The peace process that is scheduled to pick up again on May 24, known as Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong (UPC-21CP), now seems to be further away from being all-inclusive again as the one main ethnic bloc, United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), is beginning to disintegrate starting last month when the Pangkham-initiated, totally new peace approach was launched on April 19, by rejecting the government-led Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)-based peace process that so far has been the only game in town.
The call into question for the existence of the UNFC begins with when Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) whose leader is the current-president of the UNFC, forwarded its resignation to leave the alliance last week, followed by the Wa National Organization (WNA) tendering of its resignation.
WNO is known as “White Wa” and its counterpart UWSA as “Red Wa”, due to its affiliation with the Communist Party of Burma before its disintegration in 1989.
According to reliable ethnic sources, the KIO tendered resignation dated April 29, signed by Lan Nan its general secretary, was confirmed by one of its leaders on May 6, subsequently followed by the WNO resignation undated letter a day later that was widely spread publicly in the internet, on May 7.
Reportedly, the WNO was said to plan tendering its resignation in the coming days, according to a WNO spokesperson, and the date of submission was left blank on the leaked document.
“This is just a draft. We will have a meeting before making the final resignation. We don’t know how it was leaked. We’ll submit the resignation to the UNFC after our congress,” Major Ta Nyi Lu, joint secretary-1 of the WNO, told The Irrawaddy, according its report of May 8.
KIO and Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) are two Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) from northern regions of Burma who have attended the UWSA-led Pangkham ethnic meetings several times in recent months. The two armed organizations have a close relationship with northern alliance armed groups—Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Arakan Army (AA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) as they are active geographically on the same trans-region.
But while the KIO has confirmed its leaving the UNFC, the SSPP said that it is still with the organization, according to Sao Sai Htoo, one of its leaders involving in peace negotiations with the government.
With the KIO and WNO leaving the UNFC and SSPP likely to follow suit anytime soon, the fate of its remaining four EAOs – Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), New Mon State Party (NMSP), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) and Arakan National Council (ANC) – from the total of seven before are now hanging in a sort of limbo, i,e., whether to sign the NCA without much fuss, to join the Pangkham alliance or stay undecided, until its nine-point proposal to the government to alter the NCA becomes clearer.
Peace process landscape
The government is determined to go on with its NCA-based procedure and has confirmed again on May 6 that it is not compromising, which means one either signs the NCA and enter the UPC-21CP or refusing it and stays outside the peace process fold.
But lately, while meeting with the UNFC’s Delegation for Peace Negotiation (DPN), the government’s Peace Council (PC) said that both parties signing the Deeds of Commitment (DoC) maybe the way to go, given the UNFC’s nine-point proposal still needs more deliberation and under discussion. Thus, if the DoC is signed, pending approvement of UNFC’s proposal, it would mean that the 5 UNFC could be given a fully fledged participant status. The DoC main thrust is that the 5 EAOs’ agreement that they would sign the NCA at a later date without reservation.
This DoC arrangement could be because the UNFC secretary Khu Oo Reh and NMSP leader Nai Han Thar have repeatedly said in the past that they would never attend the UPC-21CP merely as observers.
The Pangkham alliance is bent on not to make use of the government’s NCA-based peace process, as it sees it is trying to replace the Panglong Agreement of 1947, which it considers as the ethnic nationalities’ historical-political legacy and the only legal bond between them and the Bamar. Besides, it is also convinced that the ongoing government peace process is just like the 1993 Nyaung Nhapin national convention, held and dominated by the Military that produced its self-drawn, 2008 constitution, that doesn’t cater to the ethnic nationalities’ political aspirations in anyway. Thus, its first priority is to end the armed conflict with the military first, followed by political discussion for eventual political settlement.
The remaining UNFC members would now need to think on what they would do if their nine-point proposal to amend the NCA is put on ice or shelved, as there are possibilities that they could be militarily pressured if they refuse to sign and if they do, they would be going against their own conviction without achieving any of their demanded propositions.
Besides, the WNO and the LDU might join the Pangkham alliance and the position of SSPP, which was said to be still with the UNFC despite being firmly in the Pangkham camp, is far from clear.
This leaves the KNPP, NMSP and ANC, although they would be presumed to be still under the banner of DPN, to talk to the government’s PC, the incentive to accommodate the UNFC’s nine-point proposal could now be quite low.
Burma ethnologist Nai Banya Aung from Mon News Agency said, “The NMSP’s meeting will come to an end on 8 May, while the KNPP will hold theirs on May 10. The decision on whether to sign the NCA depends on the outcome of those meetings,” reported SHAN on May 8.
The NMSP maintains that the adoption of the NCA should only be taken when all members of the UNFC are in consent.
“There will be a meeting between the DPN, a negotiating team formed by the UNFC, and the government’s Peace Commission (PC) on May 14 – 18. By then, we will have a better picture of how close to signing the NCA they are,” said Nai Banya Aung.
Government and Pangkam competition
Pangkham alliance statement of April 19 said that it is open to all groups and individuals that cater to its policy. The WNO and possibly the LDU would be the first to join, in this sense.
Part of the said statement stressed that the Union Political Negotiation Committee (UPNC), Pangkham alliance negotiation body’s door is always open for any ethnic armed revolutionary organization, political party and influential individual, that accepts its rules and regulations of the “ethnic armed revolutionary organizations general principles and position on political negotiation,” announced during the third Pangkham meeting.
The government is also wooing all the 5 UNFC members – KNPP, NMSP, WNO, LDU and ANC – but until now it still could not agree or say anything concretely to their nine-point proposal to alter the NCA.
The UNFC proposal generally are the government’s nationwide ceasefire declaration, federal union formation according to the promise of Panglong Agreement in 1947 and tripartite dialogue composition – government, parliament, military; EAOs; and political parties – in all level of peace negotiation process.
The Mon and Karenni coping with the situation
Observers speculate that the NMSP could be hard pressed if it is militarily attacked as it is surrounded by the neutralized Karen National Union (KNU) that has signed the NCA, together with the government’s Border Guard Forces (BGF) and government troops. But as for the KNPP, it would be able to cope with the situation as it usually does in the past and could even consider to join the Pangkam alliance, if militarily pressured.
Given such a convoluted and sophisticated political landscape, it is hard to predict which way the political wind would be blowing. But one thing is sure, the UPC-21CP would be held accordingly as planned on May 24, even though it won’t be all-inclusive as all wanted to be the case, and the government would continue with it “open door” policy for more EAOs to sign up, where the ongoing peace conference is concerned.
The most crucial improvement to the peace talks atmosphere would solely depend on the Military’s attitude on whether it would like to agree on all-inclusive participation and hold back or terminate its offensives in Kachin and Shan States. For now, the betterment of the peace process negotiation doesn’t seem to be forthcoming, according to Mai Aik Kyaw, the TNLA leader and spokesman.
He recently told the Voice of America: “Battles are raging daily starting from April 29, in Namtu, Namkham and Kutkai Townships.”
If this unconciliatory attitude of the Military to the peace process is to be the main stay, whether the few more potential EAOs signing the NCA or not wouldn’t be that important, as peace and reconciliation will still be a distant dream for the people of Burma and as well, for all the stakeholders.
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