Reportedly, the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) is going to take place in Naypyitaw, on 15 October. As the government’s long planned, “open book ” signing of the NCA becomes a reality, together with its 7 or 8 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), the political battle line is again redrawn, from the all-inclusiveness ceasefire signing to partial-ceasefire arrangement, that is supposed to be sold by the regime as being a nationwide one, to the public and as well, to the international community.
Regarding this controversy, the UNFC and it’s leadership came up with a series of rebuttal and spelled out on how flawed the regime’s insistence of partial-ceasefire, to be taken as all-encompassing, covering the whole ethnic conflict spectrum.
The 7 point United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) Statement of 3 October, argued that the 70 odd years of civil war is due to the fact that political grievances of the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities have been adequately addressed, to be resolved through political means.
It went on to explain that the UNFC had met twice with the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC), the regime’s peace negotiation organ, informally twice in 2013 and the UNFC headed, Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) have had a 17 month-long peace negotiation, including the last four months deliberation of the ethnic armed organizations-senior delegation (EAOs-SD) to break the ice, but was derailed, due to the government’s rejection of the all-inclusiveness participation of all EAOs, in the NCA.
To pinpoint its concern of the validity regarding the government’s undertaking, the paragraph 5 writes: “As the NCA is going to be signed by only some organizations, it cannot be a decisive and complete one, because according to the provisions of the NCA, only if all the stakeholders participate in the various levels of political dialogue, including the formulation of political framework, the Code of Conduct for troops of the two sides, rules governing the ceasefire etc., the UNFC believes sincerely that a genuine and meaningful political dialogue can be attained and lasting and durable peace can be established.”
The statement accused the regime’s offensives of the government on the EAOs, during the entire negotiation process, as a big stumbling block to the peace process and called on the people and international community to support its efforts as follows: “Due to the situations mentioned above, the people and the international community are urged to support and make effort concertedly for the emergence of genuine political dialogue and peace in the country. For the achievement of genuine peace and political dialogue, from the step of inclusive signing of the NCA, the UNFC on its part, will strive on, after finding pragmatic means and ways.”
Nai Han Tha
Nai Han Tha, Vice-Chairman of the UNFC, when asked by the DVB, on 4 October, regarding the intention of the UNFC Statement replied: “We have formed NCCT, SD and negotiated with the government. But it (the regime) don’t want to accept our all-inclusiveness (proposal) and opted to go ahead according to its pattern (of signing) with groups it could muster. On the other hand, it couldn’t be taken as nationwide ceasefire and it is not appropriate. If ceasefire will be done only with some groups, battles will continue to occur in some places and (I) don’t see it as a way to achieve peace, leading to ceasefire. And if political dialogue is to be held, without all-inclusiveness, we foresee that our struggle for genuine peace and long-lasting, stable, peacefulness couldn’t be established.”
He further elaborated by mentioning the people and international empowerment of the nationwide ceasefire, he meant that the people and international community should help strengthen the real ceasefire that encompass nationwide, leading to all-inclusive political discussion.
He said that this half-baked pattern of undertaking would not be able to speedily materialize a long-lasting, stable peace and development that the people have longed for; and thus, the people should strive for all-inclusive ceasefire and political discussion.
The international community has been urged that it also should, through this appropriate approach, weigh in with various help to achieve the said result.
Major General Gun Maw
In an interview with the The Irrawaddy on 3 October, Major General Gun Maw, Vice Chief of Staff of Kachin Independence Army (KIA), when asked, regarding the issue on how to term the regime’s version of NCA, when it is just partial-ceasefire arrangement, replied: “ I’ve talked about this two or three times at the summit meeting. If only a faction of the group is signing, it is not going to be complete and comprehensive. It will be just signing an NCA draft. Only if all signed, it could be called NCA.”
