Tuesday, April 23, 2024

NAYPYITAW MEETING: Would ethnic coalition compromised posture lead to nationwide ceasefire signing?

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newspictures_june2011_sai-wansaiThe ethnic leadership meeting from 21 to 24 August, in Chiangmai, Thailand, was supposed to be a showdown between the pro and contra factions of the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), on whether or not to sign the 7 August, Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) that was ironed out between the government and Ethnic Armed Organizations-Senior Delegation (EAOs-SD). But instead of a clear-cut scenario outcome, it turned out to be a compromised, combination of “yes” and “no”. In German, there is a popular word for such situation. The word “ja” is “yes” and “nein” is “no” and the fusion of the two words becomes “jein”, pronounced “yein”, which means the combined meaning of yes and no. The ethnic leadership meeting outcome could also be termed as such.

This “jein” position could be seen in EAOs Summit Resolution, Number 5, made at the end of   recent EAOs’ leadership summit meeting. It writes: “In the deliberation to sign the NCA, the leadership summit meeting decided to adhere to the all-inclusive principle and agreed to search for pragmatic implementation.”

The message here is the connection made between the two words “inclusion” and “compromise”, which boils down to “pragmatism” and should be the key operational word for the ceasefire negotiation process. This in turn could be seen as not being dogmatic to the position of “all-inclusiveness” or clinging to it literally, according to the EAOs Summit Resolution.

But “pragmatic” in this sense has a “jein” interpretation. For it means compromising the very stand of “all- inclusiveness” by excluding six of the EAOs, which are the ethnic coalition members. In a way, it could be taken as a rejection of the very notion of “all-inclusiveness” that it is professed to uphold or yielding to the demand of the government to exclude some of its members.

Thus, it would be in order to imagine what this could mean in practical terms for the ongoing peace process in Burma.

Apart from the above mentioned core decision, the eleven point resolution of the EAOs’ leadership summit meeting mainly highlights the endorsement of the NCA that the the SD has worked out together with the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) at their 9th meeting. Other than that, it has decided that the EAOs’ Chiangmai summit meeting would be taken in par as those of Laiza and Law Khi Lar summit meetings; all-inclusiveness notion to be implemented in pragmatic way; to fix the meeting date with the President and Commander-in-Chief as soon as possible; has chosen and entrusted the five EAOs leaders, together with three SD executive members; the Nationwide Ceasefire Negotiation Team (NCCT) is entrusted to continue with the deliberation and formulation of Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD), military Code of Conduct (CoC) and Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), among others.

Pragmatism or giving in

The sophisticated formulation of NCA was made more complicated as President Thein Sein has doled out invitations to 15 EAOs that his government accepts as signatories to the NCA, on 11 August.

The EAOs were at that time only concerned with the issue of how to push for all-inclusiveness and have not expected the President’s pre-empting their geared intention of bargaining for their position at the highest decision-making level.

The EAOs leadership summit resolution of yes and no or “jein” position is due to consideration to compromise the hard line and soft line postures of the two camps within the EAOs.

The hard-liners involved are Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) , New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), while the soft line, eager to sign faction is led by Karen National Union (KNU), joined by the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), which is not part of the NCCT or SD.

KNU in its 14 August statement, prior to the recent EAOs leadership meeting said that although it is for all-inclusion of the EAOs in signing the NCA in principle, it won’t stick to it literally and would accept the exclusion of the other ethnic coalition members, for various reasons, but would work for them to join the process at a later date, from within.

The four EAOs – KNU, RCSS, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), Karen Peace Council (KPC) – joint-statement that followed 3 days later also emphasized the same KNU stated points above.

Not surprisingly, the EAOs leadership recent statement also highlights the same position, stating that it would be pragmatic in pursuing it’s all-inclusiveness stance, indicating that it won’t stick to the position dogmatically, but would compromise if the regime would promise and guarantee that it would not attack the six left out EAOs and let them participate in the political process phase that would follow after the signing of NCA.

Meanwhile, according to various news coming out from ethnic and government sources, the meeting will take place between the five top ethnic leaders, plus three SD executives and the government, on 9 August, in Naypyitaw.

However, the question of how the gaps between the two parties could be bridged will be the main concern for the main actors from both camps, which will effect the fate of the whole nation.

The bone of contention is on how to work out an agreement on the heatedly debated participant list, which both contending parties interpret it quite differently.

The regime side wants to exclude six of the EAOs that are members of the ethnic coalition, while the ethnic leadership prefers to include it all together.

At the same time, the EAOs leadership is not counting the four groups – United Wa State Army (UWSA), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), National Socialist Council of Nagaland -Khaplang (NSCN-K), Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) – out of respect for their own decision, to only participate at the level of political dialogue, for UWSA and NDAA have maintained 26 years of ceasefire and don’t think that it is necessary to sign another treaty. The NSCN-K reportedly is not interested to sign for its aim is to establish an independent country carved out from Burma and India, while RCSS is not part of the NCCT, ethnic coalition from the outset.

The core concern of the regime, or rather the military, is to exclude the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), aslo known as Kokang, from any political equation or settlement. It has portrayed the MNDAA as infringing on the country’s sovereignty and under the influence of the big neighbouring state, which has been categorically rejected by MNDAA.

