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Peace process collapses and turns into partial-ceasefire nightmare

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The ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) Summit Meeting was held at The Park Hotel , Chiangmai, from 28 to 30 September, basically aimed at reporting and clarifying to the EAOs by those involved in the meeting between the delegation of 5 EAOs top leaders, 3 ethnic armed organizations- senior delegation (EAOs-SD) executives, 1 nationwide ceasefire coordination team (NCCT) member and the President.

news_opinion_sai-wansaiSome one hundred participants from 19 EAOs – 17 NCCT members, Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army – Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS) – were present, where 7 groups decided to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) and the rest still reluctant to follow the government initiative of inking the treaty by the mid of October.

Partial ceasefire signing

The 28 September VOA Burmese section report that Chairman Hkun Myint Htun of Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), regarding the summit meeting said: “Today’s meeting is mainly the explanation, clarification and discussion of the 5 ethnic top leaders on their meeting with the President – on 9 September-, in Naypyitaw.”

At the meeting various EAOs have made known their opinion of whether to sign the NCA as proposed by the regime or not.

Hkun Myint Htun said. “ Some organizations clearly said that they would sign the agreement. But some, even though not rejecting to sign said they are not ready and need more time. For example, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) reportedly need more time to brief and secure agreement from their people. They agree with the President initiative, but need more time to work out between themselves. That is the basic argument.”

To add more confusion to the already fragile ethnic unity on the issue of all inclusive  participation of EAOs, in signing the NCA, The Irrawaddy report of 28 September quoted General Mutu Say Poe as addressing the summit meeting: “I’ve already decided. I won’t take responsibility of chairing the meeting anymore, in any upcoming meeting. That’s why I’m tabling this (concern of mine). So how will the EAOs decide on my petition? Can you accept or reject it? My decision is, I absolutely won’t take responsibility of a Chairperson for the third day of the meeting. That’s why I’m tabling this paper (petition).”

At the start of the gathering, prior to Mutu Say Poe’s personal intervention in the summit meeting, Saw Roger Khin had tabled a Karen National Union (KNU) petition concerning its leader’s rejection to take the chairperson responsibility.

SHAN reported on 25 September that for the government, the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) before the November elections is a mission that must be completed regardless of the number of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) involved, said government chief negotiator U Aung Min, during the 6th forum on the framework for political dialogue (FPD) which was held on 14 September, In Rangoon.

“For us, it is a ‘do or die’ mission,” he said.

Dr Min Zaw Oo, from the government technical team Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), seconded him by saying, “Ta-tet-sa-le-kyetthun, Hna-tet-sa-le-kyetthun (Eat one section, it’s garlic; eat two sections, it’s still garlic — old Burmese saying). It doesn’t matter how many EAOs are signing. It is NCA. There’ll be an open book for those who are yet to sign.”

Thus, it could be said that the stage is set for a non-nationwide ceasefire agreement (NNCA), rather than nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), as has been planned and projected from the outset. In other words, only partial ceasefire agreement and not nationwide ceasefire would be signed.

U Aung Min’s lobbying of EAOs

Since a few weeks ago, U Aung Min, regime’s top peace negotiator, and his team have been on a heightened lobbying tour, in their last-ditch effort to woo as many EAOs as possible to ink the NCA, scheduled to pull it through within the middle of this October.

To date his team have met the United Wa State Army (UWSA), NDAA-ESS, National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) and New Mon State Party (NMSP) to persuade them to follow the lead of the regime’s NCA signing.

All the approached EAOs seem to be sticking to their not signing stance, regardless of the government’s threat that they will lose the chance to participate in the upcoming political dialogue, besides being dubbed as illegal organizations.

Mon (NMSP)

However, U Aung Min’s loss of patience a few weeks back, during the 14 September meeting on framework for political dialogue, in Rangoon was toned down a bit, when he recently met NMSP leader, Nai Htaw Mon, in Thanphuzayat, telling him that the Mon could sign the NCA anytime before the political dialogue phase, and even participate in the dialogue without signing the NCA.

Aung Min reportedly urged the NMSP to sign the NCA and that it would not be able to participate in a leading role, if it refused to sign, according to the BBC report of 26 September.

The Mon leader’s response was said to be non-committal, saying that its organization desired peace and would strive to attain it by working hand-in-hand with the other EAOs.

According to another report in The Irrawaddy, on 29 September, Banyar Leir, who was present at the meeting between Aung Min and the NMSP leadership, said the minister informed them that if they do not sign the accord they will not be able to play an active role in political dialogue set to commence within 90 days of the pact.

“He told us our Mon [representatives] will have a chance to join the political dialogue whether we sign or not, but we can only be observers. We can attend the dialogue, but we can’t talk at the talks,” he said.

Likewise, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), UWSA, TNLA and NSCN-K and the rest, counting 10 EAOs, choose to stay away from the government initiated NCA signing.

Palaung (PSLF/TNLA)

The TNLA is offered a bilateral ceasefire agreement, followed by the signing of NCA. But TNLA insisted that  all the two allies, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army (AA) must also be included. It also said that it is hard to believe the regime’s overtures of bilateral ceasefire, when it is going on offensives against them, at the same time.

In this respect, the PSLF/TNLA released a 3 point statement of 27 September, to clarify its position.

The first paragraph accused the regime of escalating the armed conflict in Palaung area, to disrupt the free and fair voting of the elections and to manipulate it, but said it will only act in self-defence and won’t disrupt the elections, in any way.

The second said that although it doesn’t accept the 2008 Constitution and the elections, it will not act against it. But cautioned that racial hatred and belittling of the Palaung people will not be tolerated.

The final one blamed the government that it has no desire for a genuine peace and thus rejected the all-inclusiveness signing of the EAOs. It stressed that it would continue to adhere to the participation and won’t sign the agreement if some of the groups are excluded from the process.

Naga (NSCN-K)

In an interview with Independent Mon News Agency (IMNA), U Kyaw Wan Sein said “We already discussed the topic with our chairman. The chairman said we aren’t ready to sign the NCA yet. And, there are some political issues in our group. We cannot find a solution for this by just signing the NCA. The government side also cannot solve this problem. So, we decided not to participate in the NCA inking”. U Kyaw Wan Sein, however, did not reveal what these political problems were, according to the Nagaland Post of 25 September.

Karenni (KNPP)

Abel Tweed, head of the KNPP, quoting the urgent meeting decision said his organization could only sign the NCA, if there is an participation of the EAOs or if the USDP-Military government could satisfactorily show that it is working for, according to the 7Days Daily of 27 September.

The meeting decision emphasized that without signing of NCA the actual fighting could not stop. Besides, even though the signing is about to take place, the Tatmadaw (Burma Army) is not withholding its offensives, which is questionable and hard to believe. Because of this, the KNPP has decided to ink the NCA only when there is all-inclusiveness and satisfactorily shows its intention to include all the EAOs.

The decision was made, during the last week of September gathering, after intensive deliberation and discussion on 9 September meeting between the President and the 5 top ethnic leaders in Naypyitaw, of which KNPP was also a party.

Shan (RCSS)

In the same vein, according to the VOA 28 September report, Colonel Sai La of RCSS/SSA said that recent battles occurring with the Tatmadaw could derail the peace process. He said that he believed it is time that the battles be stopped. No matter who is to be blamed, battles should be terminated by negotiations.

He stressed that his organization has signed 3 state and union level ceasefire agreements, plus one “Deed of Commitment for Peace and National Reconciliation” headed by the President Thein Sein on Union Day, 12 February of this year. And if it is to sign the government initiated NCA again, it will be altogether 5 times already. He reasoned that since the ongoing armed engagement could derail the peace process, the actual stopping of the fighting is really needed.

Prior to this, Colonel Sai La told The Irrawaddy on 26 September: “What is the official difference of signing the NCA and not signing it? As according to U Aung Min, even after the NCA signing, battles could still rage on. So what is the point of signing the NCA? These are questions that need to be answered.”

Although it is not clear whether the RCSS is going to join the KNU and other 7 EAOs to sign the government initiated NCA, a Shan insider source, who refused to be named, said its leader Sao Yawd Serk was said to have indicated, to uphold and preserve Shan unity, and that his group will only sign if the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) also agrees to ink the agreement and won’t, if it rejects to participate.

In a nutshell, the 7 EAOs geared to sign the NCA are KNU, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), Karen Peace Council (KPC), Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF), PNLO and Chin National Front (CNF), while those abstaining 10 groups are KNPP, NMSP, KIO, SSPP, Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), Wa national Organization (WNO), Arakan National Council (ANC), PSLF, AA and MNDAA.

NDAA-ESS or Mong La and RCSS that have attended the summit meeting didn’t give any consent on whether or not they will sign the NCA.

The summit meeting closing was buttressed with the dissolution of EAOs-SD, as its task of leading the alliance in negotiation process with the government ended and the mandate expired, due to the EAOs’ decision to go different ways, in approaching the NCA.

 Raging battles with EAOs

Parallel to this, armed engagement between the Tatmadaw and KIA, RCSS and TNLA have been on the rise, with no sign of deescalation, since the last few weeks.

Battles between the KIA and Tatmadaw have been raging, starting from the time when the 5 major EAOs were meeting with the President in Naypyitaw, on 9 September, to thrash out the differences of all-inclusive  participation of all the EAOs.

As of 30 September report from Kachinland News, ongoing battles occurred between the KIA and Tatmadaw, at Chyau Hkawng village, located just 2 miles southeast of Mansi; a location between Lung Ja Hkyet and Hkindu Hkyet, located near Chyau Hkawng village; and a place near Mai Hkawng village, located about 10 miles southwest of Mansi, in Kachin State.

In northern Shan State, KIA’s 34th Battalion troops fought Burmese Army troops under 88th and 99th Light Infantry Division near Man Yawn Bum, located between Momeik and Manton, on Sept 29 at 10 am. No casualties have been reported on either side for the battle lasted about 7 hours.

Tai Freedom, the RCSS website reported on 23 September that from the last week of August to September 22, 10 battles were fought between RCSS/SSA and Tatmadaw, in Namzang, Lawk Sawk Township and Mong Paun Township.

Likewise, armed clashes between the TNLA and Tatmadaw happened from 19 to 21 September, in Mantong Township, Kyaukme Township and Mong Mit Township,  northern Shan State.

Three possible scenarios

The concrete government position has not changed from it’s position of 15 chosen EAOs to sign the NCA, while the MNDAA, TNLA, AA, WNO, LDU and ANC were excluded from the nationwide ceasefire signing process.

Such being the case, one of the three possible scenarios would likely emerge and pave the way for Burma’s political future.

One is the suspension of the partial-ceasefire agreement, due to the regime’s loss of face for failing to pull through the nationwide ceasefire in a true sense. The other is to muddle through with the open book strategy, starting with those who are ready to sign, hoping that it will gain momentum, and perhaps give satisfaction to the foreign donors and international community. And the final one is to put the issue on the back burner and hope for a better opportunity, after the election.

Whatever the case, the failure to implement the NCA is solely the shortcomings of the Union Solidarity and Development Party-Military (USDP-Military) regime.

First and foremost, the so-called single text NCA draft is supposed to be a jointly owned one between the EAOs and the regime, developing it and seeking to resolve the conflict as negotiation partners together. And when the government, all of a sudden, hijacked the draft, make it its own and even doled out invitation to its chosen 15 EAOs, the whole process deviates from its original intention and becomes a “deceptive détournement” form failure, with new meanings and scope in a new context.

Thus naturally, most EAOs were taken aback and irked by the automatic demotion of their status from equal partner of the process to those of the underlings of the regime, having to follow the government’s lead in the peace process deliberations and no more on the same level as negotiation partners.

Second, the regime’s lack of common vision with its negotiating partner and sincerity as a dominant party to really strive for a fair and justified conflict resolution.

The ongoing offensives on KIA, TNLA and RCSS, while peace process talks are underway, is stark reminder of such ill intention, seen as insincerity and lack of trustworthiness, by the ethnic nationalities.

A keen Burma observer pointed out the situation rightly that “While the Commander-in-Chief, Sr Gen Min Aung Hlaing considers the NCA to be a “negotiated surrender,” and sees no need for Constitutional reform, much less security sector reform, ethnic armed organizations consider this a “mutual cessation of hostilities,” which is substantially different from a negotiated surrender, particularly when examining possible courses of action for security sector reform.”

And finally, in Burma’s historical context, to facilitate reconciliation, it involves the repentance, acceptance and acknowledgment of the Bamar-dominated successive regimes, including the present USDP-Military government, breaching the Panglong Agreement or Treaty made between the then Ministerial Burma and the ethnic nationalities; and the subsequent failure to implement its promises of constructing a federal union, as envisioned by the forefathers of the union, in 1947.

As such, if NCA is to be achieved earnestly, literally in the real sense of the words, the above mentioned factors or core issues would have to be taken into consideration. Otherwise, the present regime and as well the one that follows would be only muddling through in political waters, like all these years, without ever having a chance to resolve the decades-old ethnic conflict and achieve harmonious living with one another.

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

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