Tuesday, October 21, 2014

BURMA PEACE PROCESS: Failing to secure negotiated surrender government falls back on “Plan B”

Shan Herald Agency for News
Tuesday, 21 October 2014

"It is now clear that the military is acting on the directive of the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC), which is headed by the President and military top brass. In other words, the image of the President being a reformist and the military seen as hard-liner has been totally shattered... the government, parliament and the military are all under one blanket."

Within a week, four recent interviews, three with Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) top negotiators and one with union parliamentarian, U Hla Swe, who has attended the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) meeting in Rangoon, would likely be a barometer, indicating which way the political wind is blowing and whether the ongoing peace process will be stalled altogether.

The first interview is with the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) leader, General Gun Maw, who is also a top NCCT peace negotiator. He said that during the peace talks, from September 22 to 26, although it was agreed to tackle the issue of troops deployment on both sides, the government said that it would take on the issue at a later date. And now the military has demanded that the KIA Battalion 6 stationed near Hpakant's jade mines to move out, on the grounds that its troopers were demanding taxes from the mining companies. However, the KIA was told to hold its ground by the headquarters. This stance was again confirmed by RFA report on 20 October.

When asked, by the DVB on 18 October, what General Gun Maw would like to comment on the government demand of KIA troops to move out, during this ongoing period of peace talks with the NCCT, he said: "The situation makes us think about it. The KIO central committee assess the issue this morning (October 17). During the NCCT and UPWC meeting, the military refused to discuss about troops deployment. Actually, after rejecting to talk about the agreement on troops withdrawal and code of conduct, it is giving ultimatum that the KIA Battalion 6 moves out, which make us think if the government has changed its mind."

He further said: "In our view, in order to move forward in peace process, problems need to be resolved. Now the example of solving problem with the DKBA is not correct. Again, the example of solving problem with the Shan State Progress Party/ Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) is not right. The example of solving problem with our KIA is also not adequate. We see that solving the problems through military means is not quite appropriate."

SHAN reported on 19 October that while a group of government delegates led by U Thein Zaw and representatives of SSPP/SSA were meeting at the North-eastern Regional Command based in Lashio (Northern Shan State) on 18th October 2014, the Burma Army was sending in troop reinforcements to SSPP/SSA areas.

On 2 October said that Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Burma Army ordered to attack SSPP/SSA base of Ta Pha Sawng and other outposts in Kehsi Township. It is said the offensive, with some 1,000 Burma Army troops, was due to the SSA refusal to withdraw from the said base, which the Burma Army has been demanding to evacuate.

The second interview is with Nai Han Thar or Nai Hong Sar, New Mon State Party (NMSP) Chief and NCCT top negotiator. In a video interview with the DVB, on 18 October, he pointed out the backsliding situation of the peace process, due to the government offensives, on the heels of the failed or unsuccessful September peace negotiation, with heavy armed clashes in Kachin, Shan, Karen and Mon States. The government troops have been on aggressive moves against the KIA, Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), SSPP/SSA and Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).

He particularly stressed that the military, which is part of the Union Peacemaking Work committee (UPWC), rejected the terms of "federal union, federal army formation and rights of self-determination". During the previous round of peace talks in August, the said terms were already agreed to be discussed, during the phase of political dialogue. But the military made an about-turn with the agreement, demanding to add "according to the current existing law" in front of the "rights of self-determination". Nai Hong Sar said that this would mean the acceptance of the military-drawn 2008 Constitution, which is out of question. Apart from rejecting the word "federal", the military also like to change the word "federal army formation" to "union army issue", buttressing it with the argument that the Burma Army or Tatmadaw is already a union army, employing many ethnic groups residing within the country. On top of that, the military also asked that the words "revolution" should be taken out of the context, which earlier has been agreed to be used in the ceasefire agreement text, except on the front cover. The NCCT argues that, in order to uphold its dignity, it has to differentiate with the other armed groups that are either Border Guard Force (BGF), government militias or drug trafficking gangs.

The third interview is conducted by Mizzima, on 18 October, with Hkun Okker, Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) patron and NCCT top negotiator. He said: " We cannot make any concession more in our discussion with the government. It depends on how much the government could make concession and adjustment."

The fourth interview is the union parliamentarian U Hla Swe with DVB, on 18 October. He has attended a meeting dubbed "Internal Peace Process and the Role of Parliament", held at Max hotel, in Rangoon by the MPC. According to the explanation of the MPC officials, he said. "They discussed that it has not reached the political discussion phase and are of the opinion that the peace process will go beyond 2015 and proceed well into 2016. At the end, political process will be debated and discussed within the parliament. Finally, political dialogue will be decided by the parliament. One cannot disregard the parliament and it will take the leading role in the peace process."

Accordingly, RFA report on 20 October said that the MPC officials and the parliamentarians attending the meeting have agreed to table the MPC's six steps peace process procedure, at the parliament, for approval.

This piece of news has to be read together with the SHAN report of 14 October. SHAN writes: “The situation is such the President was said to have given a deadline: Finalization of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) draft by 30 October or he’ll have to consider “Plan B.”

And by mentioning “Plan B”, the President is indicating to implement the “Open Book” strategy or way of doing things, where parties could sign NCA individually at their convenience and not necessarily doing it together. Of course, this is a far cry from nationwide ceasefire and a total loss of face, besides losing the promised international development aids, which would follow only after the signing of the NCA.

Another political facet is that the President and his top negotiator, U Aung Min, have spelled out their real demand that the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAO) must give in to the military-drawn 2008 Constitution, which is exactly a non-starter. All the non-Burman ethnic nationalities have been demanding the amendment or rewriting the constitution to be in line with their aspirations of equality, democracy and rights of self-determination, anchored in a real federal union. This “constitutional crisis” has been plaguing the country for decades and coercively pushing to make the EAO accept it is like declaring an all out war on them.

Summing up the whole situation, the military offensives and tension created by the Burma Army is designed to derail the peace process, so that the supremacy position of the military could be maintained. It is now clear that military is acting on the directive of the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC), which is headed by the President and military top brass. In other words, the image of President being a reformist and the military seen as hard-liner has been totally shattered. In other words, the government, parliament and the military are all under one blanket.

Hopefully, this senseless heightening of the armed conflict and poverty of wisdom and lack of accommodation won't last too long, so that normalcy could return to this deeply divided society.