Concerning the future cooperation and coordination of the NCCT members, which now are divided in a “signing” and “non-signing” groups, Gun Maw, according to DVB report on 3 October, said: “We need to discuss about some ideological points. For example, drawing the framework within 60 days and starting political dialogue after 90 days would be meaningful only after the comprehensive signing of NCA. But if some would sign and the others won’t do, (we) would need to decide among us, whether this NCA is a comprehensive NCA or not. It will depend on this.”
The same report clarified the NCCT position by Gun Maw as: “Since the NCCT is formed by the (EAOs) conference with principles and policy, we need to discuss this separately, for the “signing” group members are still involved in the NCCT. But if NCCT would continue to exist, we would have to ask if the Law Khee Lar and Laiza conference resolutions would be adhered to or not. That’s why when the signing group members are ready, we need to find answer to this issue.”
The latest DVB interview with Gun Maw of today (7 October) pinpoint and clarify the Kachin and EAOs’ position on some of the main unclear issues as below:
- The government has said very often that it agreed on principle to include these groups (MNDAA, TNLA, AA) in the NCA; and to find a way to make it happen. But to this day, we have not seen them make any effort towards that.
- The KIO, based on our past experience, suggested that even if we cannot sign the NCA, we are ready to join the political dialogue if it will be genuine. Now, however, the government has said that the groups that refuse to sign the NCA can only join the dialogue as observers. So it is as if the government are blocking us when we try to come up with solutions. At the same time, the government are saying they will allow the groups such as the LDU [Lahu Democratic Union] and [WNO] Wa National Organization to join the dialogue even though they will not be signing the NCA.
- The ethnic armed groups have often stressed the unlawful association issue. Not because we want to be off the list for our own sake, but because we must prevent harm to the civilians that make contact with us or work with us in the peace process. No group regards themselves as an unlawful association
- The government often stressed the issue of time. We responded that it is their responsibility to keep with the schedule. We understand that we are still going to have to continue efforts to resolve the country’s issues, perhaps with a new government after the elections. We don’t see the time factor as a valid excuse to rush the NCA signing. Whether the next government will continue the process or not isn’t a question because it will have to. We assume that there are a lot of party interests behind the agenda to rush the NCA signing ahead of the elections.
- It is unlikely that the KIO would attend (political dialogue phase)as an observer.
Padho Naw Zipporah Sein
Vice-Chairperson of the Karen National Union (KNU), Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein told VOA, on 5 October, that the regime should include Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang national Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), so that the process will become all-inclusive. She went on to stress that ongoing armed conflicts in Kachin and Shan States are stumbling blocks to the ceasefire process and that drawing up military code of conduct (CoC) and all would be only meaningful, if the peace process is all-inclusive.
The 2 October, 8 point CNF Statement said that even though all the EAOs cannot participate in the NCA signing, it will continue to strive for all-inclusiveness from within; and that it will try to secure the Union Accord and amendment of the 2008 Constitution through political dialogue, which had failed to amend the constitution during the parliamentary session, a few months ago.
According to SHAN report of 5 October, although the 7 EAOs have agreed to sign the NCA with the government, on 15 October, at Naypyitaw, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) is still not sure to participate.
“When we come to the meeting (in Rangoon), the central committee meeting hasn’t decided anything yet. That’s why (we) can’t be sure to sign on the government’s fixed date or made decision to sign it,” said RCSS/SSA adviser, Khuensai Jaiyane.
During the month of September, series of battles were fought between the RCSS and the Burma Army, as it made an ultimatum that the RCSS should move back to the east of Salween river to Mong Hta area.
The Burma Army offensive, using helicopter gunships, has angered the RCSS and forced to rethink its position, which normally has been keen to ink the NCA against all odds. Besides, insider sources said that some 30 point agreement made between the military and the RCSS for three years in Kengtung, has never been fulfilled, except for a few points. And it wanted to discussed about it, before making the decision to sign the NCA.
Meanwhile, SHAN report of 6 October said that the Tatmadaw has launched offensives on SSPP/SSA positions around its Wan Hai headquarters, employing hundreds of troopers, making a mockery of U Aung Min’s recent assurance that the government won’t attack the groups that are not yet signing the NCA, but will honour the bilateral ceasefire agreement already signed. This renewed armed engagement with its northern brethren could also add more doubtfulness to sign the treaty for the RCSS, which is on the verge of deciding whether to say yes or no.
However. the latest RCSS insider report today (7 October) confirmed that it will participate in the government initiated signing of NCA.
Surprisingly, Joint-Secretary(1) of the UNFC, Khun Okker, who is also the patron of the Pa-O national Liberation Organization (PNLO) that is going to sign the NCA, has quite a different point of view, concerning the UNFC Statement.
He outlined a couple of reasons for signing the NCA of 7 EAOs, in an interview with the Media Initiatives for Democracy News on 5 October.
- First, the treaty should be signed with the government that has initiated the ceasefire proposal.
- Second, it is the best situation to sign for the government and military relationship is at best – for the regime also stems from the military – and would strengthen the agreement.
- Third, the next in-coming government after the election is unknown and also not sure, whether it will carry on with the peace process.
- Finally, the benefit of being exempted from Unlawful Association Act, Section 17/1 and 17/2, would give the EAOs the opportunity to interact with their people and political parties, during the election period and beyond.
He added, that the big EAOs like Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) and New Mon State Party (NMSP) are just waiting to see how the NCA will pan out in reality – i.e., if the President and Commander-in-Chief will be involved in the signing – and that has been the real reason why they have been refraining from signing it immediately.
In the same interview, when asked why battles have been raging in Kachin and northern Shan States with those groups like TNLA and KIA, he replied: “There are four big groups, SSPP/SSA, KNPP, KIA and NMSP that have not consented to sign (the NCA). At this moment battles are occurring in Kachin and northern Shan States. This is called stratagem. By doing that, some groups (might consider) if the NCA is signed the battles could be stopped. But if (they) refused to sign because of the battles, (they) could be left out and could be dangerous for them. It is not known whether the Tatmadaw (Burma Army) would like them to be all involved (in the NCA) or not. Groups that are entitled but left out could be the Tatmadaw’s liking. This is dangerous and I see this as Tatmadaw’s trap, for by creating troubles (some groups) might not dare to sign. If the NCA is signed, Tatmadaw cannot do anything. If the Commander-in-Chief signed it, armed attacks could not be done. (The military) has created a situation before the signing and those left out groups could be to its liking. (The military) could take military actions by blaming them either with extortion (of the population) or new recruitment (for the EAOs). Whether the left out groups are more secure by signing or not signing is doubtful. I see that we have written the NCA and if after signing, if it is violated, we could make use of the treaty and demand (justice). But without signing, (we) can’t ask for ceasefire.”
Further questioning on if the Tatmadaw has laid out traps and attacking the EAOs, Khun Okker replied: “It could be, it is pressuring (them) to sign by military attacks and also, out of desperation, (creating a situation) that groups be left out (of signing the NCA), or to mentally (psychologically) disturbed the ethnic leadership.”
Karen Civil Society Organizations
Mizzima report of 5 October reported that 41, domestic and international, Karen civil society organizations made a collective, joint statement that they have no confidence and doubtful of the 7 EAOs’ NCA signing, which includes three Karen armed organizations. The statement was released on the 4 October.
Mahn Orlando, spokesman for all international Karen organizations and Vice-Chairman of the Australian-based Karen organization told Mizzima that the recent undertaking cannot be called nationwide ceasefire, as only 7 EAOs are involved in the process. He said. “The EAOs have decided in unison (for all-inclusiveness). But now only 7 will sign. Concerning the groups that are not yet ready to sign, U Aung Min self had said that as a first step, the ones that are ready could sign and those that are not ready could follow suit and participate in the political dialogue phase. But now, it is said that groups that are not ready to sign will be only allowed to attend as observers, in political discussion. This kind of mixed statements are unbelievable and make (people) doubtful.”
Furthermore, there has been no reduction of armed conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States, but seen only escalation, which questions the government’s good-will and sincerity on peace process and ceasefire.
