As the nationwide elections draw nearer with each passing day, scheduled to be held on 8 November, the solution to problematic issues surrounding the country’s future seems to be accumulating rather than lessening, making people to wonder if these developments would usher the country into a better place to live in.
The recent issues, peace process debacle and Burma Army’s military offensives, which are linked and making headlines need to be emphasized.
As all know, on 15 October, nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) signing initiated by the government, will be held, presumably with pomp and ceremony, even though it will be a partial-ceasefire agreement, in contrast to a nationwide one.
Following the armed engagement escalation, due to the Burma Army, also known as Tatmadaw, offensives on the Shan, Kachin and Palaung resistance forces, after their refusal to sign the government initiated NCA for it is a selective, rather than all-inclusive participation, as demanded by the majority of the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) issued a statement on 10 October.
The 8 point UNFC latest statement mainly accused the regime of not sincerely committed to the the peace process and playing “good-cop bad-cop” scenario by claiming “from nationwide ceasefire to resolution of political problem through negotiation peacefully”, when actually it is conducting military offensives on some of the EAOs and at the same time, soliciting the rest to sign the NCA selectively.
The statement pointed out the fact that the Tatmadaw is escalating the armed conflict with the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA), Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) and make probing attacks on Karen National Union (KNU). These armed attacks are made to pressure the non-signing EAOs of the NCA to yield to the government’s demand.
It also alleged that the regime of reverting back to its “total annihilation” policy and waging war on the EAOs that have refused to sign and selectively inviting those, who are keen to sign, to destroy ethnic unity and impose its will.
The statement further accused the regime of employing a conspiracy to win the election, at the expense of the ethnic nationalities. The paragraph 6 of the statement wrote:
“Moreover, the launching of military offensives in the ethnic nationality areas while the general election is drawing near, makes us wonder whether it is a conspiracy for winning the election by postponing the voting or at least declaring the areas to be unstable, using the fighting as an excuse, so as to deprive the people in the areas the right to vote.”
Nai Han Tha
On 10 October, Nai Han Tha, general secretary of the UNFC, to clarify the controversy accusation, told Mizzima: “ As President Thein Sein used to say, may be it (the regime) has done it for it wants to postpone the elections. At least we see this if there are battles in ethnic areas, the public voting could be revoked because of no tranquility (peace) in the concerned areas. Then the ethnic representatives would get less votes, at least this kind of things could happen. (We) couldn’t tell, what they are aiming at. But if (we) calculate, it is like (hitting) two or three birds with one stone.”
He further stressed: “ Recently, preparations are being made to sign (the NCA). On the other hand, offensives on Kachin, Palaung and Shan are ongoing. Also (we) heard offensive preparations (to attack) Karen’s fifth Brigade. We are suspicious on this (development). And we just wanted to pinpoint the situation of fire on one hand and water on the other (carrots and sticks tactics employed by the regime).”
On 8 October, the SSPP/SSA released a statement stating that the Tatmadaw unleashed offensives on its positions around its headquarters Wan Hai, starting 5 October, deploying hundreds of troops.
The statement accused the regime of militarily pressuring the SSPP for its refusal to sign the NCA and pointed out that it is counter-productive to be engaged in such acts, on the eve of NCA signing.
It stressed that since the SSPP has signed bilateral ceasefire agreement, both state and union level, on 12 January 2012, it has never attack the Tatmadaw but were being attacked and as a result, has fought some 300 time with the regime’s forces, due to its pretext of implementing “area influence and administration” policy.
Again, on 12 October, a second statement was released, emphasizing that it is not refusing to sign but only waiting for all-inclusive participation, when it will take part in the framing of political dialogue and discussion, including the signing of NCA.
To drive home the important message of all-inclusiveness, the statement stressed that if some ethnic groups are left out from the peace process, the internal armed conflict cannot be resolved, for even if a small spark of fire is left unattended, it could spread into an inferno.
The statement went on to strongly condemn the Tatmadaw’s offensives in Shan, Kachin and Karen States and demanded that they be stopped immediately, as NCA signing and elections are drawing nearer, to create a peaceful atmosphere.
The last paragraph stressed that the SSPP will adhere to solving the political problem through peaceful means and discussions as usual, to achieve a genuine federal union.
On 8 October, “The Current Peace Process and Restoration Council of Shan State’s (RCSS) Position” was released.
The 8 point statement basically mentioned the fact that Shan State has been a separate political entity since prior to British colonization and has joined Burma Proper to jointly struggle for independence, which later – in 1962 – was hijacked by the Burmese military, leading to the armed resistance of the ethnic nationalities to regain back all their rights.
