The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which is the fourth, single text draft, after twenty-two informal and seventh official meetings, is ratified on 31 March, overseen by President Thein Sein, where he explicitly said that the product of the agreement must be credited to both negotiating parties, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team/Union Peace-making Work Committee (NCCT/UPWC). He said that this will help attain peace within the country, which is the paramount wish of the people.
According to DVB video podcast of 31 March, the NCCT side is represented by Nai Han Thar, Gen Gun Maw, Padoe Kwe Htoo Win, Hkun Okkar, and Salai Liang Hmung Sakhong, while the UPWC side is participated by U Aung Min, U Thein Zaw, Lt-Gen Myint Soe, Lt-Gen Thet Niang Win, and U Khet Thaing Nan.
The six points statement made public, in Burmese, on 31 March, signed by NCCT and UPWC representatives includes that the two parties have drawn, finalized and confirmed the NCA draft, after deliberation of 22 unofficial and 7 official meetings; and that EAOs’ leaders and Union Peace-making Central Committee (UPCC) will have to ratify the draft, before the NCA could be finally signed. It also stated that the already agreed draft and issues that still need to be decided are shown as attachment (Ka or A) and (Kha or B) accordingly.
The DVB also reported that the finalized draft will be again studied and scrutinized by NCCT and UPCC leadership, before the actual signing could take place. However, Nai Han Thar said, in a recent interview with various news media, although the government side is ready to sign the NCA draft as it is now agreed and formulated, for the UPWC has been constantly in touch with their leaders, the NCCT needs time to call an “all ethnic conference” for ratification and eventual signing of the the finalized draft.
The VOA, Burmese Section, on 30 March, reported Nai Han Thar as saying: “ Now at the NCCT and UPWC level, we’ve already reached agreement, on all aspects. But signing ceasefire can’t be decided by the NCCT. Only the ethnic leaders, by convening the ethnic leaders’ summit meeting, could decide on the matter. For example, they might like to alter or make some addition to the agreement. And only after deliberation and confirmation, will they be officially ready to sign the agreement. We’ve the intention to proceed in this way.”
The two top NCCT negotiator Gen Gun Maw and Nai Han Thar have on different occasions made known their reservation that difficult negotiation stages lies ahead, before Union Accord could be reached, which will be the semi-final phase on the road to political settlement and durable peace agreement.
The sequence or road map according to Salai Liang Hmung Sakhong of NCCT, who was interviewed by RFA on 23 March, would be the signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), drafting of Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD), convening Political Dialogue (PD), calling for a Union Conference to reflect the issues pinpointed by PD, signing of Union Accord, tabling the agreed Union Accord for Parliament endorsement, and finally implementation of the agreed Union Accord.
Important and sticky key points are pushed or moved to the next phase of political dialogue, so that the NCA could be signed and begin the much needed peace-making process, after the signing of draft ceasefire agreement.
According to the interview by DVB, on 31 March, Sai Nyunt Lwin of Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) said he is worried that the remaining sticky issues could be a problem for drawing of the framework for political dialogue has time limitation of only two months after the signing of ceasefire draft, but political dialogue phase, which should begin after the agreed framework within a month, has ample time for discussions.
He further said: “ Another thing that I’m interested is whether nationwide ceasefire will be declared. Because ferocious armed engagement are still happening in the northern and northeastern part (of the country). So declaration of nationwide ceasefire cannot be made. We don’t know, what they’ll do about it. During the time the government is being blamed, it’ll very good, if nationwide ceasefire could be implemented.”
In an interview reported by The Irrawaddy, on 1 April, Khun Okkar, when asked whether he meant that even if NCA is ready to be signed, without peaceful atmosphere in Kokang area, signing cannot be materialized, he replies: “ Sure. If it is happening in Kachin State or elsewhere, signing cannot take place. Signing can only happen when it is tranquil. If we signed it while the battles are raging, we’ll become a big joke. Besides, other groups won’t be satisfied with the people who signed it.”
The problematic key points left are said to be recruitment of new troopers for the EAOs, issues likely to surface at political dialogue phase, who will be invited to participate in political dialogue, which parties will sign from the EAOs, and how to handle the DDR preferred by the government and SSR, demanded by the EAOs, among others.
However, the heart of the problem is on how the “constitutional crisis” could be resolved. In other words, the ethnic aspirations of power-sharing and resources-sharing anchored in equality, rights of self-determination and democracy could be met.
According to a report filed by Globe and mail, on 30 March, Bertil Lintner, a Thailand-based journalist and author who has written extensively about Burma, said the ceasefire text is nonsense and means nothing, because it’s just a piece of paper, written while the worst fighting since 1987 is taking place.
“It’s not going to work,” he said. “To talk about peace under these circumstances is totally misleading.”
“Nothing can happen unless you sit down and talk about the constitution – what kind of country Burma should be,” he said, using a former name for the country. “And it’s very unlikely the government or the military would agree to that. They don’t want to change the constitution.” (Source: Globe and Mail – 30 March)
The optimistic gestures of both the NCCT and UPWC, leading to the signing of fourth NCA draft is the commitment to move the peace process forward, when Nyo Ohn Myint, from Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), said that the EAOs and as well, the government side have given everything to make it happen, according to DVB, Burmese Section, report of 30 March.
He said: “ The ethnic nationalities’ side has shown that it really wants peace. The military and government side also made adjustment to accommodate needed factors, with utmost patience and goodwill.”
