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Ninth Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement: Chance to end man-made disaster is within reach?

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As expected, the ninth Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) get stuck on “all-inclusiveness”, although it was hailed to be able to wrap up most controversial issues that have dogged the negotiations for some 18 months, the fact remains that completion of this preliminary draft is far from over, needless to say of inking the finalized version of agreement.

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At the end of the meeting on 7 August 2015, a four points joint-statement was released mentioning that the meeting took place, between the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) and Ethnic Armed Organizations-Senior Delegation (EAOs-SD), from 6 to 7 August 2015, in Rangoon, at MPC; agreement on all points included in the NCA, except for all-inclusiveness signing of the EAOs; publicizing of the agreed NCA for public consumption; and pledged to strive for speedy signing of the NCA and starting political dialogue, to achieve long-lasting peace.

The statement, issued by the UPWC headed by Minister Aung Min, and the SD led by Karen National Union‘s Naw Zipporah Sein, was interpreted by both sides as having reached a compromise on all outstanding points on the draft ceasefire accord, with the exception of the issue concerning the ethnic group signatories to the agreement.

Differing participant list-count

But the regime’s UPWC side and EAOs-SD couldn’t agree on the participation list of armed organizations and the way the count has been conducted between the two negotiating parties.

The UPWC wants only fifteen, according to its own list-count, and the SD likewise prefers seventeen of its members, also according to its list-count at least, to be part of the NCA signatories.

The SD count doesn’t include National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K), Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), United Wa State Army (UWSA), while the government does not recognize the six organizations – previously represented by NCCT and now by EAOs-SD – the Palaung State Liberation Front/ Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA), the ethnic Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA)—all of which have had recent armed clashes with the Burma army; and also wants to exclude three smaller groups—the Wa National Organization (WNO), Lahu Army and Arakan National Council (ANC).


DIFFERENT LIST-COUNT OF UPWC & EAOs-SD

EAOs-SD: ALP, CNF, DKBA, KNPP, KNU, KPC, NMSP, PNLO, SSPP, ABSDF, KIO, ANC, LDU, WNO, AA, MNDAA, TNLA

UPWC: NDAA, NSCN-K, RCSS, UWSA, ALP, CNF, DKBA, KNPP, KNU, KPC, NMSP, PNLO, SSPP, ABSDF, KIO

LIST OF 21 ETHNIC ARMED ORGANIZATIONS

  1. Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) 2. Arakan National Council (ANC) 3. Arakan Army (AA) 4. Chin National Front (CNF) 5. Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) 6. Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) 7. Karen National Union (KNU) 8. Karen Peace Council (KPC) 9. Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) 10. Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) 11. New Mon State Party (NMSP) 12. Pa-Oh National Liberation Organization (PNLO) 13. Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) 14. Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) 15. Wa National Organization (WNO) 16.Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) 17. Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) 18. United Wa State Army (UWSA) 19. National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) 20. Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) 21. National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K)

Compiled by Sai Wansai (9 August 2015)


The reliable, explanation on why the government wants to exclude the said armed organizations could be seen in the EBO Briefing Paper, titled “ The Last Hurdle to Signing the NCA” of August 2015:

“The government is saying that ANC (Arakan), LDU (Lahu) and WNO (Wa) do not have significant armies and are not combatants. They can participate in the political dialogue without either a bilateral ceasefire or the NCA. The WNO also has a much larger counterpart in the UWSA. How the two Wa groups will reconcile and represent Wa State is something that still needs to be resolved amongst themselves.”

“The government claims that the AA (Arakan), MNDAA (Kokang) and TNLA (Ta-ang or Palaung) came into being only after the government started negotiating ceasefires with the others. As such, it feels that including them will encourage a proliferation of more groups. Further, the government claims that the AA is a creation of the KIO and is actively mainly in KIO territory. It proposes that a ceasefire with the KIO could include the AA. Similarly, the TNLA is also seen as a KIO creation but given that it operates in northern Shan State, a separate bilateral ceasefire before allowing it to sign the NCA is being considered. The MNDAA’s recent revival on 9 Feb 2015 with the attempt to reclaim Kokang is seen as a deliberate provocation to wreck the peace process and at the moment, the government is not open to any negotiations with the group.”