It also stressed the point that the adoption of the 2008 military-drafted constitution doesn’t reflect the ethnic nationalities’ aspirations, but when in 2010, President Thein Sein called for nationwide ceasefire to resolve political problems through political means, the RCSS signed the ceasefire agreement in December 2011. But since then for more than three years, armed clashes happened on and off, due to the Burma army’s breaching of the agreement.
The statement said that the RCSS has followed the NCA deliberations between the EAOs and the regime, which produced a draft that it is also in agreement, it has decided to sign the NCA and cooperated to solve political problems by political mean, through political dialogues, to achieve equal rights, self-determination and building of genuine democratic federal union.
But the most controversial one is the paragraph 6, which writes:
“ In order to build national peace in the country, the Restoration Council of Shan State seriously would like to request to Government that the government should not deploy their troops by any mean in the areas of townships such as Mong Pan, Mong Nai, Larng Khur, Mawk Mai, Nam Zarng, Pang Long, Loi Lem, Mong Peng, Lawk Zawk, Lai Kha, Mong Kerng, Kyawk Me, Mu Ze, Nam Kham, Mong Ko, Ke See, Kun Hing, Keng Lom, Keng Tawng, Mong Pu Long, Mong Pu On, Keng Tung, Ta Khi Lek and Mong Ton Townships where RCSS/SSA have been active to avoid the fighting. All of the existing problems or difference should be solved through Liaison offices by peaceful mean.”
However, it is not clear whether this is a request or an ultimatum, asking the Tatmadaw to refrain from deploying its troops in 24 of the 51 Townships across Shan State.
The statement also called on the government for the opening of more liaison offices, to monitor and solve the problems that may arise between the RCSS and the Burma army.
Sao Yawd Serk
SHAN report of 11 October said, Lt-General Yawd Serk of RCSS told news media that although he has his reservation on whether the armed conflict will totally stop after the signing of NCA. But he hoped that the regime would not take advantage of it only just to win some voting support in the elections and afterwards forget the building of a genuine federalism, as desired by the ethnic nationalities.
Meanwhile, Yawd Serk told Media Initiative for Democracy News, on 9 October, that “Bearing arms is due to the lack of opportunity to resolve political problems. To solve political problems, NCA will be signed. To do this some are not yet ready. While deliberation of NCA is underway, if gun shots are being fired, it is worrisome for the election.”
Aung San Suu Kyi , Hkun Htun Oo, U Aye Thar Aung and Min Ko Naing
All well known and influential public figures, such as Aung San Suu Kyi , Hkun Htun Oo, U Aye Tha Aung and Min Ko Naing, who are invited by the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) won’t be attending the NCA signing ceremony in Naypyitaw, on 15 October, according to various media.
All of them see it as inappropriate to be part of it, as it is going to be just a partial-ceasefire signing, even though the government is considering and selling it as a nationwide one.
On 11 October, Aung San Suu Kyi. who was on election campaign tour in Hle Koo Township, when asked about ceasefire process replied that the National League for Democracy (NLD) would send representative, but in order to sign it, all ethnic groups must participate. She said: “ It is understood that the ceasefire is meant to be nationwide. (We) have heard that out of 17 ethnic groups, not more than 8 will sign it. If NLD is invited, representative will be sent. But if I were to sign this ceasefire as a witness, I wish and presume that all should participate in the signing. If it is not all-inclusive, I’m afraid that I might be causing divisiveness among the ethnic nationalities.”
Hkun Htun Oo, Chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) said that he won’t get involved in the signing. He further said that since not all ethnic groups are participating, it could not be seen as nationwide ceasefire signing and beside, he don’t want to tarnish his political dignity, according to BBC report of 9 October.
In the same vein, U Aye Thar Aung, leader of Arakan National Party (ANP) also said that he has steadfastly adhere to the all-inclusiveness signing and won’t be going to Naypyitaw.
It is learned that of the three leading members of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society invited,
only Ko Ko Gyi and Mya Aye will participate, while Min Ko Naing won’t go for the same reason as the other prominent local politicians.
According to September Burma Bulletin, in September, Tatmadaw troops continued to clash with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) the Restoration Council Shan State/ Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), the Myanmar National Defense Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) militias. Sixty seven clashes marked a near 650% increase in conflict from August, causing civilian casualties and forcing many to flee their homes.