Thus, it could be concluded that the fourth ceasefire draft has come to fruition, due to the understanding that peace is essential, and that the sticky issues have to be moved to a later date for further discussions, during the political dialogue stage. Furthermore, both sides seem to be of the opinion that if they couldn’t begin or pull through the peace process, during President Thein Sein’s legislature period, no one can be sure, if it will ever happen when the new government takes over, at the end of the year. The logic is that once it is started, it cannot be stopped and the next government is then bound to continue with the peace process, which has already begun.
For now, the peace-making and political give-and-take seem to be on the right track and making progress, but it will all depend on how much political accommodation both sides could offer, as far as the political bargaining on the table is concerned. However, it also depends largely, on how the Then Sein regime works with the Tatmadaw or Burma Army, given the nature that it is, in fact, “a state within the state”.
Let us look at some of the recent Tatmadaw undertakings and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing’s recent statements.
Min Aung Hlaing’s parting shot, on 13 February this year, when the EAOs were invited to attend the Union Day and four parties out of thirteen have signed the government’s the “Deed of Commitment to Peace and National Reconciliation” memorandum of understanding, that all should embrace the collective national identity of “Myanmar” and disregard their aspirations of “ethnic or national identity”, many were said to be caught off guard and later were furious on his parting remark, according to some ethnic sources that were present at the occasion.
Again, according to The Irrawaddy report of 17 February, Min Aung Hlaing was believed to have again hinted that Wa are foreigners. The report writes:
“On Union Day, Feb. 12, Min Aung Hlaing met with several ethnic representatives in Naypyidaw, imploring them as citizens to maintain their Myanmar identity. It was as if he were suggesting that some other ethnic groups were foreigners. Some observers interpreted the message as being directed at the Wa, one of the groups represented at the meeting.”
The Tatmadaw propaganda machine has been also portraying the MNDAA and people of Kokang as being foreigners and that the recent conflict in Kokang area is jointly the handiwork of the people from the other side of the border, although this has been toned down lately for it must have realized that the whipping up of rhetoric narrow nationalism, based on racism, could only create a big backlash, if the PLA military build-up and recent night war game exercise are to be taken as the Chinese retaliation.
The Burma Army escalation of war in Shan and Kachin States, conducting massive offensive on Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Arakan Army (AA) and accusing Shan State Army-North (SSA- N), United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Mong La, are indications of total war declaration on all EAOs.
VOA of 28 March filed a report that the Burma Army have launched furious offensive at MNDAA positions along the Chinese border, and attacking the TNLA, in Kutkai township, at the same time. Also in Kachin State of Mansi township, the KIA and Burma Army are at loggerhead, following the armed clashes that occurred a week ago, involving attacks with fighter bombers and infantry offensives by the Burma Army.
According to Duang Khar, head of the Kachin Independence Organization’s technical team, the Burma Army offensives on KIA positions, with the pretext of taking action on timber smuggling gangs, is actually aimed at capturing and controlling of the strategic communication route of Bhamo-Namkham, from the KIA.
All the said episodes are pointing at the continuation of military hard-line policy of “total annihilation” or “negotiated surrender” of the EAOs. The military has started out with its strategy of Border Guard Force (BGF) program to control or get rid of the ethnic resistance, once and for all, but drew back, when met with massive deterrence; only to come back again, employing massive military offensives and blurting out ethnocentric statements, not at all helpful to the ongoing peace process.
Lt-Gen Myint Soe, when performing recent press-briefing, together with NCCT members, on 31 March, indicated that the Tatmadaw’s six guiding principles must be accepted, even though it is not included directly in the ceasefire draft, which Nai Han Thar said is indirectly mentioned in the latest draft. Of the six principles, four are acceptable, while the other two demands, that is omitted in the latest draft, which are adherence of the 2008 military-drawn, constitution and the current existing laws.
Gen Gun Maw had made known, in his recent interview with The Irrawaddy, that the UNFC don’t accept the 2008 Constitution and Nai Han Thar openly rejected the said Tatmadaw’s six guiding principles to be accepted or discussed in the following peace process talks.
But positive observation, by news media, of the Commander-in-Chief, although quite seldom, shouldn’t be left out.
Min Aung Hliang, in his recent interview with Stanley Weiss, Founding Chairman, Business Executives for National Security, in his article “ Will Myanmar Military reform?” writes “ He sees himself as the keeper of democracy…. He told me, ‘The military used to be above the government, and now we’re at same level, and we [the military] have to teach them [the government] to be above us.”
The same report also writes: “ A UN official tells me that Hlaing replaced a number of officers in the 25 percent of parliament still reserved for members of the military, believing that “the previous officers he placed there were not capable of voting on their own, so he decided to replace them with thinkers instead.”” (Source:The World Post – 26 March 2015)
To sum up, if the political negotiation track is to succeed, the military go-it-alone track should be curtailed or stopped and cooperate or listen to the quasi-civilian government of Thein Sein to pull through the peace process. But if it continues to play spoiler, making its own rule, just trying to adhere to “group survival” mentality, protecting the military class and its cronies, plus heightening the armed conflict, like it is doing now, the prospect of achieving a political settlement would be hard to imagine.
Hopefully, Stanley Weiss’ portrayal of Min Aung Hlaing’s positive character traits will prevail, so that President Thein Sein’s intended, noble undertaking of achieving peace and harmony for the country could be materialized.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor