Looking at the ongoing peace process one couldn’t help but to conclude that it is indeed entering a period of stagnation and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) is now trying an informal approach of listening to the people in the hope of turning around the situation for the better.
But before that let us look at the real prevailing situation on the ground.
The Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) could now be categorized roughly into three groups: 8 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signatory EAOs, 7 non-signatory EAOs called Federal Political and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) or Panghsang alliance that rejected the NCA or at least have asked for its amendment to be able to sign it, and 5 EAOs under the banner of United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) that are still in the process of negotiation with the government.
The signatory EAOs are not happy with the last 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC) and is now asking for the more credible and acceptable approach for all with accountability. In a nutshell, the second 21CPC agreed Union (Pyidaungsu) Accord, that included 37 points on economy, social, land and environment and so on, except the 8 points on political sector issues, hasn’t been able to satisfy the signatory EAOs and many others. And since there were disagreement and even rejection from the part of the 8 signatory EAOs on the way the Union Accord is approved, a proposal was recently made that the Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) should be agreed upon by all stakeholders first so that the protest situation that arose during the second 21CPC regarding the Union Accord approval could be avoided.
Kwe Htoo Win, vice-Chairman of the KNU recently said: “Some said it is not in order to decide without the approval of the FPD. Only after the whole FPD is considered by all sides and approved should we go according to the NCA that would lead to a more strengthened (robust) position.”
Regarding the FNPCC it is holding its ground to negotiate with the government as a group and not separately as the latter has demanded and for weeks there has been no improvement or movement on the possibility to start the negotiation process.
And concerning another facet of ongoing negotiation process between the UNFC and the government’s Peace Commission (PC), only lukewarm interest exist from the government side to make any concession on the UNFC’s nine-point NCA amendment proposal, although it is agreed that the two parties would meet soon, there is little hope that any positive thing would come out of it.
UNFC’s Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) and government’s PC met on July 20 unofficially in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and is scheduled to meet for the sixth time officially but exact date has not been confirmed.
Accordingly, the first main problem area is the disagreement of tripartite dialogue setting – government plus the parliament and Tatmadaw or the Military; EAOs; and the political parties – that the UNFC wanted and the government desired five-party meeting setup that involved the government; parliament; Tatmadaw; EAOs; and the political parties.
The second one is the international participation in Ceasefire Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) in helping maintain the ceasefire agreement and to act as an enforcer or arbitrary role proposed by the UNFC which the government side couldn’t agree to.
The third is the bilateral nationwide ceasefire agreement, which the Tatmadaw is said to insist that it would only cover those that had signed and would signed the NCA. In other words, as the Northern Alliance – Burma (NA-B) would not be allowed to participate in the peace process, the war in the north of the country would go on.
Tun Zaw, first Joint Secretary of the UNFC emphasized the lukewarm situation regarding the upcoming meeting by saying: “If the government side would not changed its policy even we meet again it will not lead to an answer.”
For weeks nothing has actually happened positively especially where the peace process is concerned, except the usual on and off firefights with the NA-B in Shan and Kachin States, including even the recent armed clashes between the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), that is signatory to the NCA, and the Tatmadaw or the Military.
Suu Kyi’s initiatives
On July 24, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi met with officials from the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) headed by KBC chairman Rev Lalawk Gyung Hkawng and KBC general-secretary Dr Hkalam Samson at the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC) in Nay Pyi Taw and discussed peace-building efforts and the condition of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin State, according to the State Counselor’s Office.
It was speculated that because Suu Kyi has difficulties to meet the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) directly, the meeting with the KBC which has some 400,000 members became a necessity to redress the fading ethnic confidence on her and the NLD regime.
According to the news, in the process of the meeting, the KBC asked the government to look into the crisis facing internally displaced Kachin people, of which there are more than 100,000, following the breakdown of a ceasefire between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in 2011. The representatives urged Suu Kyi’s administration to set up a pilot project to deliver aid and allow for international assistance to operate in Kachin State without obstruction. The organization also asked the government to acknowledge the drug eradication campaign taking place in the region, pointing out that the production of drugs is related to political conflict.
However, although statements from both parties said the meeting between Suu Kyi and the KBC leaders was productive, resolution to halt the Tatmadaw offensive against the KIA remained elusive, according to Kachin sources. No military representatives were seen attending the meeting, although the minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement and the chairman of the peace commission were present.
Regarding the matter when Suu Kyi asked what the barriers were in peace process, and KBC leaders replied that the assaults of Tatmadaw were barriers to peace, and they urged her government to handle this seriously. In turn she replied that as the government was still trying to amend the 2008 Constitution, they only had formal relations with the Tatmadaw according to the Constitution, and the government therefore was not in a position to exercise direct control over Tatmadaw, according to a recent report in The Irrawaddy.
Peace Process Consultation
On July 29, the government Peace Commission Chairman Dr. Tin Myo Win, State Counselor’s Office minister U Kyaw Tint Swe, and its spokesperson U Zaw Htay, in a bit to gather views and recommendations met with participants involving peace experts, civil society members, representatives from ethnic political parties, media practitioners, and descendants of those who signed the 1947 Panglong Agreement, in Yangon.
Political analyst Than Soe Naing suggested three important recommendations, which were to try and achieve bilateral ceasefire between government and groups currently at war, to invite all armed ethnic groups to the peace process and to review the NCA and the peace negotiation process.
Other recommendations also included that the government hastens negotiation with the UNFC, brings in the FPNCC or Panghsang alliance into the peace process fold, nurture confidence and trust-building with the 8 NCA signatories, and above all to declare nationwide unilateral ceasefire.
Looking at the ongoing development one could clearly see that fruitful peace process is still a long way off and stagnation have set in. Suu Kyi has also made it clear when meeting the KBC that her government cannot rein in on the Tatmadaw, so long as the military-drafted constitution is in place. In a way, she is in a desperation and that is why she is trying this “listen to the people” approach to drum up more support for her peace process deliberations.
During the first anniversary of the State Counselor Office opening on July 27, in which the Military is remarkably absent, she tried to reinterpret her election campaign slogan of “time to change” into a change of heart in each individual to cater to altruism or serve the people. It might well be, among other things, an attempt to persuade the Military to be more accommodating to the notion of all-inclusiveness and acceptance of a genuine federalism, so that the peace process could move on.
For now it is hard to speculate whether her indirect pleas would be heard in the quarter that is vested with decision-making power, which could change the peace process landscape overnight into an affirmative light, or just falls on deaf ears that would mean the continuation of war and absence of peace.
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