On January 8, the government met with all 10 nationwide ceasefire agreement-signatories-ethnic armed organizations (NCA-S-EAO) at the Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) in Naypyitaw.
The meeting produced eight-point agenda agreement, which is as follows:
- Creation of a framework for NCA implementation
- Continuation of the process beyond 2020
- Step by step implementation
- Agreement on Union Accord Part 3, which includes a framework for political dialogues and ceasefire monitoring
- Convening the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference in the first trimester of 2020
- Formation of a working group for interpretations of terms used in NCA
- To work for all-inclusion of non-signatory EAOs
- To hold Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) and Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) meetings within two months.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Gen Soe Win & Gen Yawd Serk speeches
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in her opening speech said: “Of course, we all have views of diversity, as well as different concepts and ways of thinking. But we all share the common goal, which is to build the Democratic Federal Union founded on the national equality and national unity. We all are well convinced that, in order to put an end to the armed conflicts that arose together with our independence, and bring forth durable peace, we all share, undeniably, the same dream of a future Union.”
She also reminded the EAOs saying; “As you all know, the NCA belongs to all of us. It is necessary for all our stakeholders who have signed the agreement to share the responsibility and accountability. I wish to remind all of you in great seriousness that we should avoid from adopting what we like and rejecting what we don’t like, from implementing what pleases us most and failing to implement what doesn’t please us. If one group picks and chooses what it likes and ignores what it doesn’t like, this could cause obstacles to all the other groups, resulting in a series of difficulties for the peace process.”
“Our NRPC and the Peace Commission have been making every effort to get in contact with these groups for the sake of making the ceasefire agreement and being inclusive in the NCA,” said Suu Kyi, underlining her commitment for all-inclusiveness participation of all EAOs.
She also made clear on what she thought of ethnic armed struggles saying: “Concerning the case of having more armed conflicts, we would like to remind you of the fact that taking advantage by means of stronger armed forces or playing with the fancy of finding other new solutions will never bring solutions to the problems of our country.”
To be able to reduce negotiation period, the demands should be reasonable for the government to fulfill them, said the Deputy Commander in Chief of Defense Services Vice Senior General Soe Win in his speech.
He also said that in the age of globalization and IT age, the military-drafted 2008 constitution would need some amendments as nothing is perfect in the world; adding that the Commander in Chief of Defense Services has agreed to amend the charter in line with its Chapter 12.
Chairman of Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) Yawd Serk, who is also Acting Leader of the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST), spoke on behalf of all ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), emphasizing the need to be all-inclusive and not just the 10 signatories.
“The implementation of the NCA will only be comprehensive if all groups that are meant to be involved are included. That is why we need to think of all possible methods to have them involved. We need to consider current situations from all areas when planning future peace processes. Putting the benefits of the people and the nation first during the beginning of 2020, I believe this JICM meeting will bring good results that the country has been waiting for as a new year gift,” he said.
The agenda agreement is easier but the more difficult part is the implementation, as is always the case.
As all are aware, the JICM is the highest organ in NCA-based peace process, followed by UPDJC for political and JMC for military settlement deliberations.
To date, the NCA-signatories Karen National Union (KNU) and RCSS, including the New Mon State Party (NMSP), are having military skirmishes and JMC has not been in a position to resolve it.
KNU has been having military engagement, at least about 100 times last year, with the Tatmadaw due to its road-building activities in KNU controlled areas. The KNU sees it as Tatmadaw expansion into its areas and creating logistic advantage to transport its troops speedily in case of military conflict. But the Tatmadaw maintains that it is for the good of the local people and over all development.
The RCSS has been clashing on and off with the Tatmadaw ever since the signing of NCA in October 2015. Accordingly, not less than 50 armed clashes have been registered until now.
The NMSP’s armed wing Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA) also clashed with the Tatmadaw and its Karen Border Guard Force last November at Palanjapan Village. The Tatmadaw withdrew after the NMSP complained to the JMC, but still remains in one of the MNLA outpost, which it has invaded and occupied.
While the KNU opting out of the official NCA-based peace process last year was never clearly explained, the driving force behind is believed to the road-building row with the Tatmadaw that has not been resolved until today.
Again, the KNU signboard erected to preserve forest land, in Brigade 5 Hpapun Township in late December irked the Karen State government, prompting Karen Security and Border Affairs Minister Colonel Myo Min Naung to send protest letter to the KNU authorities. KNU seems to be asserting its authority which it considered is within its jurisdiction and openly showing its displeasure over the “Law Amending the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law (2018),” that gives government the ownership land rights over ethnic traditional land ownership law.
The KNU has always protested the said land law and maintained that such laws are against federal union procedure and aspirations and should only come into force with the local ethnic people’s agreement; and only after the NCA-based peace process settlement is in place, not before.
Following the JICM, President Office spokesman Zaw Htay said that government, parliament and Tatmadaw (Defense Services) have a common position on fundamental federal union principles and also EAOs have their common position of their own. Accordingly, technical teams from both side will try to work out to get the acceptable principles, which will then be put into the Part 3 Federal Union Accord.
Given such circumstances, the devil will be in details. As such, the government and EAOs both parties will have to see to it that the leadership decision-making will be followed by the people on the ground or basis.
As can be seen that the majority of the armed clashes and misunderstanding that occurred with the signatory EAOs are because of either the interpretation of the NCA document is different from each other, or one of the party has the intention to breach the agreement.
Either way, if the eight-point agenda agreement can be ironed out and finally put it out for implementation in the field, the top-down and bottom-up coordination and cooperation will have to be reliable and able to carry out, for all parties concerned. In other words, the relationship of leadership and basis within individual organization; and relation with among each other between negotiation partners will have to be according to the agreement; preferably from bottom to top and vice versa.
And if such a conducive atmosphere can be realized, the negotiation parties will have a fighting chance to iron out the principles of acceptable federal union, as creating a common federal democratic constitution won’t be an easy job, given that the civil-military regime’s tilting towards unitary system and Bamar supremacy aspirations will be hard to curb; and the EAOs ethnic-based federalism dream also not so easy to be compromised.
But until then, the eight-point agenda agreement will have to be discussed in details and put in place first.