eth­nic groups on ba­sic fed­eral prin­ci­ples in 2019, but there are a lot of hur­dles that need to be over­come be­fore sub­stan­tive agree­ments can be reached.

Last month, the process ap­peared to be in trou­ble after two pow­er­ful armed groups that have signed the NCA – the Karen Na­tional Union (KNU) and Restora­tion Coun­cil of Shan State (RCSS) – tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Gov­ern­ment ne­go­tia­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the 10 armed eth­nic groups par­tic­i­pat­ing in the talks have yet to find mid­dle ground on the key is­sues of non-se­ces­sion and the right of the states to draft their own con­sti­tu­tions.

The third ses­sion of the 21st Cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence in July dis­cussed gen­eral and non­con­tro­ver­sial is­sues but not these key is­sues.

There were ef­forts to dis­cuss non­se­ces­sion in a smaller group in Nay Pyi Taw in Novem­ber, but the talks ended in a stale­mate.

U Maung Maung Soe, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst who closely mon­i­tors the peace process, said it is un­likely that the KNU and RCSS would re­join the for­mal talks.

“There is no way ex­cept in­for­mally that the KNU and RCSS would par­tic­i­pate in the talks again. We can call them to the path of peace by hold­ing in­for­mal meet­ings,” he said.

Small in­for­mal meet­ings seemed to pro­duced good re­sults in the gov­ern­ment’s ef­fort to move the peace process for­ward, such as in the case of the North­ern Al­liance.

The three armed eth­nic groups in the al­liance – the Ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army (TNLA), Myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army (MNDAA), and the Arakan Army (AA) – de­clared they would co­op­er­ate with the gov­ern­ment on find­ing a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the con­flict and re­frain from armed clashes with gov­ern­ment forces.

The state­ment, re­leased on Sep­tem­ber 12 after a meet­ing be­tween al­liance rep­re­sen­ta­tives and gov­ern­ment ne­go­tia­tors in Kun­ming, Yun­nan Prov­ince, China, said they wel­come the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the peace process by the gov­ern­ment and reaf­firmed their com­mit­ment to find­ing a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion and avoid­ing armed con­flict.

U Khin Zaw Oo, sec­re­tary of the Peace Com­mis­sion, said it is work­ing on sign­ing bi­lat­eral cease­fire agree­ments with the three groups in the al­liance.

“After the three groups sign cease­fire agree­ments, we will con­tinue ne­go­ti­at­ing for them to sign the NCA,” said U Hla Maung Shwe, ad­viser to the com­mis­sion.

The three groups are also mem­bers of Fed­eral Po­lit­i­cal Ne­go­ti­a­tion and Con­sul­ta­tive Com­mit­tee, which com­prises the United League of Arakan/arakan Army, the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army (KIA), the Myan­mar Na­tional Truth and Jus­tice Party/myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army, the Palaung State Lib­er­a­tion Front/ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army, the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the Peace and Sol­i­dar­ity Com­mit­tee/shan State East Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance As­so­ci­a­tion (PSC/NDAA), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

The UWSA, NDAA and SSPP have signed the NCA. The KIA has signed a con­flict ne­go­ti­a­tion agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment. The Karenni Na­tional Pro­gres­sive Party, which is based in Thai­land and In­dia and has not signed the NCA, has signed a bi­lat­eral cease­fire agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment.

Although fight­ing be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and the TNLA and MNDAA sub­sided last year, fight­ing broke out be­tween the mil­i­tary and AA at the end of Novem­ber in Buthi­daung town­ship on the Bangladesh bor­der and in Rathedaung and Pon­nagyun town­ships, forc­ing more than 1000 lo­cal peo­ple to flee their homes.

U Maung Maung Soe said the big­gest hur­dles to the peace process will be the is­sues of a uni­fied armed force, non-se­ces­sion and the right of states to draft con­sti­tu­tions.

“The con­cept of a uni­fied armed force and non-se­ces­sion re­quire a higher level of dis­cus­sion,” he said. “Also, more ef­forts need to be made to in­clude all seven armed eth­nic groups that haven’t signed the NCA.”

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