Thursday, December 11, 2014

BURMA PEACE PROCESS: Looking for Mediators

Shan Herald Agency for News,  9 December 2014

Looking for a suitable mediator could be a very challenging undertaking, especially when there are so many conflict parties and various differing aspirations, not compatible to each other. But nevertheless, we could simplify the conflict spectrum, to give us a clearer picture, if not the problems facing all of us.

To start with, Burma actually only have two conflict categories. One is the ethnic conflict, a vertical type of conflict between the military-dominated regimes and the assorted non-Burman ethnic nationalities; and the other, the political ideological conflict, or better, differing political aspirations of military-dominated rulers on one side and the oppressed Burman - although recently, since 2011, slightly improved media freedom and human rights situation are granted - plus militarily occupied non-Burman ethnic nationalities on the other. In other words, ethnic conflict, due to racial supremacy doctrine of the successive military-dominated regimes; and ideological conflict between military dictatorship and democratic aspirations.

When the SHAN editorial pointed out that the Single Text Negotiation procedure applied in the ongoing peace process, between the Union Solidarity and Development Party-Military (USDP-Military) regime and the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAO) not producing result, due to position-oriented and not goal-oriented tendency on both sides of the conflict spectrum, it is again high time to look for able, neutral, trusted parties to act as mediators and perhaps, also act as facilitators.

The South African business sector’s successful mediation to the decades old ethnic conflict in South Africa, due to its value orientation or desire to have a peaceful atmosphere for the overall development of the country, including business interest protection, Burma still needs to carefully think and decide, if placing trust to the business people wholeheartedly alone would be a wise option.

True, according to Myanmar Peace Monitor, a website run by the Burma News International, all Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Karen National Union (KNU) peace talks with the government have been mediated and facilitated by prominent businessmen who have vested interests in industrial or resource extraction in Burma.

Kachin businessman Yup Zau Hkawng of the Jadeland Company, who is heading a Peace Talk Creation Group along with other Kachin businessmen, Lamai Gum Ja, Hkapara Khun Awng and N’Shen Hsan Awng have been instrumental in brokering talks between the KIO and government. The Peace-Talk Creation Group (PCG) has arranged and provided financial assistance for the meetings. The group also has a 7 member official documentation team.

The Dawei Princess Company is involved in facilitating the peace process between the KNU and Burmese government. U Ko Ko Maung, the company director, and U Ngwe Soe, managing director, attended all of the peace meetings between the KNU and government. The Dawei Princess Company finances, organizes and even provides travel arrangements for the government peace delegation during the peace talks with the KNU. Karen News also reported that the company paid for the setup and operating costs of the KNU liaison office in Dawei (Tavoy) town. The Dawei Princess Company, also known as Hein Yadana Moe, is a sub-contractor for the $60B Dawei Special Economic Zone that is in part of the KNU’s controlled area.

According to the Myanmar Peace Monitor, the current government peace committee is said to not want third parties involved at this stage of ceasefire talks. However several ethnic groups are insisting that foreign mediators are necessary in ensuring the government keeps to the terms of agreement.

The KIO and United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) have been keen to involve foreign mediators in the ongoing peace process, with also a faction, led by the KNU vice chairperson. Zipporah Sein, toeing the majority of the EAO. So far, the UNFC members have called for dialogue with the government as a group, but with international observers present as mediators. It has specifically called for the involvement of China and Japan, besides UN participation.

Three Styles of Mediation

A comprehensive piece on this specific subject titled, "International Peace Mediators and Codes of Conduct: An Analysis" outlined three mediation styles: facilitative mediation, evaluative mediation and transformative mediation.
Facilitative mediation is the original and basic understanding of what a mediation ought to be, which means impartial, neutral and only facilitating the conflict parties to work out their differences, without in any way influencing or directing the outcome.

Evaluative mediation is a style where mediator has a much greater level of participation, and interaction in the process to ensure that the disputing parties reach a settlement. Unlike facilitative mediation, where the mediator acts as an impartial third party whose role, in theory at least, is not to influence the mediation process or outcome in any way, evaluative mediation sees the mediator being more involved with the process and the outcome.

