Wednesday, July 30, 2014

BURMA PEACE PROCESS: Differing Concepts, Choice of Words and Multi-Track System Approach

Monday, 28 July 2014

Choice of Words or Conceptual Differences
News coming out, sporadically from Laiza, where ethnic leaders are meeting to iron out their positions, indicates that the choice of words, or should we say conceptual differences, are still hard to bridge, which is essential to formulate the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

Let us look at some of the core wordings that have been troubling both sides of the conflict spectrum.

Mizzima, Burmese section, reported on the 25th July 2014, that Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) leaders were having difficulties in handling the term “revolution”, which the government side is keen to avoid using but essentially an important vocabulary for the non-Burman ethnic resistance forces. The government wants to use the term “Armed Ethnic Organization”, while the ethnic leaders are for “Ethnic Armed Revolutionary Organization”.
It seems the government position is that since it is now a civilian government and negotiating with good will, the term “revolution” should not be used, for it could be misunderstood that the regime's oppressive stance has pushed the ethnic groups to revolt. In other words, an altruistic striving civilian regime – even if most see it as a military-backed, quasi-civilian government – should not be associated with “ethnic revolution” tag, which squarely should be put only on the shoulders' of successive military regimes. The former military regimes were Revolutionary Council (RC), Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

In contrary to the government position, the ethnic armed groups see this as a betrayal to their fallen comrades and their just resistance wars against Burmese center or successive military regimes; and further view the present Thein Sein government as a continuation of the military regimes of the past. They further view the government troops occupation of their homelands and exploitation of their natural resources as an act of internal colonialism.
According to the Mizzima editorial of 25th July 2014, from the part of ethnic nationalities, Dr Lian Sakong, Chin National Front (CNF) leader and NCCT member said: “The sacrifice with lives for the revolution needs to be acknowledged. That's why the word “revolution” should be included, in one place or the other.”
Other sticking points are the usage of “federalism”, which is preferred by the NCCT, and “existing current laws, termination of shooting and attack” (ceasefire), which are pushed by the government side.

The government side is reluctant to use the term “federal”, for it is positioned, although not clearly and officially spelled out, to maintain the presidential unitary system, with perhaps delegating some political decision-making power to the ethnic states, short of full autonomy. But for the ethnic nationalities, achieving federal or full autonomy is a position, which is non-negotiable. In short, the government refusal to accept the term is tantamount to rejection of the very concept of “federalism”.

The government preferred term, “according to the existing laws” is, from the point of ethnic armed groups, merely to subjugate its adversaries into accepting the military-drawn, 2008 Constitution, which would prove meaningless, if they accept the term, to their decades long struggle for rights of self-determination, equality and democracy.

And instead of using “termination of shooting”, in Burmese language, which is equivalent to ceasefire, the government side insisted upon the term of “termination of shooting and attack” to shed bad lights on the ethnic armed organizations as merely bandits and illegal armed organization. Thereby, placing itself in a superior position of government with legitimacy and down-grading the ethnic armed groups as illegal, inferior negotiation partners. It should be noted that African National Congress (ANC) headed by Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk, President of South Africa, were placed on equal-footing and mutual respect, when negotiating for the end of apartheid policy and transformation of the political system to constitutional parliamentary republic set up.
It wouldn't do for the government to continue to act as occupier with a superior position and merely being kind-hearted enough to lead the wrong-doers, which suppose to be the ethnic armed groups, back into the legal fold.

Continued Breaching of Ceasefire Agreements
Also there is little chance that the NCA could be signed on a meaningful basis, if the government troops are waging offensives in Shan and Kachin states. According to BNI report, titled „Deciphering Myanmar's Peace Process 2014“, the total armed clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) for the year 2013 was 98 times, Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) 48 times, Shan State Army/Shan State Progress Party (SSA/SSPP) 25 times, and Shan State Army/Restoration Council of Shan State (SSA/RCSS) 27 times. While one could argue that the KIA and TNLA have not signed ceasefire agreements and thus it is natural to have armed confrontation with the Burma Army (BA), the funny thing about it was that the SSA/SSPP and SSA/RCSS had signed ceasefire agreements in 2011 and 2012 respectively. The point is that there is not much difference, whether one signs ceasefire agreement or not with the government's BA. The signing of reduction or deescalation of armed confrontation with the KIA and BA for more than a year, has not have any impact on the ongoing war on the ground.

