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BURMA PEACE PROCESS: Will Thein Sein’s Targeted NCA Signing Ceremony On Union Day Materialize?

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President Thein Sein’s proposal, or rather his ad hoc lobbying, regarding the signing of National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on 12 January, Monday, to be held on the coming 12 February, which falls on the Union Day 68th Anniversary, is met with affirmative and as well, negative responses within the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) and non-Burman ethnic groups as a whole.

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The meeting on Monday was attended by 48 leaders representing ethnic, military and political parties’ representatives.

The Irrawaddy reports. on 12 January, that among the attendees were Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win; parliamentary Speakers Shwe Mann and Khin Aung Myint; Vice Chairman of the Union Solidarity and development Party Htay Oo; Chairwoman of the National League for Democracy Aung San Suu Kyi; Chairman of the National Unity Party Than Tin; Khin Maung Swe of the Federal Democratic Alliance; Sai Ai Bao of the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation; Khun Htun Oo of the United Nationalities Alliance; Dr. Manan Tu Ja of the Kachin Democratic party; Chairman of the All Nationals’ Democracy Party Phoe Yel; and ethnic affairs ministers representing Lisu, Rawan Pa-O and several other minorities.

Prior to this latest round of peace initiative, the President had met with the political parties and EAOs on two occasions.

According to RFA report on 12 January, the president met with lawmakers from more than 60 political parties on Nov. 26 in the commercial capital Yangon. And on Jan. 5, he urged leaders from 12 of the country’s 16 armed ethnic groups, represented in the Nationwide Ceasefire Negotiating Team (NCCT), to strive hard to reach a nationwide cease-fire accord with the government by Feb. 12.

The meeting agenda, according to various news outlets was said to focus on continued efforts for democratization and reform, holding of political talks for national reconciliation, and holding of free and fair elections in 2015.

Presidential spokesman U Ye Htut was said to be satisfied with the transparent, open and successful discussion of the meeting, while Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the NLD, was openly against the posture that only the parliament has the sole responsibility to amend the constitution, according to the RFA report.

Khun Okkar’s VOA Interview

Although according to various sources the Commander-in Chief Min Aung Hlaing is said to be acceptable to the multi-party system way of governance and the presidential leadership making the political decision, as evident by the participation of the Independence Day military parade, on 4 January, with mass procession, NCCT leader, Khun Okkar’s recent interview, on 7 January, with U Kyaw Zarn Thar, casts doubt on where he stands, regarding the constitutional amendment issue.

When asked, whether Commander-in-Chief toes the line of the President – identical to the NCCT & Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) Single Text – on the issues of ceasefire agreement, political dialogue, and formation of federal union, Khun Okkar replied: “ The Commander-in-Chief stands on his six guiding principles and explains at length on the concept, which we also understood. Of his six principles, the first four is acceptable with no problem, but the number five and six, which is to obey the current, existing laws and adherence of the 2008 Constitution, becomes problematic and have to think it over. We will have to discuss and work on that.”

Khun Okkar further said that although Min Aung Hlaing didn’t say it directly regarding the acceptance of federalism, he took it that Min Aung Hlaing would toe the line of President for he stated two or three times that since the President is the head of state, all have to follow his lead, which means he won’t object to the President’s endorsement of federalism.

Thein Sein Quotes On Federalism

President Thein Sein has time and again said that he is for the formation of a federal union, according to the aspirations of the people.

A speech was broadcast across the country on state radio on the morning of 2 December 2014, stating “A firm political agreement on forming a federal union, which is vital to the peace process, has been reached.” He continued that “Furthermore, an agreement has also been reached to discuss all other issues – except for secession and anything that might harm the sovereignty of the nation.”

The Global – New Light of Myanmar – the government mouthpiece, on 1 January 2015, reported the President’s speech with a bold, front page, headline “We will be able to establish a Federal Union on the basis of agreements we will reach at political dialogue My Fellow Citizens”.