Furthermore, according to RFA report of 7 August, Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) senior advisor Hla Maung Shwe said the 15 groups accepted by the UPWC were the only ones that had been involved in “all rounds of negotiations and discussions since the beginning” of talks related to the NCA, and had already signed individual bilateral peace agreements with the government. According to the government, the remaining groups are still required to sign bilateral agreements and that has been the reason why the government is only willing to first sign with the said 15 groups.

To salvage the seemingly shattered NCA negotiation, Nai Hong Sar, an ethnic Mon senior delegation spokesman, said that the two sides would set a final meeting to be held in the capital Naypyidaw, to determine whether an NCA would be signed ahead of Myanmar’s national elections, slated for 8 November. The request from the SD is said to be given to U Aung Min, the government’s trouble-shooter and top peace negotiator.

Within a month, the five groups who will attend the next round of talks in Naypyidaw will be represented by the Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), together with three top members of the SD. The delegation will meet President Thein Sein and also likely include Myanmar’s military chief General Min Aung Hlaing.

Dr. La Ja, a senior delegation team member from the KIO, said that the only way to solve the question of “all-inclusiveness” in the NCA was for ethnic groups to meet with key decision makers in the capital.

Major stumbling block

Although there are quite a few credible and superficial reasons from the regime’s part to exclude the six EAOs mentioned above, the debate of “all-inclusiveness” mostly center on Kokang conflict and MNDAA in particular, which it refuses to come to terms with the existing reality.

This conflict issue could be looked at it from emotional and humiliation point of view, as far as the government is concerned.

Emotionally, the regime, or better more exactly the Burma army, also known as Tatmadaw, is determined to revenge or make MNDAA pays back the dues for its massive human loss, at the height of the conflict between February and May of this year. The Tatmadaw has waged an all-out war employing air power, heavy artillery bombardment and infantry offensives, but failed to dislodge the MNDAA from Kokang area, until today. The relative calm prevailing in the region is due to the unilateral ceasefire declaration of MNDAA about two months ago and the toning down of the offensive from the part of the Tatmadaw for whatever reason, it may have in store. Except for sporadic shelling of MNDAA positions by the Burma army daily, there has been no offensive, according to media reports, confirmed by its spokesperson U Tun Myat Lin.

The Irrawaddy report of 8 July wrote that it paid a recent visit to the Tatmadaw cemetery which hosts the graves of some 200 soldiers who died between February and April this year, at the height of the conflict in the Kokang Special Region along the border with China. It was said that the tombs were just for soldiers who died while coming from Kokang to get treatment in Lashio, northern Shan State. Some others died in the hospital, while many, who were killed at the frontline, could not be picked up.

The same report said that government figures suggest at least 200 deaths in the conflict, including Burmese and rebel soldiers, although independent estimates put the death toll much higher.

A report by Jane’s Defence Weekly issued in May cited an intelligence report indicating that an estimated 800 Burma Army troops were killed between February and mid-May.

It is not a wonder and understandable that the military feels humiliated and frustrated for not being able to whip up its, time tested Bama nationalism rhetoric which has worked so well in the past, by pointing fingers at its giant neighbor of abetting the MNDAA. At the early outbreak of Kokang conflict, it had employed such tactics and had even garnered quite a sizeable backing from among ultra nationalist sectors, but somehow abandoned the plan and tone down the rhetoric. For it is possible that the regime might have a second thought that starting a racial riots like in the late 1960s, where many Chinese were killed by the mob, could backlash and create an international conflict, that it could ill-afford. In short, the regime is like being stuck in a limbo, not willing to take the reconciliation path because it will be a loss of face and perhaps, fearful of losing political backing from among its racial chauvinistic followers; at the same time, wouldn’t dare to escalate ultra nationalist view that would lead to racial riots, particularly on the Chinese population within the country, like in the past.

Response of MNDAA, TNLA and AA

A joint statement released on August 5 by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA) said they were keen to negotiate.