The regime however has indicated that out of the six excluding groups, the Arakan Army (AA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) might be qualified to sign the bilateral ceasefire agreement, although both parties have fought hand-in-hand together with the MNDAA, before participation in the ratification of NCA. The three remaining groups – Arakan National Congress (ANC), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), Wa National Organization (WNO) -, will be allowed to be part of political dialogue phase, although it is not clear in what kind of capacity they will be allowed to participate. The reason for it is that the three groups have never had any military confrontation with the government, besides that they don’t qualify as armed forces, according to the government’ s criteria.

Of late, news have been making the rounds that the ANC, LDU and WNO would be only allowed to be observers, rather than fully-fledged participants in political dialogue phase, according to the Myanmar Times report of 26 August.

Armed clashes

Parallel to these happenings, Burma army attacks have been ongoing or occurred recently with the KIA, TNLA and RCSS.

The Irrawaddy reported on 28 August, that Tar Bong Kyaw,TNLA general secretary, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that clashes had occurred almost every day during the week amid an increased deployment of Burma Army troops in the area.

“We have five brigades. They chased every one of our brigades and attacked our troops’ bases. They even vowed to destroy our TNLA,” said Tar Bong Kyaw, who claimed that Burma Army officers were telling ethnic Palaung community leaders in northern Shan State that they would “destroy” the TNLA in the same way that the government has largely crushed a rebellion of ethnic Kokang insurgents in the state’s north-east.

The same report also said that the military-owned Myawady news outlet reported that fighting broke out between the Burma Army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) troops as well, on 26 August, in Kachin State’s SumprabumTownship.

On 27 August, SHAN reported that fighting broke out between the Burma Army and RCSS/SSA in Peng Khan and Wan Lao villages, on 25 August, when the Shan troops entered Kunhing Township after travelling from Namzang Township in southern Shan State.

Min Aung Hlaing also renewed his verbal assaults on EAOs, mostly buttressing the usual message that they must surrender, after NCA signing, if political settlement and reconciliation should follow, which the EAOs rejected feverishly and bitterly.

He quite recently also said, according to DVB 25 August report, that the MNDAA and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) 4th Brigade must surrender. But shortly after the disgruntled complaint of most EAOs, the Commander -in-Chief changed tune from the immediate surrender of the EAOs after signing the NCA to implement security reintegration, only after obtaining the “Pyidaungsu Accord”, according to the outcomes of political dialogue.

Aung San Suu Kyi enters the fray

Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the NLD and whose party is expected to win majority seats in this coming November elections, also enter the peace process fray, when she was reported to have told KNU advisor to the Chairman, Colonel Saw Htoo Htoo Lay recently that the EAOs should not sign the NCA hastily and should wait until after the election.

This statement could be interpreted in a couple of ways. One would be that she doesn’t like President Thein Sein to reap the political profit out of the NCA signing, and the other, she might like to indicate that a better deal could be made by waiting a little longer, when she could form a government after the election. Still, it could also be that she really cares that the EAOs cut a more inclusive and comprehensive deal, which would bring a lasting solution to the ethnic conflict and ushers the country towards a genuine federalism.

Following accusations that she has been advocating for the hindrances of NCA, she made a sort of clarification that her intention has been to advice that meaningful and comprehensive ceasefire agreement should be achieved first, before signing it.

Myanmar Times reported on 28 August that opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged armed ethnic organisations to quickly wrap up the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, but to also ensure that a sustainable deal is reached.

“If we look carefully at the world’s history, there have been many ceasefire deals that broke down after signing,” she told Radio Free Asia (RFA) in an exclusive weekly interview program.

“We all want a strong ceasefire agreement that will guarantee peace for our nation,” she said.

Naypyitaw meet

For now, the scheduled Naypyitaw meet on 9 September is aimed at achieving a compromise, where the issue of all-inclusiveness is concerned, from the point of EAOs. But for the government, it has on many occasions and even recently has made it clear that the 15 chosen EAOs signing the NCA is, as far as it could go. In other words, there will be no changes on participant list.

While the five top ethnic delegation would be banking on the all-inclusiveness of all its 17 EAOs to sign the NCA as a first step, it might be prepared to make concession that all six excluded members – MNDAA, TNLA, AA, LDU, WNO and ANC – be given the guarantee that the government won’t attack them militarily, allow them to participate in political dialogue, give humanitarian aids and lift Section 17/1 and 17/2, Unlawful Association Act, as those who signed the NCA.

Of course, whether such a guarantee, even if it is granted, would be adhered and honoured is a question that only time could answer.

But if the union-level ceasefire agreements between the government and the SSPP and RCSS were to be taken as indications, the chances of adhering to the ceasefires would be quite slim. For after the signing the agreements, hundreds of fire-fights were registered between the two Shan armies and the government troops, whose pretext was said to be conducting area cleansing and inserting influence within the Shan State. The same is also true with the KIO, as numerous battles continue to occur, even after the armed conflict reduction agreement was signed between the government and the KIO, a few years ago.

However, whether enough trustworthiness is available or not, the EAOs’ pitch for such compromise would need to go along and give the regime the benefit of the doubt, simply as there is no other choice left.

Given such a situation, the successful signing and ratification of the NCA would depend on if a compromise, based on political will and genuine political settlement, could be worked out by the two contending parties, when they meet in Naypyitaw within a few weeks.

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