A paragraph emphasizing his political conviction in the speech writes:

“It is critical and imperative to merge the developments arising from the 2015 elections with the national reconciliation process originating from the peace process. The day we can do this is the day we can begin to build a new nation based on the ideals of a federal union and finally fulfill the needs of our nation and society at large.”

Views Of Aung San Suu Kyi, Nai Han Thar, And Padoe Kwe Htoo Win

Showing displeasure to the recent meeting, Aung San Suu Kyi, chairperson of the of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), who had originally pushed for four-party talks among herself, Thein Sein, speaker of the lower house of parliament Shwe Mann and Min Aung Hlaing, called for six-party talks for national reconciliation after Monday’s meeting, according to RFA report of 12 January.

“We believe we must hold six-party talks,” said Aung San Suu Kyi. “Today’s discussion was not like a six-party talk. I don’t accept the idea that only parliament has the responsibility to amend the constitution. Everybody has a responsibility to do this.”

On Tuesday, 13 January, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party released a statement saying the 48-party discussion had likewise been “hardly a fruitful one”, according to The Irrawaddy report on the same day.

In an interview with the RFA, on 11 January 2015, Nai Han Thar, regarding the proposed signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on Union Day by the President said: “ Without first coming to term, clear view and opinion, it shouldn’t be speculated that the agreement will be signed on the Union Day. This cannot happen also. Since we are still looking for ways to overcome the different views that have blocked the ceasefire process and not even able to widen the scope enough to tackle the issue, signing the agreement on Union Day would be practically impossible.”

According to Myanmar Times report of 12 January 2015, NCCT deputy leader Padoe Saw Kwe Htoo Win of the Karen National Union said last week he favours a Union Day deal. “We have reached agreement on almost all points. Signing would make that Union Day a historic day for our country. Both sides are trying to achieve that.”

According to RFA, Myanmar Service, on 12 January, Khin Maung Shwe, leader of the National Democratic Force (NDF) party, said that Thein Sein met with the 48 leaders from the country’s ethnic, military and political groups in a bid to press them to sign a nationwide cease-fire deal on Myanmar’s Union Day, Feb. 12, so the country can move forward with next phase of political dialogue.

Khin Maung Swe said the participants had 10 minutes each to discuss their positions, although some took only three to five minutes.

If needed, Thein Sein will create a “third force group,” in addition to the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an alliance of armed ethnic organizations, to push those involved in the process to reach a deal by Feb. 12, Khin Maung Swe said.

With the NCCT split along the line of “sign first talk later”, KNU led camp, and “basic political agreement first sign later” KIO/KIA headed faction, the Thein Sein regime would be forced to rethink its previous “open book” strategy, if he is determined to materialize his target date of achieving NCA by Union Day.

The only problem will be the loss of face for not achieving the much lauded NCA and perhaps the withdrawal of ear-marked development aid, which is closely linked to the ending of the ongoing armed conflict.

Either way, we are all back to where we have started and the realization of equitable sharing of power and resources, based on federalism and democracy remains a distance dream. And if the USDP-Military regime of Thein Sein will just continue to play with words, without real concrete political commitment, we will be going round and round in a vicious circle without end.

For now, we won’t be able to say whether Min Aung Hlaing is just a reluctant follower of President Thein Sein or playing “bad-cop” within the same team. In the same vein, it will also be hard to pin point if Thein Sein is a real reformer or taking the role of a “good-cop”, in the interest of all the other military top brass.

But for a start, just to dispel the lingering doubts of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities and to show its good will, the regime could declare unilateral ceasefire, withdraw its troops from all front-line positions and pledge its concrete political commitment like using the phrase “establishment of a federal union based on equality, rights of self-determination and democracy in all-inclusive manner”, prior to the political dialogue phase to be included in the NCA document, instead of the vague wording like “building a federal union on the basis of agreements we will reach at political dialogue”. If such a move is made, Thein Sein could be sure that his target date of signing the NCA will materialize, without any hitch, by the Union Day celebration.

The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor

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