BURMA PEACE PROCESS: Conflict Parties Should Concentrate On Common Interests, Not Steadfast Rigid Positions

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As President Thein Sein hopes to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) on 12 February, Union Day, Commander-in Chief Min Aung Hlaing was said to be frustrated with the whole development, possibly due to the EAOs reluctance of signing the ceasefire deal for lack of political guarantee from the government side.

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While Thein Sein told The Straits Times, in an interview, on 18 January, that despite slow progress due to the complexities of negotiating with as many as 16 armed groups, he still hopes for a nationwide ceasefire pact on 12 February, coupled with the assertion that Burma army will step back from its prominent role in the government once peace agreements are reached with insurgent groups, fighting erupted in Kachin state between the government troops and the KIA from 15 to 18 January.

According to Mizzima report of 20 January, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said peace was the “only path” if the country is to continue its democratization and development, in a rare interview with Singapore’s Channel News Asia.

He said that if the EAOs really want peace there is no reason that they cannot have it. He further added that conflict parties cannot keep on disagreeing, for disagreeing hinders the country’s development.

Meanwhile, according to Mizzima Burmese Section report, on 20 January, U Ye Htut, presidential spokesman said that Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been disrupting the peace process with prepared intention. He said the coincidence of arresting Kachin State Minster and his security team of policemen and the subsequent happening of running battles in Hpakant township were intentionally carried out.

He wrote in his face book: ” I see it that by restarting armed clashes, it (the KIA) aimed to disrupt the peace process. As soon as the battles started in Hpakant and Lone Khin areas, exploding of mines and attacks of police stations happened simultaneously. If you look at this you could imagine that it is arranged beforehand.”

As expected, each time the fighting flared up accusation, mud-slinging and blame game followed. But one sure thing is that the conflict parties are coming nowhere near to peaceful resolution.

When SHAN Opinion Section, on 12 January, highlighted how crucial peace is for the betterment of the country and the people suffering from the ongoing armed ethnic conflict. It writes:

The situation has prompted one from the government side to admonish, “Peace is bigger than any individual in the country”, while on the non-Burman resistance side, leaders like Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong are saying: “It is a mistake to delay the peace process just because we either like or dislike a certain party. It is not appropriate to gamble peace with politics. Make a visit to a refugee camp, take a look at children born in the war zones. One year for them is a very long and difficult one. It would therefore make life easier for them if we can bring peace to them as soon as possible, be it an hour , a day, a month, or a year earlier.” (Eleven News, 19 October 2014)

It is true that peace is bigger than everyone and also true that the refugees and IDPs are rotting and suffering in camps and make-shift shelters in the jungles, but there need to be a genuine desire to achieve peace, if this human misery and under development are to end. Not just dictating the adversaries the terms you want it or letting one signs without including concrete, core, political settlement issues. It is quite evident that “compromise” should be the name of the game.

There is no denying on what Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian military theorist, had said for centuries is still true today that “War is the continuation of politics by other means”.

And as such, we have been at each others throats for more than six decades, with no side wining, but only becoming heavy burdens to our respective people physically, mentally and economically. True the non-Burman ethnic areas have to bear the most brunt of the war, but Burman or Bama also becomes “slaves of war” for the successive tyrannical regimes, without knowing, for they were hoodwinked by the vision of being a superior race, who have the right to lord over other non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

And so to cap it, since we were unable to come to terms politically, after the British left us in 1947, we all resorted to war as a means to continue and impose our demands on one another. After more than six decades of warfare, we were reaching nowhere with the rising human and resources costs heaping down on us, as the war rages on until today. Like a blessing in disguise, in fact, we now have, at least, come to terms that “peace or normalcy” is needed, if we are to develop and progress, to be in par with the rest of the world. If this is so, why can’t we strike a deal to work out a “win-win” situation?

Since we could now identify our common interest as wanting to achieve “peace, normalcy and development”. And since the ongoing war is against our common interest, we might as well try to stop it by advancing the proposition of “political accommodation”.

So what exactly are the core issues that need accommodation? In a nut shell, the Burman and military elite are reluctant to give up their “political monopoly and racial supremacy” doctrine, while the non-Burman ethnic nationalities are determined to regain back their fair share of “right to self-determination, equality and democracy”.

There should be a way out from this deadlock position and one way to do is to concentrate on “interest” rather than “position” as Roger Fisher and William Ury suggest, in their international bestseller book “Getting to Yes : Negotiating an agreement without giving in”.

Maybe in trying to achieve the core common interest of “peace, normalcy and development”, the contending parties should become partners, instead of being adversaries, working side-by-side, in cooperation to reach the goal of common interest.

The recent report in SHAN, on 20 January wrote that the academic suggestion to use a neutral third party to conduct the single text procedure has run into deaf ears, according to Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) currently visiting Chiangmai.

“As far as the government is concerned it has already made substantial concessions,” an official of the MPC set up in 2012 by Naypyitaw, said. “There is therefore little or no need for a third party.”

Such a rigid position won’t be helpful to attain the much lauded common interest, and if we are to achieve “peace, normalcy and development” as all desired, we would need to be more open to constructive approaches of any kind, not stone-walling them.

Last but not least, the powers that be would need to rethink if its steadfast position of “political monopoly” and “racial chauvinism” are worthwhile the price of continuing to stick to the “win-lose” zero-sum game, which has devastated the country for so long.

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

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