To justify the BA's offensives, it reasons that its “area cleansing and control” program in ethnic areas is to uphold and protect the sovereignty of the country. In other words, anyone infringing on its right to sovereignty will not be tolerated. This means, the government sees itself as having monopoly and project itself as the sole protector of the country's sovereignty, while the ethnic nationalities see that they also have a stake in it and have the right to defend the sovereignty of their respected homelands from intruders and occupiers. The ethnic groups have time and again stressed that “shared-sovereignty”, that could do away with the government's image as oppressive colonizer, is the way to go, which could be worked out within the framework of a genuine federal union.
For the year 2014, from January to June, the total armed clashes was recorded as 134 times, most with the KIA and TNLA, according to Myanmar Peace Monitor.

Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) statement on July 10, 2014 writes:
Since June 2014, the Burma Army has deployed nearly 2,000 troops from over 10 battalions in an operation against a ceasefire group, the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (a.k.a SSA-North), in Kehsi and Murng Hsu townships. The operation has inflicted human rights abuses against hundreds of local civilians.

The first attack was carried out from June 11 to 14 in Murng Hsu, when hundreds of troops advanced on an SSA-North base near this ruby mining area. Shells were fired by troops stationed in a local village, placing civilian lives at risk. Villagers were also forced to act as guides and drivers for the troops during the attack.

On June 24, the Burma Army sent 50 trucks of troops, weapons and ammunition from Mandalay to the area. On June 26, Burmese troops began artillery attacks on the SSA-North about 20 kms northwest of the SSA-North headquarters of Wan Hai. For several days, shells were fired in this civilian-populated area. Since then, 800 troops from seven battalions have been stationed in local villages, restricting villagers’ movements and transport of rice, patrolling through villagers’ fields, destroying crops and fences, and looting villagers’ livestock. This has caused about 200 local villagers to flee their homes and seek refuge in a local temple.

Since July 2, a further 18 trucks of Burma Army troop reinforcements have been sent into the conflict area from nearby command centres. Local villagers have also been ordered to provide 10,000 pieces of bamboo for the construction of barracks for a new artillery training centre at Man Kart, near Tangyan. A local Burmese military officer said this was specifically to prepare to attack the SSA-North.

RFA report on Saturday, Hkun Okker, leader of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) and NCCT member, said that the discussion on choice of words, which could not be decided will be handled by the top NCCT leading committee and would be the final position of the ethnic armed groups. In the same report General Gun Maw, a top leader of the KIA, cautioned not to be overly optimistic and that the peace process could take longer.

SHAN editorial openly decries, on 22 July 2014, as follows:
Both are still engaged in the fighting against the BA despite ceasefire has been signed. Gen Yawd Serk of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), better known as the SSA South, has summed up this way: “Now every time there is fighting between us Col Aung Thu (Shan State Minister for Security and Border Affairs) writes to us saying the RCSS/SSA has violated the terms of agreement and vice versa from us. We should therefore meet each other often in a friendly environment to find out how each side interprets the terms. Afterward, we should go to meet the people together to explain to them what has been achieved between us. Which will constitute part of the heart-healing process for the people. Failure to do that will inevitably send us back to the battlefield.”
The editorial ended with a pessimistic remarks, saying: “If this “fight whenever we want” continues, then there is no use signing a ceasefire agreement, whether it be state, union or nationwide level.”

