With the aim to forge a common policy, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) held a stakeholders’ meeting for four days from September 27 to 30, where 15 ethnic political party’s United Nationalities Alliance (UNA); Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signatory Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) – All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF), Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS); the non-signatory Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the former has effectively resigned and the latter already tendered its resignation pending approval from the UNFC; and Women League of Burma (WLB), numbering some 100 participants in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Similar stakeholders’ meeting was also held at the end of 2016.
But it is important to take into account the informal meeting between government’s Peace Commission (PC )and the UNFC’s Delegation for Peace Negotiation (DPN), on September 25, which likely have affected the UNFC-led stakeholders’ meeting, one way or the other.
So let us first look at the PC and DPN meeting.
PC- DPN Meeting
The UNFC’s DPN and the government’s PC held an informal meeting in Chaing Mai on September 25 to discuss the prospect of UNFC member groups signing the NCA.
The main message delivered by Aung Soe, the government’s PC member was the UNFC should consider collaborating with the civilian government to reach its four commitments to achieve peace, national reconciliation, and rule of law, and to amend the 2008 Constitution.
He specifically reiterated and emphasized that collaboration in the peace process would help in the amendment of the Constitution, which parliament also has a part to play in.
He referred to an understanding between the government and the military that a Union Accord agreed upon at the Union Peace Conference could pave way for a new constitution, and encouraged everyone’s participation.
“We believe we would be able to implement the changes in the 2008 Constitution which is the most important task for our country in the short term, if we combine parliamentary politics and peace process,” he said, according to the Irrawaddy report of September 25.
Aung Soe stressed: “On the government side, the government, military and parliament have prepared for the NCA’s framework review. Similarly, ethnic armed forces and political parties are also preparing the NCA’s framework review. If the DPN is involved, it can be said that the peace process is succeeding. It is important to work for national reconciliation, to get domestic peace and rule of law, as well as amending of 2008 constitution. These are the four things mentioned by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi,” reported Eleven Media on September 26.
But it is evident that nothing substantial has been achieved from the part of the UNFC on its nine-point proposal to amend the NCA so that it could sign and enter the peace process.
On September 30, at the closing of the UNFC-held stakeholders’ meeting, Tun Zaw a UNFC spokesperson told the media: “Practically, our nine-point proposal shouldn’t take that long to discuss. The question arises as to why it takes so long and why it has to draw back and negative development happened each time there is any indication of achieving positive result. There has been consideration of whether there could be elements that is disrupting the NCA-based approach.”
According to the UNFC, from its nine-point proposal, point number one to four has been agreed but five to nine are still to be discussed. Besides, during its recent meeting with the PC, it was told that the already agreed one to four still needs to be discussed again. Other than that, the planned official meeting between the DPN and PC scheduled to meet early during the first week, so that the NCA could be signed on October 15, has been postponed by the government side.
The rebuttal of the UNFC came from Aung Soe, when he told the media: “The rest (remaining points) need to be reviewed and decided upon by not only us, as it is related to the Joint-ceasefire Implementation Committee Meeting (JICM) and Joint-ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC).”
JICM is made up of two groups with 8 members each. One is the government, parliament and military combined and the other the signatory EAOs.
The JMC-U is made up of three groups. The two groups with 10 members each are the government, parliament and military combined and the other, the signatory EAOs. In addition, 3 civilian representatives each chosen by the military and the signatory EAOs, making 6 altogether also are included.
The stakeholders’ meeting was said to touch on the issues of politics, defense and security, federal union constitution and judicial amendment.
The meeting was said to have achieved two common points, which are to review the present peace process in order to be successful and to be committed to the all-inclusiveness participation mode that encompassed all EAOs.
Although the meeting was short of decision to abandon the NCA-based peace process approach altogether, all were of the opinion that it couldn’t move forward, due to the present development and happenings between the government and the EAOs.
The indications that lead to the pessimistic assessment are the Tatmadaw’s military pressures and on and off offensives on EAOs in Shan and Kachin States, particularly the Norther Alliance – Burma;
the heavy handedness interference in restricting a military parade on Mon Revolution Day in August; and its obstruction and reluctance to allow NCA-signatory the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) to hold national-level political dialogue in the Shan State capital Taunggyi or Panglong, which amount to sabotaging or disrupting the ongoing peace process by seasoned Burma observers.
During the closing speech of Nai Hong Sar or Nai Han Thar, the UNFC leader, called on the ethnic leaders to be responsible, diligent and united in trying to achieve their common goals, emphasizing the important role of UNA as an umbrella political alliance that is constantly in touch with the people and also the WLB to communicate with all the women cross-cutting the ethnic lines by empowering them to help the struggle in achieving the people’s political aspirations.
Taken into account of what have happened during the last few days the UNFC held stakeholders meeting has not been able to come up with a concrete common position, except a vaguely stated commitment to review the ongoing peace process and adhere to the all-inclusiveness participation in the peace process. Clearly, the degradation of the UNFC from its influential ethnic alliance stature that once fielded 12 EAOs and now just barely 5 left has been acknowledged, which is now deliberately trying to function as a rallying point for all ethnic nationalities.
It is understood that the four issues of politics, security, federal constitution and amendment of judicial branch are to be further discussed among each of the organization and later to elaborate again together, even though nothing concrete has been mentioned publicly.
As for the government PC’s interaction with the DPN, it is more concerned to woo the UNFC to sign the NCA without any of its proposed amendment being considered. Apart from that the government is also keen to have the backing of the EAOs in Rohingya issue, in its deliberation to counter the United Nations and international accusation of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
It seems the government is putting the peace process on the back burner for now, even though Aung Soe recently told the media that the government is planning to meet the Panghsang alliance or Federal Political Negotiation and consultative Committee (FPNCC) but not clear whether the government would meet its members individually or as a group, as desired by the alliance.
All in all, it could be said the Rohingya issue has overshadowed the peace process and the UNFC conducted stakeholders’ meeting has not been able to influence or produce any affirmative incentive concretely to move the country forward in any way.
Rohingya issue has shadowed the countries peace process, this is how Bamar political leaders are playing the game. They will continue playing until they are ready to crush all ethnic armed organizations. Not willing to change 2008 constitution, not willing to offer what kind of federal union they tend to build, country’s peace process seems to be waste of time and goalless!
There will always be something or the other to hinder the Peace process. If there should be peace the Tatmadaw will lose its absolute power over other ethnic nationalities, and to do this is not in the political ideology of the Bamar Military Institution. This is the reson they will always adhere to the doctrine of ‘we do what we have to do’ including subjecting opponents to human rights violations, including ethnic cleansing and genocide.
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