The Nationwide Ceasefire-Signatory- Ethnic Armed Organizations (NCA-S-EAOs) initiated top leaders meeting involving 10 from government-military and 10 from EAOs was agreed and the government scheduled the meeting to take place somewhere in Mandalay Region’s Popa area, on October 15, to mark the third anniversary signing of the NCA.
This venue however was changed to Naypyitaw for logistic and convenient purposes for some of the EAOs’ elders who are in their advanced age wanted to avoid strenuous traveling, and which also is in tune with more accessibility for government and military leaders.
The much awaited meeting officially dubbed “Government and NCA-S-EAO Leaders Special Meeting” was held at Shwe San Eaing Hotel, Naypyitaw, from October 15 to 16.
Earlier meeting of the NCA-S-EAOs in Chiang Mai from October 10 to 11, prior to the Naypyitaw meeting have decided not to discuss the non-secession and one national army issues.
However, the seven-point agenda based on the following points were agreed upon to be discussed, which were:
- To be a union based on democracy and federalism
- No rights of secession
- Full guarantee of democracy and rights of self-determination
- Region/State Constitution cannot exceed or in opposition with the Union Constitution
- Power-sharing between the Union and Region/State governments
- Acceptance of one national army formation
- Security reconciliation to be undertaken according to outcome of political agreement
The opening speeches of the top leaders on October 15 also underlined the said seven points, but the emphasizes were made loud and clear on non-secession, drafting of ethnic states constitution, and on national army issues.
The State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi emphasized three points.
“First is the unresolved matter of self-determination and non-secession. If we accept the situation as its stands, non-secession is not a problem. We also have repeatedly said that we’ll firmly establish the democratic federal Union consistently demanded by our ethnic nationals. During the second session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference, agreement was reached on the self-determination portion that was linked directly to the non-secession. But it was left aside,” said the State Counselor in her speech, meaning perhaps that it is not necessary to be mentioned and is an already understood issue.
She stressed; “Here non-secession is important. But also the will not to secede and to establish together a Union that need not be seceded from is also important.”
Secondly, she said in order to achieve a federal union that is all-inclusive with good systems adjustment with the existing 2008 Constitution is needed. And armed conflict stemming from these two political positions can be resolved if it is solved basically one at a time and step by step, with possible practicality.
“We will be able to setup progressive milestones in our democratic federal Union journey. This is what I meant to say on possibility, practicality and progressing step by step,” she emphasized.
Thirdly, she pointed out that all stakeholders representing their respective ethnic people to have faith and trust in the political dialogue outcomes and have courage to make political decision for the benefit of the country.
Regarding the “non-secession” issue, the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing said that there is no need to argue as according to the NCA and 2008 Constitution basic principles dismemberment of the country is prohibited. Further he said: “ Law and order is defined as urging and prohibition,” and Union Accord, which has an affect as being lawful, also need to include the urging and prohibition parts, to make it complete.”
On Burma/Myanmar being a country, he argued that since time immemorial it has been a country and the British colonial’s divide-and-rule policy has a devastated affect until today. He further buttressed his belief of being one undivided country by pointing out that a Shan Sawbwa (Saopha) of Yawnghwe had attempted with some 500 followers to rescue King Thibaw from the British custody; and the Shan patriotic youth backing U Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi’s late father, in 1947 during his campaign for solidarity to sign the historical Panglong Agreement in Shan State, prior to the independence from the British in 1948.
On his ultimatum not to take advantage of NCA, he said the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) has taken advantage of it to beef up its fighting forces and expanded its territory beyond what is allowed. This has resulted in inter-ethnic conflict.
On this he issued a sort of ultimatum: “I want to say don’t misuse the NCA. If you do, as a Tatmadaw responsible for the protection of people’s lives and properties, we won’t be looking at it with arms folded.”
On security issue, he made it clear that one national army or single army has to be accepted. He said: “I want to say that having defense forces in individual ethnic state, employment in the army without serving the army (in the past) and following military principles are backward sliding ideas.”
Mutu Say Poe
General Saw Mutu Say Poe, chair of the Karen National Union (KNU), also leader of the NCA-S-EAOs, said the differences of opinion between the government, military and armed ethnic groups on the issues of self-determination and non-secession need to be resolved in a practical way.
He said these are political problems and besides it is directly concerned with the establishment of the future federal union. He emphasized that in searching for basic federal principles secession and non-secession should not be correlated.
Views of ethnic political parties
Sai Nyunt Lwin, General Secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party, said the government should come up with an offer for the ethnic groups so that they could consider, according to the Radio Free Asia report.
“If the government could explain what it has done so that they won’t like to secede, it would have achieved a lot,” he said, adding, “the government is just asking for them to sign, it needs to show what it has done so that they won’t like and need to secede.”
Similarly, MP Pe Than from the Arakan National Party (ANP) said that if Myanmar were to have a true federal constitution, the ethnic groups would not want to leave the union, stressing, “in this sense, even if you push them out they won’t secede.”
“But if it is just for show to [imply that] they are equal, nobody will give guarantee that they will not secede,” added the MP.
Following the end of the special meeting a three-point joint statement was released, which largely reflects the affirmative tone of the seven meeting agenda.
The closing third point vowed to achieve “sustainable peace based on duty, responsibility and transparency with the aims of non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of National Solidarity and Perpetuation of Sovereignty based on freedom, equality and fairness, a union based on democracy and federal system with assurance of Panglong spirit, democracy, national equality and self determination through political dialogues.”
In sum, the special meeting could be seen as a new approach agreement on how to move forward. But the hotly debated themes of non-secession, ethnic states constitutional drafting and one national army remain unresolved.
Thus even with the better meeting mechanism and effective decision-making process could be agreed upon, many hurdles still await the negotiation partners. They are firstly, on how to overcome the three controversial themes; secondly, on how to realize the participation of the non-NCA- signatory EAOs; and thirdly, on how to accommodate the involvement of the political parties, especially the ethnic parties.
For if only the government and NCA-S-EAOs were to be responsible for the drawing up of Union Accord, which is to be the guiding principles, to mold the federal union system of governance without all-inclusiveness, the frictions and problems will arise as soon as the agreement is sealed.
Given such a scenario, earnest thinking on how the newly found seemingly effective meeting mechanism and decision-making process could be blended together with the all-inclusiveness necessity of the day, so that a more holistic and comprehensive peace negotiation be conducted, to achieve a maximum outcome.