Parallel Process
An opinion piece by SHAN, on 25 July, 2014 writes: “During the visit by political parties to Chiang Mai on 14 July, a number of the politicians had voiced their dissatisfaction with the ongoing peace process. To them, the first stage of the peace roadmap which includes the NCA negotiations, Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) negotiations and Political Dialogue (PD) has taken too long.”

The same opinion piece suggests: “It should be carried out in a bottom-up approach by the political parties and CSOs and not by the government.”
As the opinion piece heading suggests, all concerned should ask in order to overcome this deadlock, “Should there be a parallel process?” The answer is definitely, an affirmative “yes”.

Given that the “one-text negotiation” process is not progressing enough to produce the end result of signing NCA, it could be taken as a sign of stagnation, due to the lack of mediator.

If the one-text procedure is not progressing and would eventually lead to failure of the negotiation, both conflicting parties should consider a third party facilitator/mediator team to assist the process. There is no point to indulge in “self-help” negotiation or stubbornly cling on to “do it yourself” approach.
The one-text procedure is a systematic process for shifting negotiators away from thinking about concessions, by using a neutral, third party facilitator to elicit underlying interests and to simplify the process of jointly inventing many options and deciding on one. (Source: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In - by Roger Fisher and William Ury)

This procedure was used at Camp David in the negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Begin and Egyptian President Sadat. President Carter and Secretary of State Vance created 23 drafts in 13 days before they had a proposal to which both sides could say yes.( Source: The Negotiator Magazine – 2003)
Track Two or Multi-Track System

Parallel to this, as SHAN opinion piece suggests, in addition to “Track One”, diplomacy, where communication and interaction is between governments – here let us presume that the ethnic armed organizations to be governments in their own rights, although Thein Sein government might probably not accept it -, has either failed or not in a position to produce result, “Multi-Track” diplomacy, which is the expansion of “Track One, Track Two” paradigm that has defined the conflict resolution field during the last decade, should be considered.

According to Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy: Multi-Track Diplomacy is a conceptual way to view the process of international peacemaking as a living system. It looks at the web of interconnected activities, individuals, institutions, and communities that operate together for a common goal: a world at peace.
The Multi-Track system originated due to the inefficiency of pure government mediation. Moreover, increases in intrastate conflict(conflicts within a state) in the 1990s confirmed that "Track One Diplomacy" was not an effective method for securing international cooperation or resolving conflicts. Rather, there needed to be a more interpersonal approach in addition to government mediation.

According to the institute, no one track is more important than the other, and no one track is independent from the others. Each track has its own resources, values, and approaches, but since they are all linked, they can operate more powerfully when they are coordinated.
The nine tracks in the Multi-Track System include:
Track 1 – Government, or Peacemaking through Diplomacy.
Track 2 – Nongovernment/Professional, or Peacemaking through Conflict Resolution.
Track 3 – Business, or Peacemaking through Commerce.
Track 4 – Private Citizen, or Peacemaking through Personal Involvement.
Track 5 – Research, Training, and Education, or peacemaking through Learning.
Track 6 – Activism, or Peacemaking through Advocacy.
Track 7 – Religion, or Peacemaking through Faith in action.
Track 8 – Funding, or Peacemaking through Providing Resources.
Track 9 – Communications and the Media, or Peacemaking through Information.(Source: Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy)
Concluding Note

While a number of tracks mentioned here have been in application within the peace process spectrum, one way or the other, it still needs to incorporate and energize other tracks, which are not yet implemented.

But the success or failure of the peace process would again hinge on the genuine commitment to just peace and reconciliation, coupled with the “political will”, of all parties concerned. It is fair to conclude that the ethnic armed groups are keen to strive for peaceful reconciliation, otherwise they all would have withdrawn from the negotiation table, in the face of repeated BA offensives within their homelands, as indicated by statistic from Myanmar Peace Monitor. The government, on its part should refrain from pushing for “negotiated surrender” under different name and guise and commit itself to genuine peace and reconciliation by empowering the participation of civilian and the organizations that represent them.

The contributor is Ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor