Tuesday, April 23, 2024

CEASEFIRE TALKS: Would Min Aung Hlaing’s professed military supremacy stance derail peace process?

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After reading, Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) top trouble shooter and government’s leading peace negotiator, U Aung Min and Ethnic Armed Organizations’ Senior Delegation (EAOs’ SD) leader, Naw Zipporah Sein opening speeches, one could clearly see the difference of opinion, in approaching the issues and problem areas, which need to be thrashed out, so that the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) text could be smoothed, finalized and signed by all warring parties.

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The first obstacle is the insistence of the SD that “all-inclusiveness” of all EAOs, or at least, all Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) members of 16, should be involved in the signing of NCA. U Aung Min’s position, according to his opening speech is to stick to the UPWC original stance from the outset, that is signing only with those that are involved presently in the negotiation, as a first step.

This means, the regime will hold on to its exclusion of Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which have been engaged in armed conflict with the regime’s troops and have yet to sign any bilateral agreement with Naypyitaw. Besides, it also refuses to accept ethnic organizations like Arakan National Council (ANC), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) and Wa National Organization (WNO) that have no organized armed forces.  Naypyitaw’s present policy is to sign the NCA with 15 EAOs.

The second problem is the timing of signing the NCA, which should be pulled through, as soon as possible, according to the the regime’s desire and point of view. For if  it is going to drag on until after the election, it will be derailed and the process might have to be started anew and cannot be sure whether negotiations would take place again, with all stakeholders together, for it would solely depend on the new incoming government. As the election campaign will be in full swing, beginning September, and the peace process or NCA will be put on the back-burner, until the election is over.

But this worry is more important and real for the regime than the EAOs, for the latter is more concerned on how much political guarantee and settlement promises are included in the NCA text and not rushing to sign it, just to fulfill the government’s preferred deadline. Of course, it is perfectly understandable that the regime is keen to secure the NCA, for it could enter the election campaign fray with this success in hand, which would increase its popularity and political standing, besides securing the promised international donors’ help, to rebuild socioeconomic infrastructure, that hinges upon the signing of the ceasefire document by all ethnic armed groups.

And apart from the disagreement of the international observers and witnesses, revising the NCA (Draft) in accordance with the decision made at the EAOs Summit at Law Khee Lar could also be daunting. U Aung Min, in his opening speech said: “ The said amendment points – 13 points proposal of SD – will be explained to the SD as have been discussed with the NCCT, point by point. We understand the background and anxiety of the ethnic groups’ some amendment points, which stem from Law Khee Lar. In order to reduce it – anxiety – , we are ready to explain again. Some points might be very hard to touch and change. But to smoothout the NCA text, we could do necessary correction.”

As if the finalizing of the NCA is not hard enough to achieve, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing reiterated his hardliner position, in his interview with the BBC, on 20 July 2015. He again confirmed that the military will be present at political decision-making level for as long as necessary, until there is peace within the country. He said it could be from five to ten years  depending solely  on whether peaceful atmosphere could be achieved or not. In other words, until all EAOs lay down their arms and demobilize, the Burma Army or Tatmadaw will be around to take the lead in political arena, which also means the 25% appointed MP seats in the parliament will be retained without alteration and the military possession of the three portfolios: defense, home and border affairs will remain intact.

A day earlier, General N’ Ban La, Vice-President of Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and  chairman of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), gave an exclusive interview with Kachin News Group’s editor Lahpai Naw Din, shortly after he met U Aung Min in a two-hour closed door meeting. U Aung Min told reporters in Chiangmai, Thailand, after the  “informal” talks with N’ Ban La, on July 19, that the KIO had decided to sign the national ceasefire accord (NCA).

When questioned, if what U Aung Min’s statement to the media is correct, he replied: “ Yes. It is not that we want ceasefire only now, we’ve wanted it since then – long time ago -. That’s why we’ve had had ceasefire four or five times. We Kachin wants peace the most. That’s why we’ve ceasefire with successive governments. Also all young and old people want peace immediately. Because of this, – when asked – if we want to sign eternal peace agreement, we are ready. But how much guarantee is there? How much of our demand could be given? It depends on this. How can we sign ceasefire, when it is – the military – conducting offensives? This is not  acceptable and cannot be signed. Therefore, all military units conducting offensives must all withdraw, if real ceasefire and peace are to be achieved. Military units that are on the mountains must come down to the main road. If such trust – sincerity – could be given, we can even sign the ceasefire in the middle of the night. I was explaining just that.”

It looks like, Min Aung Hlaing’s hardliner, “total surrender” policy of the EAOs is matched by General N’ Ban La’s commitment of “not to sign the NCA, without political guarantee”.  While Min Aung Hlaing’s statement hampers trust and the ongoing peace talks in Yangon, between the EAOs’ SD and UPWC, N’ Ban La’s  no signing of NCA, until real peace and political settlement could be worked out stance would also be hard to bring the peace talks to fruition.

At this writing, according to BBC and DVB reports, from SD proposed 13 amendment points, 6 were chosen to be discussed, of which 4 have been already agreed. The negotiation is said to be followed by “all-inclusiveness” of EAOs in the signing of NCA; who would sign the agreement from the part of EAOs and government’s side; and the issue of international witness signatories to the NCA.

Regardless of such a mixture of positive and negative developments, concerning the peace talks, all parties should be aware of not to fall into “zero-sum” game pitfall. All stakeholders have been muddling through this vicious circle of violence and the result have been decades long internal armed conflict, leading only to “lose-lose” outcome. It is time to change it and move towards “positive-sum” outcomes that would benefit the whole country.

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

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