The main strategy of the evaluative mediator is to help the parties appreciate the relative strengths and weaknesses of their respective positions. These include persuading the parties to accept a settlement proposal, proposing “position-based compromise agreements”, and trying to persuade the parties to accept the mediator’s assessment of the merits of each party’s claim Transformative mediation approach is based on the idea that mediation has the “potential to generate transformative effects, and that these effects are highly valuable for the parties and for society.” Transformative mediation stresses the concepts of empowerment and recognition. Empowerment refers to enabling the parties to understand the variety of options available to them and allowing them to realise that there are choices to be made and that they have control over which choices are made. Mediators also try and get each party to see things from the other party’s perspective so that they may work towards changing their approach to the mediation process to accommodate the other party’s perspective.

Stalled Peace Process and Third Party Mediation

The peace talks between the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) has stalled since they last met in September, in Rangoon. The following heightened armed engagements with the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and KIA in Shan and Kachin states; and recent shelling of KIA Laiza cadet school killing 23 and wounding some 20 trainees have further worsen the already bad, peace negotiation atmosphere.

The biggest obstacle in trying to materialize the Single Text Negotiation approach is not adhering to the prescribed guidelines and making use of it only in name, but not the principle. The glaring examples are: altering the already agreed terms and issues, time and again; and the lack of a third party mediator in the peace process. No wonder, after more than two years of negotiation, we are still reaching nowhere.

Thus, it becomes clear that the ceasefire talks, which is closely linked to political settlement, is back-sliding or completely stalled. And to overcome this obstacle, the only way to do is to accept the third party mediation, for the recent "self-help" negotiation initiative is going nowhere, as all could see. The government refusal, with the reason of settling internal disputes among adversaries, without outside help, for it is family business, also doesn’t hold water, truth or logical argument, for the non-Burman ethnic nationalities see it quite differently. They consider the successive military-dominated regimes, including the present USDP-Military government, as a form of new colonialism entity, taking over the mantle of former British colonial master.

Choice of Mediators

Having said that, the third party mediation endorsed by the EAOs all along and steadfastly rejected by the government has first to be settled. And only if this hurdle is overcome, we will have to make a choice, on which type of mediators will be to mediate and facilitate the peace process.

Track One is traditional diplomatic activities; and Track Two, an unofficial, informal interaction between members of adversarial groups or nations with the goals of developing strategies, influencing public opinions and organizing human and material resources in ways that might help resolve the conflict.

Thinking aloud, the following are some possible actors that would come into question, as eligible mediators and facilitators.
Track One:
• China, Japan, UN, EU, ASEAN
Track Two
• Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) - Government affiliated
• Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (ENAC) - EAO trusted
• Euro-Burma Office (EBO) - EU funded, with close link to MPC
• Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) - EBO funded, with close links to KNU and Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA)

With the exception of MPC, all the others would fall into NGOs category, more or less. But the closeness of EBO and PI to MPC blurs the line of where their sympathy actually lies. And thus becoming problematic in soliciting the trust of all-embracing ethnic composition, which they are keen to represent.

Apart from such established and well-funded NGOs, many other Civilian Based Organizations (CBO), peace initiative groups, rights groups and environmental organizations from within the country will also come under track two mediator/facilitator category.

According to same scholarly analysis mentioned above:
A coordinated, multi-track approach is necessary to resolve modern multidimensional conflicts. Individuals and NGOs can bring conflicting parties together to facilitate communication, while states and international organisations can provide the political and economic incentives to work towards an agreement as well as post-conflict reconstruction and monitoring teams.
The general consensus indicates that NGOs and private individuals are inherently more impartial and neutral, as their main goal is to resolve the conflict. Small states are also more likely to act or be perceived to act impartially and often enter a mediation process with greater credibility.

Powerful states, on the other hand, tend to be motivated by self-interest and are therefore more likely to first of all become involved in the mediation process if it suits their own agenda and second of all, their self-interest may motivate them to try and shape the outcome of a mediation process to suit their own aims and objectives. Regional organisations are also more likely to be motivated by self-interest than non-state actors and are also more likely to influence the outcome of mediation and the content of the peace agreement. This approach negates their ability to act impartially. For example, the EU is rarely regarded as an impartial mediator, but rather as an actor with vested interests, especially in areas with close links to the EU – either geographically or historically, where former colonial history plays a role.

Of course, it is a hard choice to determine, which kind of track one and two combination will make an excellent mediation team. But if peace is the ultimate wish of the conflict parties, adjustment of values and norms, ethnic equality and liberal from of multi-party democracy should be able to flourish. Only political will is needed to make it happen.