The move was designed to counter the UPWC’s argument that NCA signatories should include only armed groups that have already signed individual bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government.

According to Myanmar Times report, on 7 August, MNDAA spokesperson U Tun Myat Lin said the three armies fighting in Kokang want to reach a bilateral deal so that nationwide ceasefire talks can move forward.

“Although the Senior Delegation is negotiating on an all-inclusive basis, the government is refusing to include some armed organizations on the grounds that they do not have bilateral ceasefire agreements with it,” he said. “So it is important to have such bilateral ceasefire agreements between us and the government so that peace talks can move on.”

On 6 August, Mizzima report that the commander of the Arakan Army, Brigadier General Tun Myat Naing said: “We ethnic nationalities organizations want to sign the genuine, justified and meaningful NCA together according to our principles. But we foresee the chance of happening to be very minimal. That is why we again made a proposal – for bilateral ceasefire agreement – to be all-inclusive together in NCA negotiations.”

Chairman Mai Aike Bong of PSLF/TNLA also stressed. “U Aung Min has been giving reason that it is difficult to include groups that don’t have bilateral ceasefire agreement. In order not have such reason, we have made proposal so that ceasefire negotiations could be conducted. We three groups have publicized it to show that we are ready to meet, if they really want to.”

Meanwhile, the three armed groups have made donations to the flood victims currently gripped by severe floods that have killed some 100 and 1.2 million acres of rice fields have been destroyed.

The Irrawaddy on 6 August reported, TNLA’s communications officer Mai Aike Kyaw also confirmed that his group had donated 30 million kyat worth of aid through the local Sitagu Foundation. The Kokang rebel group MNDAA also made a donation of 50 million kyat to the foundation.

Min Aung Hlaing’s ultimatum

On 4 August, Leaders of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and three Karen armed groups, the Karen National Union (KNU), the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and the Karen Peace Council, met with Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw.

During the meeting, according to RCSS representative Colonel Sai Hla, the Commander-in-Chief was said to have told the four ethnic armed groups’ representatives that “If they accept the NCA, the Disarmament Demobilization Reintegration (DDR) and six guiding principles of the military, political and military guarantees will be offered.”

DDR is seen by the EAOs as a “negotiated surrender”, while the military sees it as the only way to achieve peace.

The six guiding principle of the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing includes genuine desire to achieve eternal peace; to adhere to the signed agreement; not to take advantage of the peace agreement; not to be a burden to the people; to adhere to the existing current laws and the 2008 Constitution, and cooperate to strive for democracy.

Kachin civil societies open letter to UPWC/SD

On 6 August, the 43 Kachin civil societies handed an open letter to the UPWC and EAOs-SD, at MPC, which contains peace forum agreement of 30 July. The letter called for the termination of military offensives in Kachin State and to unconditionally stop all human rights violations.

According to the Mizzima report of 7 August, the letter stated that if the offensives continue, it fears the reconciliation talks between the government and the EAOs could be delayed.

It further stressed that during the month of July, because of escalating armed skirmishes between the KIA and Burma army in Putao, Sumprabum, Kamaing and Hpakant, the breaking down of the rule of law, human rights violations, rapes and destruction of the people’s livelihood were becoming rampant.

To make the matter worse, SHAN report on 7 August said that the Tatmadaw attacked SSPP/SSA position in Monghsu Township, near its Wanhai headquarters twice, with about 60 troopers, using heavy artillery. The attack coincides with the second day of NCA meeting in Rangoon.

Natural and man-made disasters

The natural flood disaster, which the government says up to 100 people have died and 1.2 million acres of rice fields have been destroyed, is a challenge that would be overcome sooner or later, with the perseverance, determination and commitment of the people. Equally, the man-made disaster, in the form of internal or ethnic conflict could also be brought under control, if the warring parties could forget the past and strive for a peaceful cohabitation, under the motto of “unity in diversity”. In other words, it is up to the concerned stakeholders, particularly the powers that be, to show trustworthiness, sincerity, generosity, transparency, forgiveness and above all genuine “political will”, in negotiating for a peaceful, harmonious society, where this decade’s old man-made disaster could be put to rest.

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