As the 11 non-signatory ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) met in Panghsang, also known as Pangkham, the United Wa State Army’s (UWSA) capital, from 1 to 3 November,on the heels of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) meeting from 29 to 31 October, in Yangon, to draw up a military Code of Conduct (CoC) between the 8 EAOs, which have signed the government initiated nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), and the Burma Army, the war in Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) controlled areas that have started with the government offensives, on 6 October, goes on unabated, while most are busy preparing for the elections, scheduled to be held on 8 November.
Although it seems that these happenings hardly have anything to do with each other, a closer look shows that they are, in fact, a chain of process with linkage with ramification that cannot be separated from one another.
Joint Monitoring Committee
Firstly, the partial-ceasefire, dubbed NCA, which is initiated by the regime, is guided by the treaty’s guideline and accordingly, through the Joint Implementation Coordination Meetings after the NCA signing on 15 October, the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) and the Union Political Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) were formed.
The meeting, attended by the EAOs and the regime, formed a Union-level JMC, in a three day meeting from 29 to 31 October, and hoped to finish and finalize the military CoC within a month, according to the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC).
According to the press conference, the Union-level joint monitoring committee has been formed at the three-day meeting with Lt-Gen Yar Pyae appointed as chairman, Maj gen Saw Isaac Po of Karen National Union (KNU) as first vice-chairman, Dr Sui Khar of Chin National Front (CNF) as Secretary and Col Wunna Aung as Secretary-1.2.
Apart from that, the two sides have agreed, an honourable civilians would be elected to the post of vice-chairman (2)
The Myanmar Times report of 1 November wrote that boundaries had been set with some groups earlier but with others it is going to start soon, said the Director of MPC at a press conference after a Joint Monitoring Committee’s first meeting in Yangon. He said the mechanisms will allow both sides to deal with possible clashes during the transition period before the monitoring process comes into effect.
Restoration Council of Shan State’s (RCSS) advisor and Director of the Pyidaungsu Institute for Peace and Dialogue, Khuensai Jaiyen, who attended the JMC, at the end of the meeting said that the public would be encouraged to involve in the ceasefire monitoring process and that there are many difficulties to overcome, in making the mechanism works.
He said: “At the moment, only Union-level JMC could be formed. Formation of State and Regional JMCs are still needed. Under them Local-level organizations also have to be formed. These are difficulties that (we) have to encounter. It is because we have to build a non-existence mechanism and in doing so, we have to try to involve the public itself. Although this issue seems to be easy, in practice it won’t be and has to take time.”
While the terms of reference (TOR) for JMCs should take a month to be finalized and approved, the political dialogue will have to begin within 90 days of signing the NCA. It is not clear if the time schedule could be kept, according to the treaty signed on 15 October.
Panghsang Summit Meeting
Secondly, the Panghsang summit meeting, to map out on how to go about with the political bargaining for the EAOs, was called for the second time – the first was in May this year – by the UWSA, on the heels of the Union-level JMC formation.
The 11 EAOs that didn’t sign the NCA on 15 October, met from 1 to 3 November, just a few days before the nationwide elections.
The groups participated in Panghsang meet were Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), SSPP, New Mon State Party (NMSP), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Arakan Army (AA), Karen National Defence Organization (KNDO), Kayan Newland Party (KNLP) and UWSA. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Kaplan (NSCN -K) was not able to attend the meeting, due to the long distance, according to the host of the meeting.
On the first day, at the capital of the semi-autonomous Wa Special Region in north-east Shan State, Panghsang, opening speech of Bao Youxiang, the chairman of the UWSA was read out by a spokesperson.
The speech thanked the ethnic leaders for enduring the hard struggle for the future of the country, despite their advanced age and praised them for their noble deeds. However, during about half a year, since May, the situation has not progressed as the ethnic leaders have hoped for and instead, the Burma army, also known as Tatmadaw, has continuously employed military pressures on some of the EAOs. Ten of thousands have to flee their homes, endure hunger and become victims of contagious disease. And although nationwide ceasefire negotiation has taken about two years, the main basic demand of the EAOs was not entertained, resolved and no promise was also given to do so.
It went on to point out that the constitutional amendment was rejected and by steadfastly clinging to the 2008 Constitution, the regime has systematically controlled the EAOs. Although all-inclusive ceasefire signing should have occurred, it has not materialized till today.
The speech spelled out the UWSA position as:
- Endorses the holding of the nation’s November elections with transparency, equality and smoothness
- Urges any in-coming government from any party, after the election, to respect and take seriously the ethnic minorities rights and privileges and solve the present problems through political means and not militarily
- Determines to cooperate with any new government from any party for the implementation of peaceful negotiation, as soon as possible
- Urges the new government to strive for national reconciliation and genuine federal union, with Panglong spirit
It finally called on all EAOs to strive in unison for the country’s development, ethnic nationalities’ basic rights and federal union based on Panglong spirit.
