The controversial and much talked about Ethnic Armed Organizations’ (EAOs) Plenary Meeting in Mai Ja Yang, Kachin Independence Organization’s (KIO) controlled town near Chinese border, took place from 26 to 30 July, extending a full day more than that was originally planned date of 29 July, due to the need to cover all the agendas previously agreed upon.
The meeting was attended by 17 EAOs, minus the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K), making it the most comprehensive and exclusive meeting to determine the common position of the EAOs. Also attending were representatives from two umbrella, alliance organizations of ethnic nationalities political parties; United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) and National Brotherhood Federation (NBF), including the Women League of Burma (WLB), UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser Vijay Nambiar and Sun Guoxiang, Special Envoy of Asian Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.
This was the fifth EAOs gathering that followed the earlier four meetings, twice in Laiza, KIO controlled largest town, and twice in Law Khee Lar, the Karen National Union (KNU) administered area, during the last couple of years since the former President Thein Sein started the peace process in 2011.
During the five‐day summit, delegates discussed on the issues of approving the Panglong Handbook prepared by the Kachin, Shan and Chin EAOs as the original signatories of the Panglong Agreement in 1947 with the Burmese Interim Government; basic principles for the constitution of a future federal democratic union; basic principles for security and defence; and the amendment, fine-tuning of Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD).
While the Mai Ja Yang meeting was endorsed by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) that would help and enable the EAOs to achieve a common position, complementing and supporting the upcoming 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC) as preferred by Aung San Suu Kyi or Union Peace Conference (UPC) dubbed by the previous regime, the military (Tatmadaw) was against it saying that it could divide the EAOs more than forging unity. But it also didn’t hide its worry that they could use the occasion to form military alliance among themselves and expand their territorial control.
Whatever the case, let us look at the outcomes on what has been discussed at the meeting.
The EAOs Panglong Handbook endorsement was in order, which emphasized the core principles of rights of self-determination, equality and democracy to be applicable in all their political bargaining process. Accordingly, only a final touch on some wordings were needed.
The Panglong Handbook is a compilation of historical facts, principles and guidelines for the Panglong agreement, with the explanation of its spirit and pledges, which have failed to materialize after nearly 70 years of its signing in 1947, in Panglong town of Shan State. The treaty was signed between the then Burmese interim government, represented by Aung San – the late father of Aung San Suu Kyi – and three ethnic nationalities, the Chin, Kachin and Shan.
The Burmese interim government, which was then known as Burma Proper or Ministerial Burma included all the territories inhabited by the Karen, Mon and Arakan among others, while the Karenni state was then considered by the British as an independent territory.
The meeting agreed on the 8 point principles in drafting a federal union constitution, which included sovereignty, equality, rights of self-determination, genuine federalism, protecting the rights of minorities, democratic rights, universal human rights and gender equality, and multi-party system-based secular form of governance.
The EAOs’ guidelines were based on federal union constitution that was drafted in 2008 by Federal Constitution Drafting and Coordinating Committee (FCDCC) and added proposals made by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) in 2015.
The most outstanding point of discussion in federal form of governance was the alteration proposal of “national” state and “nationalities” state formation, rather than just accepting and going along with the 14 States and Regions configuration under the present military-drafted constitution. Hypothetically, for example, a Bamar State could be carved out from Mandalay, Magway and Bago Regions, while Yangon (Rangoon), Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy), Tanintharyi (Tenasserim) and Sagaing Regions could become nationalities states, for they are populated with various other ethnic groups, besides Bamar ethnic.
Security and defence
The security sector reform (SSR) deliberations the EAOs mainly focused on the formation of a federal union army, which should be under the defence ministry and subordinated to the civilian government, emphasizing that the country’s president would be the Commander-in-Chief of the military.
The military has tried all along to push for the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR), which entertains only the surrender of the EAOs without question or coming under the wings of the Bamar-dominated Tatmadaw, while the EAOs were for the SSR that harbours more on integration into the security apparatus either in form of state security units, like state defence or border patrol police force, of their concerned state, plus becoming part of the federal union army within a given prescribed quota.
The Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Laing has time and again said that the military is striving to become a standard army, which could be construed as either trying to build a professional or union army, leaving politics to the civilian government. But Min Aung Hlaing’s professed timeline of some 15 years for the military to go back to the barracks starkly contrasted with the vague commitment of withdrawing from political arena, which he is inclined to dole out publicly occasionally.
Framework for Political Dialogue
The amendment of the FPD that has been drawn by the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), without the UNFC, centred around the participation quota, which was agreed by all attending EAOs to be a tripartite one endorsed by the United Nations for decades. The recent FPD under the NCA setting now has seven groups, which the EAOs thought could not lead to equitable and fair participation of the ethnic nationalities.
The EAOs’ proposed tripartite includes the government, the parliament and the military as one party; the EAOs as another; and the other, all the registered political parties nationwide.
Common position still need to be ironed out
With the EAOs Plenary Meeting coming to an end on 30 July, a statement issued said that the common position on a variety of issues still have to be ironed out. Reportedly, there were a number of open questions that needed further discussion.
General N’Ban La, vice chairman of the KIO and UNFC chairman urged the meeting participants that it would be good to form a single negotiation group together between the signatory and non-signatory EAOs, under the UNFC, to talk to the government.
