FOREIGN AID: A row has broken out between government and EAOs on developmental help

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As if to restart the stagnated peace negotiation process stalled more than a year is not difficult enough to overcome, on behalf of the government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), Peace Commission (PC) General Secretary Khin Zaw Oo sent memorandum on September 3 to the 10 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement-Signatory-Ethnic Armed Organizations (NCA-S-EAO) stressing that they must seek approval from the government first and not to solicit developmental aid directly from UN organizations, foreign embassies and International Non-governmental Organiazations (INGO).

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Photo: NCA-S EAO

This was roundly rejected by the 10 signatory EAOs at the end of their three-day meeting of the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which lasted from October 10 to 12. 

A total of 74 representatives attended the meeting including representatives from the 10 EAOs, PPST leaders, advisors, technical support team members and office staff.

Earlier on October 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declared and suggested that all UN aid to EAOs or ethnic political parties be reported to the government negotiation body of  NRPC. 

“We will send a letter to the President and the NRPC,” spokesman of the NCA-S-EAO Nai Aung Mangae said at the closing press conference of three days meeting. “[The statement] means we need to get permission from them. It should not be like this. We will send an official letter, saying that both sides need to cooperate and work together,” he explained.

He further said that the goverment violated Article 25 of the NCA, which stated that EAOs are entitled to receive “aid from donor agencies both inside and outside the country for regional development and capacity-building projects.” 

However, the point emphasized here is, “we (government and EAOs) shall carry out the following programs and projects in coordination with each other in said areas,” from the outset of the Article 25. Thus, the government might be overdoing its control capacity as an enforcer and not behaving as equal negotiation partner to all other EAOs.

General Secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU) Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo saw this government demand as having a negative impact and also inappropriate; and even went against agreed principles of the NCA.

“We have been implementing regional development and security in our areas. We recognize each other’s positions with true commitment. So far, we have cooperated and negotiated with them,” he explained, adding, “saying we must have their permission violates the NCA,” according to the Network Media Group (NMG) recent report.

Saw Mra Razarlin, central executive committee member of the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), told NMG that the government should not place such restrictions on EAOs.

“I think the government should give full rights to ethnic armed organizations if the government considers ethnic rights in a future nation,” she said.

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THE STATEMENT OF PPST MEETING (05/ 2019)

In the same vein, Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) representative Sai Ngin regarding the government memorandum said that it is not in line with the NCA. He added: “Because of this we reject this (memorandum) and it shouldn’t have happened. Sending this kind of letter can reduce trust in the peace process. That’s why PPST will officially reply that the government earnestly reconsider the case,” Eleven News Group reported recently.

Moreover, he emphasized they will negotiate with the government saying: “There is no mentioning in the NCA that permissions have to be sought from the government. Because of that such   written letter, addressing the 10 NCA-S-EAO, it could be seen as slowly and gradually limiting our (operational) spheres, which makes us worry.” 

He further aired his angst and disappointment adding: “Later on,  if we the 10 NCA-S-EAO are to be rigidly limited and controlled, our brethren organizations outside the NCA (non-signatories) will view (our endurance) negatively.”

The Joint Peace Fund (JPF), made up of eleven countries – Australia, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, gives  grants to the government and the EAOs, both those groups who signed the NCA and those who are still in negotiation, to help achieve holistic peace and national ownership of Myanmar’s peace process.

It funded the ceasefire Joint Monitoring Committee and various EAO Liaison Offices, including the NCA-S-EAO Head Office in Yangon.

However, the NCA-S-EAO could not draw needed fund directly from JPF to hold meetings but only through the government’s NRPC.

According to insider sources, Nippon Foundation is said to be helping New Mon State Party (NMSP) and KNU, although not clear if the NRPC has been informed and what kind of developmental projects are being  carried out.

It is said that only the NCA-S-EAO Office has received assistance for one and a half years until the end of December. The Office is preparing a new proposal for another 18 months, January 2020-June 2021, which will be submitted by the first week of December. 

Given such inability and struggling to restart the peace negotiation process officially after more than a year, the government side need to be sensitive in undertaking unnecessary enforcer role by doling out orders to its negotiation partners and reminds itself that all are equal at the negotiation table and behave as such.

But if the government insists upon its supremacy enforcer stance rigidly and gives order, not in line with the NCA, this foreign aid row will heighten further and deplete the remaining trust between itself and the signatory EAOs, which is not a desired result we all are hoping for.

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