Everyman is my superior in some way
In that I learn from him.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
This time, as readers who keep track of the country will know, I was there for the Union Peace Conference #3, according to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, or the Union Peace Conference 21st Century Panglong (UPC 21CP) #2, according to the government in office.
This UPC#3 is a marked improvement from the previous two in that while the two were spent in reading papers from each participant, this time the participants, for the first time, were doing serious negotiations in order to push their counterparts into acceptance.
Naturally, lots of complaints have been made on how the conference was convened by both sides meaning the government-military bloc and the Ethnic Armed Organization (EAOs).
Reading through the few pages here, I’m sure readers will find there’s plenty of room for improvement during the coming months, so that the peace process doesn’t end up on a garbage heap after UPC # 4 or, for those who prefer, UPC 21 CP#3.
Day One, Tuesday, 23 May 2017.
The inclusion of women in roles that enable them to have influence increases by 35% the likelihood that peace agreements will last at least 15 years. The inclusion of civil society organizations, again as genuine participants and not just bystanders, can reduce the risk of a return to armed conflict by as much as 64%
Can Myanmar’s peace process learn from international experience? Frontier, 24 May 2017
Today, with my son as my assistant, I fly from Chiangmai to Mingladon, and from Mingladon to Naypyitaw. I have to wait for 4 hours before the transit, but there’s a booklet putting together several research papers produced by the Tai Society for Historical Studies to keep me company. Later two friends arrive who are to be my flight mates to Naypyitaw.
We are given a room, #419, at the Thingaha, together with a separate minibus and driver throughout our attendance. Actually, accommodations at the hotel are also reserved for all top leaders of each EAO. However, leaders of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), I learned, have chosen to remain with their 20 + members of the delegation at the SEA game village, where water and power are said to be unending problems for hundreds of delegates.
In the evening, we have a call from U Soe Thane, an old friend from U Thein Sein’s days. A lot of things are said. But only one remains after he takes his leave:
Intimacy is very important. It brings trust which in turn brings forth good results in the negotiations.
I later meet a friend working for the government’s peace team, who urges EAOs “to do something for her. She has been working hard for over a year, but hasn’t made the first sale of the day yet.”
Day Two. Wednesday, 24 May 2017
Less than half of the country’s ethnic armed organizations are currently included in the NCA, which represents approximately only 20% of their combined troop numbers, without the non-signatories, the potential of the country’s political dialogue process to achieve a Union Accord will remain limited.
Can Myanmar’s peace process learn from international experience? Frontier, 24 May 2017
Today at the opening ceremony of the UPC 21CP, the stars are of course those from the FPNCC, more commonly known as the Wa Alliance, who leave after the speeches. (We hear later that they hold separate meetings with the government.)
We are subject to one and a half hour long series of speeches, of which the following are what I can remember:
There shall be no pressure or coercion to force acceptance (of our demands).
Commander in Chief
(1. Genuine desire to make lasting peace
Note: Principles # 5 and # 6 are not accepted by the EAOs)
Gen Mutu Saypoe
The morning session ends with group photo takings, followed by lunch.
The afternoon session is held without the State Counselor and the Commander in Chief. It is presided over by Dr Tin Myo Win who enigmatically quotes Einstein:
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
Prepared proposals on each dialogue topic are then read out:
Follows the daily briefing among the signatory EAOs. Here are some of the excerpts:
Day Three. Thursday, 25 May 2017
International and Myanmar’s own experience suggests that military pressure is counterproductive to bring non-signatories in to a peace process. The question then is what new strategies and priorities might?
Mr Miroslav Jenca (Photo: UN)
The second day of the conference starts with a one-hour meeting, 07:30-08:30, 8 EAO top leaders with Mr Miroslav Jenca of Slovakia, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs.
The following is a summary of what are discussed there:
The room for political dialogue at the MICC II is arranged this way:
U Kyaw Tint Swe, who is the principal chair for the first day, and Gen Khin Zaw Oo, who serves as one of the three facilitators, do their job well to keep the proceedings in order. (Some participants, after hearing them admonishing the military representatives, however, scoff them off as ‘acts’ to impress innocent observers like the author.)
Here are some of the extracts:
The day at the conference ends with 12 rounds of discussions. But it continues further into the PPST daily briefing, 19:00-21:30.
Here is one extract from the briefing:
The meeting puts off decision to the next evening.
Sai Ai Pao, chairperson for today, gives opening remarks. (Photo:PI)
Day Four. Friday, 26 May 2017.
From global experience, higher rates of pace agreement implementation is highly beneficial. On average, if comprehensive peace agreements are negotiated and implemented at a rate of 75%, on average 80% of non-signatories join the process within a year.
Today’s morning session is a continuation of yesterday’s dialogue. Only one incident is of note: after the SNLD representative again protests against the use of ‘non-secession’, a military representative stands up and said, “Then, I request that all the 5 paragraphs under Right of Self Determination be removed from the proposal.”
The session decides to defer the decision to the UPDJC which meets in the afternoon today and all day tomorrow, before the closing ceremony the day after.
The PPST then hold an extended meeting, 13:30-22:00. After going through all the 5 papers, it is found that the key question is still how the EAOs can deal with the ‘non secession clause’ which says:
No part of the territory constituted in the Union shall ever secede from the Union.
The decision is to allow the EAOs’ UPDJC members, led by Dr Lian Hmung Sakhong, to negotiate for a clause which in essence may carry the same meaning, but in different words that will elicit positive responses from all EAOs.
Day Five. Saturday, 27 May 2017
Faltering implementation cannot simply be blamed on a lack of political will. International experience highlights that vagaries in text often cause confusion or otherwise problematize the implementation phase.
Today is supposed to be my day of rest, as the UPDJC is supposed to meet and negotiate for the outcome which is to be announced tomorrow at the closing ceremony.
All morning I’m out at the Buddha Gaya replica outside the city, to see if I could be persuaded to visit the real one in India. However, at the end of it, I remain undecided about it.
On my way back to the hotel, after a delicious Shan lunch at Mao Kham Noom restaurant, I’m told to accompany the PPST leaders for a hitherto unplanned meeting with the State Counselor.
The EAOs meeting, following the surprise meeting with the State Counselor, 27 May 2017. (Photo: PI)
The meeting takes place at the MICC II, around 14:30-15:30. Which goes something like this:
SC: So, what have you gentlemen got to tell me?
PPST: (Speechless, because they think it is The Lady who has called this meeting)
U Zaw Htay: Explains about the impasse between the EAOs and the government over the non-secession clause
SC: Okay, then. What have you got to say?
PPST: First, the word ‘not to secede’ is very uncivil. Technically, it’s not different from ‘to live together forever’, but politically, it will create more problems.
Imagine a man and a woman getting married. They will say to each other: I will take care of you for the rest of my life, and such. They will never say “You shall never divorce me,” because once it’s said, it will amount to the end of their marriage, before it has even properly started.
Secondly, if there is continued disagreement whether or not to use it, to give us time to consult among each group, among the 8 EAOs and the people.
SC- I thought that you had already promised my predecessor not to secede. You will also remember the Roman Catholic Christian oath saying, “What God has joined together, no one shall put it asunder.”
PPST- At President Thein Sein’s time, the policy was “apart from secession (and non-secession) everything is on the table”. The issue ‘not to secede’ came up only this month.
Government- As the Right of Self Determination comes together with the agreement ‘not to secede’ in a package, refusing it will be amount to the removal of the Right of Self Determination
PPST- We have made progress this time under the State Counselor’s leadership. Couldn’t we keep it as a ‘collection of opinions’ to be discussed again later?
The impasse continues. Then a new proposition is then offered for consideration:
Since the government and Tatmadaw want the promise ‘not to secede’ in exchange for the Right of Self Determination, could we put it this way. “As long as the principles of Equality, Right of Self Determination, Democracy and Federalism are honored, there shall be no secession”?
To this, the government and the military representatives think it is something to think about and the meeting is adjourned. It is also announced that the conference has another day extension, to be wound up on 29 May instead of 28 May.
The Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) meeting of the second session of the Union Peace Conference – 21st century Panglong in Nay Pyi Taw on 28 May 2017. (Photo: Mizzima)
Day Six. Saturday, 28 May 2017
Of the 31 comprehensive peace agreements negotiated globally since 1989, every additional 1 percent of implementation corresponded to a 6% increase in peace duration. To use more tangible numbers, a peace agreement that was implemented at 40% might last for 10 years. The same agreement, if implemented at 80%, would on average prevent a return to armed conflict for 25 years.
We wait anxiously for the outcome of yesterday’s negotiation all morning. At 14:30, it comes:
I return to the old capital in the evening, as my return ticket to Chiangmai has been fixed for tomorrow. In so doing, I miss all the fun that follows.
Day Seven. Sunday, 29 May 2017
One average, when comprehensive peace agreements are fully implemented, a country’s foreign investment doubles over a decade, while gross domestic product increases by 5%. This translates to more employment opportunities and improved livelihoods for people.
My check-in time is 11:30. So I visit a few friends. There are a few things that I glean out of their discussions:
On arrival in Chiangmai, I’m told by my young friend who comes to pick me up that the State Counselor, during her closing speech this morning, had cordially invited “all those organizations and individuals that are not yet participating in this conference to join us in this historic endeavor” (Global New Light of Myanmar)
It is just as well, I agree. Because I know some of my friends who have been involved in the peace process since 2011 are facing trouble renewing their visas.
As I’m going through the news of the day in the evening, I get a call from a friend in Burma, eager to discuss the results of the UPC 21 CP#2. I tell him I have yet to read the signed document. To this he says, “There’s nothing special in it, only commonly accepted maxims, equivalent to ‘The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.’”
Maybe he’s right. But I also remember the advice from another friend who used to be active in the peace process during U Thein Sein’s time:
Take everything the other side is ready to give. Value it. Make use of it. And continue to negotiate for those that are yet to be agreed.
He also makes sense, doesn’t he?
Note: The journal gives incomplete information, due to the fact that the author was not present at the following sub-events:
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