A glimmer of peace
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.”