Echoing almost the UWSA position, the closing 7 point statement of the EAOs leaders’ second summit meeting of 3 November outlined the following:
- Urges that the 2015 nationwide elections be transparently, freely and fairly conducted, under the auspices of international organizations including the U.N.;
- Urges the present government to stop the Tatmadaw’s offensives on EAOs during the transitional period and develop opportunity for national reconciliation;
Urges any in-coming government from any party, after the election, to respect and take seriously the ethnic minorities rights and privileges and solve the present problems through political means and not militarily;
- Wishes to cooperate with the new government stemming from the general elections for the implementation of nationwide political discussion, as soon as possible;
- Encourages the in-coming new government to relentlessly strive for the rebuilding of a federal union based on national reconciliation, equality and rights of self-determination through Panglong Promises and Spirit;
- Urges, in order to resolve the military conflict in the northern and eastern Burma, the government, Tatmadaw, concerned EAOs and Chinese government including Chinese military personnel by forming a representative organization (committee), so that problems along the China-Burma border could be resolved, leading to peace and tranquillity;
- Agrees that the EAOs employ coordinating officials, so that unity and mutual coordination could be established and promoted to a higher level;
- Urges the in-coming, future government and the country’s leadership to cooperate with EAOs, parliament and political forces outside the parliament, in the amendment of the 2008 Constitution. (Note: Translated by the writer from “Ethnic Armed Organizations’ Leadership Second Round Table Summit Meeting” – Pangkham, 3 November 2015)
Aung Myint spokesman of the UWSA interpreted Chairman Bao Youxiang’s speech saying: “Our ethnic armed groups need to prepare for how to deal with future political challenges. There will be many political arguments and political attacks, but there will be no more bloodshed from this political fight. Our ethnic minority groups need to have unity and then confront these political challenges,” according to The Irrawaddy report of 2 October.
Touching on the same issue, Nai Han Tha, Vice-Chairman of the NMSP, who is one of the negotiator in the Panghsang summit meeting, said: “ Whoever comes to power, resolving internal peace cannot be left out. Without resolution, our country wouldn’t change and can’t be peaceful. That’s why (we) hope and would try to negotiate with any in-coming government. But it depends on the opinion of the government. In case they don’t want to negotiate, it is another thing. (But) we will keep on trying because our country’s problems could only be resolved through political means.”
Military Offensives on SSPP/SSA
Thirdly, the Burma army or Tatmadaw offensives on SSPP/SSA is a direct political fallout stemming from the refusal of not signing the government initiated NCA on 15 October, although provocative attacks by the Tatmadaw have already started since 6 October.
The military offensives abruptly escalated after the NCA signing and have been ongoing ever since, forcing some 6000 villagers to flee their homes. Besides, the human causalities were said to be in hundred from the government side and some 20 or so from the SSPP/SSA quarters, according to Shan sources.
On top of this, the Union Election Commission (UEC) declared four Townships – Mong Hsu, Keh, Tangyan and Hopang – to be no-vote areas, where the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) is strong and sure to win the elections. It should be noted that the SSPP/SSA openly endorsed the SNLD, while the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), the rival party, is rumoured and even hinted to be a possible coalition partner of the regime’s party.
And thus, it looks like that the regime is achieving a double effect by waging war and turning the SNLD political power base into no-vote areas and at the same time, pressuring the SSPP/SSA to yield to the regime’s initiated NCA.
On 30 October, Sao Pang Fa, head of the SSPP/SSA issued a statement in Shan language addressing the rank and file of the Shan State Army to be ready for the Tatmadaw’s onslaught and to resist “spear against spear and sword against sword”.
The JMC outlook is not rosy, given only some 10,000 out of 100,000 EAOs’ troopers have inked the partial-ceasefire, amounting to only 10% of the whole resistance forces, and the country effectively been categorized into war and ceasefire zones.
It is a military CoC, which would not cover all the majority EAOs’ controlled areas and the overlapping territories among the EAOs would make it hard to implement the ceasefire for the JMC.
The real flaw of the whole process is not being a nationwide and all-inclusive ceasefire agreement, while the lack of third neutral party, with the teeth of enforcement, to monitor the ceasefire, would be the weakest point in trying to make the partial-ceasefire works.
For now, Panghsang summit meeting is fixed only to negotiate with the in-coming, new regime and is gearing up to build ethnic unity and get ready for political bargaining phase. But unconfirmed news, said to be stemming from Burma and Thai military quarters, said that the China’s People’s Liberation Army has recently shipped tons of ammunition and military hardware to Panghsang.
If this is really the case, the mini-Cold-War might be in the making and all concerned stakeholders should reassess their positions, if it is worthwhile to let the country plunge into such a pit hole.
While the regime, in trying to solicit the West support, should not overplay by conducting military adventures in the ethnic homelands, with the pretext of protecting the country’s sovereignty and national unity, and trumpeting the communist-ghost-threat rhetoric, like President Thein Sein had done just a few days ago, while camouflaging his election campaign for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the ethnic groups should also weigh the danger of a mini-Cold-War type conflict, which would be hard to get out, once it is started.
At this point in time, the two key words that all stakeholders, particularly the regime, should have in mind are “military de-escalation” and “political accommodation”. For only this would bring back a culture of political negotiation and dialogue in resolving the problems.
Either way, there is not much the stakeholders could do at this election moment, other than to wait for the in-coming new government, which will be burdened with the unfinished legacy of Thein Sein’s partial-ceasefire agreement and eventually have to tackle the problem to really become a nationwide ceasefire treaty, one way or the other.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) – Editor