N’Ban La who was in an upbeat mood said: “The ethnic nationalities’ political rights discussion has enable us to achieve a common position for future political negotiation process, which has shown our most invaluable unity. I want to thank all the ethnic leaders and make a record (on this).”
The meeting further resolved to form a working group, to compile all the agreed points and discuss the remaining outstanding issues. It is said that the Coordinating Team (CT) of the 8 signatory EAOs and the UNFC’s Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) would find ways to achieve common positions and bridge the gap on outstanding issues.
According to Mizzima, Colonel Sai Hla from the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) summed up the situation recently as follows: “We got a draft from the four negotiation issues. It was agreed that in order to confirm it, our top leaders will hold another meeting and make decision.”
The positive outcome was said to be that the two groups have resolved to bargain as one party in the peace negotiation process and the agreed upon the understanding to ask for postponement of the August scheduled 21 CPC from the government, to either September or November, as they needed more time to work out common positions among themselves.
The meeting was said to be successful according to Khu Oo Reh, who is the convening Chairman of the Mai Ja Yang meeting. “While we cannot say that we have one hundred percent agreement (on all issues discussed), it is almost close to it,” he said.
But Sai Kyaw Nyunt representative of the UNA has a different opinion and said that only about fifty percent agreement has been reached. He particularly pointed out the lack of concrete agreement, especially on the issue of national state and nationalities state formation criterion. He explained: “We discussed about the formation of a Bamar State and other nationalities states, with no concrete count of how many states it should be there. But in building a federal union with equality, representation (of each ethnic state) is anyhow needed.”
Outlook and perspective
The purpose of the meeting participants attending the Mai Ja Yang summit, along with civil society organisations and political parties was to prepare for the 21CPC and to find common ground for a future federal union. In this respect, it could be said that the objectives are fulfilled, although one could argue to what degree of achievement the meeting has made.
Khu Oo Reh said that it was successful and was nearly a hundred percent achievement of the meeting’s objective, while some ethnic political alliance representatives put it as some fifty percent success rate. However, some of the crucial hurdles still left and remain to be resolved are the much debated controversial issue of all-inclusiveness and real ceasefire implementation on the ground, in order to even participate in the amending of FPD, recently being opened by the government to the EAOs that have not yet signed the NCA.
During the course of meeting in Mai Ja Yang, Vice-Chairman of UNFC Nai Han Thar and UNFC Chairman General N’Ban La reportedly reiterated their commitment of all-inclusiveness participation in the peace process – meaning that the excluded three EAOs that the military refused to let in must be included – and the implementation of a genuine ceasefire implementation on the ground, either through unilateral ceasefire from the government part or simultaneous ceasefire declaration, both by the military and the EAOs.
Only after the above mentioned conditions are being satisfactorily resolved, the participation of the FPD amendment discussion could take place, which again would lead to another hurdle of implementing a “tripartite dialogue” mode of participation.
The UPDJC has now accepted seven parties to participate in the UPC, to thrash out a political settlement that include a total of 700 delegates comprising 75 from the Government, 75 from the Hluttaw, 150 from the Tatmadaw, 150 from EAOs, 150 from registered political parties, 50 from ethnic representatives and 50 from others who should participate.
And finally, provided that the tripartite participation mode is agreed, the signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) would follow, leading to the participation of the UPC or 21CPC.
One day after the EAOs’ Plenary Meeting, responding to a question on what he thought about the tripartite position of the EAOs, Zaw Htay spokesperson of the Presidential Office replied to the BBC, that he welcomed it, as it is exactly the same with the UPDJC setup, where the government, parliament and the military, the EAOs and the political parties, all three have an equal representation of 16 members each.
Nevertheless, it is a tall order by any standard and all would have to go through the negotiation phase whether they like it or not.
For the time being, the EAOs will be burdened with ironing out the outstanding issues collected from the Mai Ja Yang meeting and working on the concrete common set of position among themselves for the UPC, while the NLD and the military would have to scrutinize the proposals and demands of the EAOs and consider to what extend they are ready to compromise and accommodate them. Equally, the EAOs would also need to adjust and soothe down the adversaries’ worries, such as secession issue and angst of having to become equal partner with the other ethnic nationalities, falsely believing as a degradation from their racial supremacy position.
In sum, there is hardly any other way, rather than to accommodate and understand each others aspirations through give-and-take, if we are to break this deadlock of decades-old ethnic conflict that has consumed the largest amount of our human and natural resources all these years.
If the 21st century PaLong Treaty is successfully achieved, implementing the ” GENUINE Brotherhood of ALL Ethnics – INCLUDING THE BURMESE Ethnic, who make up less that 28% in population of the country – what NEW NAME will the conglomerate of multi-ethnic nations bear?. It cannot remain, “Burma” or “Myanmar” as THOSE names does not represent the majority Non-Burmese ethnics who are more than 78% in population. To be fair and demonstrate GENUINE PanLong SPIRIT of BROTHERHOOD I would think the new name will have to be similar to other MULTI-ETHNIC countries such as our neighbours INDIA and CHINA, in that those two names are ETHNIC-NEUTRAL. Also the current “National” Anthem will have to be adjusted so ALL ethnics can willing sing it. AS IT NOW IS, I cannot imagine any Non-Burmese ethnics conscientiously singing it.
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