Friday, September 26, 2014

BURMA PEACE PROCESS: A “Devo-max” to resolve ethnic conflict needed

Shan Herald Agency for News
Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The latest round of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) has again started on the 22 September and is scheduled to last for five days, according to the media.

Mixed signals have been coming out from stakeholders attending the meeting.

Top Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) negotiator, Nai Hong Sar, when asked by the DVB, on 22 September, about the situation said that without agreed military code of conduct and the formation of Joint Monitoring Team, it would be hard to achieve ceasefire agreement. According to him, the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) is reluctant to discuss various matters like, code of conduct, transitional arrangement for the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAO) and new recruitment of the ethnic armies. But when insisted that general basic arrangement regarding troops activities be included, the UPWC was said to agree to be included in the NCA. The UPWC has been pushing to leave the code of conduct and joint monitoring team issues for later discussion, for it fears that the NCA would not be able to be concluded if such issues were to be discussed.

Another NCCT leader, Hkun Okker, in his interview with the RFA, on 22 September, said that although there could be no problem to sign the NCA, the problem of forming the Joint Monitoring Team and its implementation and the likes could be faced with formidable task. But if this could be ironed out, the process could become smooth.

According to Eleven Media Group report of 22 September, Lieutenant General Myint Soe said the Burma Army will adhere to the six guiding principle of the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, which includes genuine desire to achieve eternal peace; to adhere to the signed agreement; not to take advantage of the peace agreement; not to be a burden to the people; to adhere to the existing current laws and the 2008 Constitution, and cooperate to strive for democracy.

Meanwhile, Mizzima report of 22 and 23 September said that Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing faulted United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) for being an obstacle to the ongoing peace process. According to the opinion piece on 22 September, during his meeting with the senior-officer-trainees at National Defence College in Naypyidaw, on 19 September, said that some elements of the ethnic armed groups from the border have re-entered and built up strength under the pretext of peace process, with the help of domestic and foreign help, making various demands. And due to some recent statements of the UNFC, the ongoing peace process could face difficulties and must be on alert.

The same news outlet reported on the issue, on 23 September, that Nai Hong Sar of NCCT referring to the Burma Army’s hard stance said:“ We cannot say anything definitely. It looks like the Burma Army opinion is hard on the acceptance of federalism, which has been agreed during the last meeting. The military top brass have not digested – accepted – it. If you look at this and the recent criticism of the UNFC, it is not a good thing.“

According to The Irrawaddy, on 23 September, the reasons for criticizing the UNFC by the Commander-in Chief could be that he is at odd with the UNFC position that it is going to lead the political dialogue phase, after the signing of NCA. The report said that frequent meeting between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Commander-in-Chief and his endorsing of KNU position of distancing itself from the UNFC indicated that he is promoting division among the ethnic armed groups.

Nai Hong Sar said: “ It is peculiar that the Commander-in-Chief said something like this during the ongoing peace process. Although it is not clear what he means, we suspect and could question if he wants to discard the peace process. And another point to ponder is the agreement of federal union and federal army deliberations between the government and the NCCT don't go down well with the Burma Army.“

On the same issue, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) Chairman, Hkun Htun Oo said Commander-in Chief might be intensively worried and said: “He must have felt the strong push for formation of federal army; and the linkage of foreign and domestic groups like the National League for Democracy (NLD), United Nationalities Alliance (UNA )and UNFC, which would become a formidable alliance.“

The 23 September RFA report said, due to the NCCT tabling of the “ formation of the federal army “ issue, the Burma Army representatives have rejected the proposal and terminated the discussion ahead of time for that day.

According to Nai Hong Sar, the meeting was adjourned because irresolvable issues like federal army formation, cooperation in security matters and forbidding new recruitment of the ethnic armies have bogged down the discussion. Still another issue is that the differing choice of words and attitude on how ratification of the agreement achieved from political dialogue, by both parties should be handled by the parliament. The government side wants to give the parliament a free hand for the endorsement, the NCCT just want it to endorse the agreed treaty.

One report in The Irrawaddy, on 23 September, wrote that the Commander-in-Chief was said to be against the inclusion of UNFC five unrecognized members from Kokang, Wa, Arakanese and Lahu ethnic minorities, in signing the NCA, which the NCCT insists should be involved. The government has allowed the five groups to join ongoing ceasefire negotiations as “observers,” but has said they will not be eligible to sign the agreement.

Given such circumstances, this latest round of peace talks would not be able to lead to the signing of NCA anytime soon. The Burma Army insistence of using its Commander-in-Chief’s six guiding principles, coupled with the demand to adhere to its self-drawn 2008 Constitution, is a non-starter. The EAO sees this line of demand to be just a “negotiated surrender“. The logic is that if it already accepts the military drawn constitution, there would not even be a need to lead a resistance movement. The struggle for equality, rights of self-determination and democracy continues because the successive constitutions, including the present one, have not been able to deliver the aspirations of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

It is high time that the power-that-be in Naypyidaw takes the cue from the aftermath situation of recent Scottish independence referendum and think along the line of “ Devo-max“ - devolution maximum – to resolve the decades-old ethnic conflict by embracing the federal system of governance, in words and deeds.