“We see the Burmese government is continuing to make use of its traditional system of holding fire in one hand and water in another (carrots and sticks),” stressed Mahn Orlando.
The 41 Karen Civil Society Organizations recommendation are as follows:
For the peace process to succeed in bringing actual peace it should not be rushed or forced. We earnestly recommend that:
- It is time for the leaders of the EAOs and the government to find a realistic and acceptable alternative that will bring all conflicting parties into agreement.
- Alternatives always exist if firstly there is enough democratic space for all concerned stakeholders to be involved, secondly, there is real commitment to respecting the needs and will of the people, and finally, there is a sincere will to address the root causes of the conflict to bring about lasting peace.
- The small group of KNU leaders and the EAOs leaders, who decided to sign, should seriously consider the unifying call for the inclusiveness of all ethnic armed groups.
Perspective and recommendations
In sum, the latest development on NCA deliberation has taken a nasty turn, for the government has to do a lot of explanation on why it’s recent undertaking deviates from the original version and aim of nationwide and become just partial-ceasefire signing ceremony.
Some even go so far as to compare the recent government initiated NCA signing as a “still-born” baby.
The likely answers would be the accusation of the regime on the EAOs, who refused to sign and blamed them as unreasonable, denying to give due credit to the government. But at the same time, the regime is striking another reconciliation posture that it has the intention to make it all-inclusive in the course of time, by saying that this is just an initial first step of signing with the 7 or 8 EAOs, which will eventually absorb the rest of EAOs that have so far refused to yield to the regime’s initiated signing of NCA.
However, the 10 EAOs that have refused to go along said that it would stick to their all- inclusiveness signing and won’t budge from their position, reiterating that only real nationwide participation in the NCA inclusively could formulate the framework for political dialogue (FPD), military code of conduct (CoC) and ceasefire joint monitoring committee (JMC), but not with only the 7 or 8 EAOs that have partial-ceasefire agreement with the regime.
As a result, the diplomatic opinion-making war might have been already started with the UNFC openly soliciting the public and international community to help them achieve a real nationwide ceasefire, rather than the government initiated partial one that would reach nowhere.
At the same time, the regime is busy enlisting the UN, EU, China, India, Thailand and various international observers to attend the ceasefire signing ceremony, scheduled to take place in Naypyitaw, on 15 October.
Given the lessons learned, when the government prematurely hailed the NCA draft outcome of 31 March this year as a final breakthrough, posturing as if the nationwide ceasefire agreement was already sealed, the UN and EU made a mistake of happily jumping in to endorse and congratulate the regime, which later have put them in an awkward position, as it turned out to be just the government’s manipulation of the situation, the international community should be wary of the regime’s version of NCA.
It is hoped that this time around, the world body and concerned international community will be more careful with the government’s version of NCA, for actually it is just a partial one in every sense of the word.
Besides, as recommended by the EU, in its Meeting Report, of 23 May 2014, Yangon, titled “Looking forward in Myanmar’s peace process: How can the EU and civil society provide constructive support?”, the international community should participate as a “witness” or “monitor” the peace process, with lessons learned from other countries like the Philippines and makes international participation in peace monitoring more effective.
The EU and the international community should use its funding to support a “level playing field” for all stakeholders involved in Myanmar’s peace process.
And most importantly, the EU and the international community should consider providing penalties in addition to incentives. The EU has provided many financial incentives but there are not enough penalties for failures to meet commitments.
Finally, people are at loss, as to why the regime and the military have not follow the repeated, well-meaning suggestions from well-intended quarters, to declare unilateral ceasefire, withdraw their front line units to their respective mother units, lift the Unlawful Association Acts on all EAOs, freeing all political prisoners, who have been imprisoned because of the Unlawful Association Act, to level the political playing field, once and for all.
Most are convinced, that if the above mentioned suggestions are implemented today, all the EAOs would flock to Naypyitaw to sign the NCA, without even having to woo them, one little bit. Actually, the choice to make it or break it is with the Union Solidarity and Development Party-Military regime.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU)- Editor