Military offensives on SSPP/SSA, in central Shan State around its headquarters in Wan Hai, Kesi Township, which started again, on 6 October, have been ongoing, claiming some 30 regime’s troopers, according to the Burma Army own sources, but estimated to be much higher by a commander of people’s militia, reported SHAN on 11 October.
The SSPP said that the Tatmadaw started to bombard a position – Kong Mu Loi base located between Mong Hsu and Mong Nong Township – two miles from the headquarters, on 11 October and fighting have been going on unabated.
About one hour earlier, on the same day, another clash occurred in Loi La Gan, south of Ta Sarm Bu, where S.H.A.N. reported the current series of clashes with SSPP/SSA, which began on October 6.
Parallel to this, fresh offensives by the Tatmadaw against the KIA in Kachin and northern Shan States continue on and off. Likewise, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and TNLA sources reported of the Tatmadaw launching of attacks on their positions along the Chinese border and Kyaukme Township respectively, on 6 October.
SSPP/SSA following the Tatmadaw attacks on its headquarters issued two statements that it has been attacked for its refusal to sign the NCA and would stick to all-inclusiveness participation.
However U Ye Htut, information Minister told RFA, on 12 October, that the battles with the SSPP/SSA have nothing to do with the accusation of the regime pressuring the EAOs to sign the NCA, but rather for other reasons, like intrusion into government control areas to extort the population, illegal logging or engagement in drugs trafficking. These kind of situation pushed the concerned military commander of the area to deal with them. He further said it is nonsense that the government has to resort to military pressure for it always has the military edge and that it is out of good will that the regime has started the peace process, in the first place.
To sum up, the whole peace process debacle started as the Union Solidarity and Development Party-Military (USDP-Military) regime entered the peace process arena with a fixed idea of “negotiated surrender of the ethnic armed forces” to maintain group survival, ethnocentrism and power monopoly, while EAOs were aiming for “mutual cessation of hostilities”, leading to equal power and resources sharing. This leads to the main obstacle of establishing a common set of value, necessary to build national state-based federal union. And this has been the core problem that has obstructed the peace-building process all along.
It is like the two parties, the government and the EAOs, are not on the same wave-length, with each interpreting the aspirations and values of each group in an opposite and different way.
When the regime said building “a union based on democracy and federal system from the outcome of a political discussions,” it could mean everything from the maintaining the present presidential unitary system, minimum devolution of power, maximum devolution of power to fully-fledged federalism. But the military-dominated regime, if its past actions are of any indication, will at the most be only ready to commit a minimum devolution of power, within the present unitary system, perhaps with some more federal trappings. A world far apart with the EAOs preferred national state-based federalism.
Thus, the major pitfall of the much touted NCA draft is the failure to establish a common, political value of national state-based federalism.
General Gun Maw, vice chief of staff of KIA, has exactly outlined the majority of the EAOs’ aspirations, when he reportedly said some weeks ago that they were really ready to go into a serious political negotiation collectively and inclusively by toning down their core demand, so as to give the political dialogue a better chance, leading to conflict resolution and reconciliation, even if the final NCA draft is not perfect and satisfactory to their liking. But the regime has torpedoed this by rejecting the all-inclusivity, which is the EAOs lowest level of political denomination to be in the negotiation process.
The toning down of the core demand, although not spoken, is none other than the forsaking of “Panglong promises ” and “national state- based federalism” demand in the NCA and going along with the government desired version of “building a union based on democracy and federal system through the outcome of political dialogue” vague interpretation.
It should be noted that “Panglong promises” and establishing a genuine federal union have been a cornerstone and non-negotiable position for the ethnic nationalities all along and they have even loosen this for the sake of finding a solution together with the military ruling clique.
Such being the case, the majority of the EAOs were reluctant to ink the NCA from the outset and the distrust escalated, when the regime rejected the last remaining straw of all-inclusiveness signing, seen as a desperate risk or sacrifice by the ethnic nationalities.
On top of that, the military pressure applied on the KIO/KIA, SSPP/SSA and PSLF/TNLA only leads to more animosity and heightening of armed engagement, instead of bringing them into the NCA fold. The regime shouldn’t wonder if this regime initiated, half-baked, NCA remains just partial-ceasefire agreement, instead of snowballing into a real comprehensive, nationwide one.
Perhaps, the best way to come out of this deadlock for the regime is to reassess its unspoken doctrine of ethnocentrism and military supremacy and replace it with political good will based on national equality, democracy and rights of self-determination, as time and again called for by most of the stakeholders and people at large.