Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fifth nationwide ceasefire agreement draft ignores Panglong Promises: Sweeping core issues under the carpet won’t help resolve ethnic conflict

Shan Herald Agency for News - Apr 27, 20150 51

As United Wa State Army (UWSA) held conference, co-hosted by Mong La and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), scheduled to start from 1 to 3 May, in Panghsang, involving 12 Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), but not all Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) members, approaches, the NCCT is to meet on 29 April, to prepare for all its members to gather, so that deliberation on the 5th Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) draft could be discussed and determined. The NCCT has conducted such all-members meeting thrice; twice at KIA headquarters and once at Karen National Union (KNU) controlled Lawkhila.

Ever since the completion of 5th NCA draft, EAOs have been making necessary review on it. The forthcoming NCCT members meeting would probably look into inputs, opinions and thrash out a decision on whether to go along and proceed with the draft as it is, or with alteration and additional clauses.

KNU meet on NCA
While news of KNU deliberation on the text was openly reported in the news media, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) emergency meeting from 11 to 13 April was held under-wraps and have not been seen or reported. However, its position on the NCA draft is seeping out, which signals the 5th draft that supposed to be final, from the point of government, is not really final, from UNFC perspective.

The KNU held a central standing committee emergency meeting to discuss about the NCA draft and the forthcoming ethnic armed organization summit, at its headquarters at Lay Wah, Hlaingbwe Townhip in Pa-an District from April 20-22, 2015.

According to Padoh Mahn Mahn, joint-secretary (2) of KNU, the discussion centered around 3 guiding principles – to safeguard sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and the regime’s stance of building federal system according to the outcome of political dialogue.

But Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein, vice chairperson of the KNU, according to Karen Information Center report of 23 April, in an exclusive interview spelled out quite a lot of points that needs clarification and what should still be included in the NCA. However, it is not clear, whether her points of argument are accepted or not by the KNU.

She clarified that the 5th NCA draft signed on 31 March 2015 was the approval of the text formulated between NCCT & UPWC, which needs to be viewed by ethnic leaders and decide what to do next. Not the signing of NCA.

She said that Ceasefire Code-of-Conduct ought to be included, so do the relocation of [Burma Army] troops in KNU [controlled] areas could be determined. Besides, in the ethnic nationalities areas, their status of self-governing authorities should be agreed and worked out, during the transitional period; that is the period between after NCA signing and political dialogue phase.

She further elaborates :“The signing of the agreement reached on the draft NCA will not bring any benefits if the draft agreement does not contain all the important issues. However, [as it stands] there will be more benefits for the government.”

She said: “There is no clear provision or procedure written in the NCA in order to amend or reword the 2008 Constitution. It is only stated that the issue will be discussed at the political dialogue level, there are no specific details.”

UNFC stand on NCA
Reliable, insider sources said that the UNFC held an emergency meeting from 11 to 13 April to reflect on the 5th NCA draft.

Accordingly, it was decided to push for NCA to include Ceasefire Code of Conduct, Joint Monitoring Committee; to stick to all-inclusive signatory stance of all EAOs; signing of NCA to include UN & ASEAN General Secretaries and 7 countries; actual nationwide ceasefire implementation on the ground, prior to NCA signing; Ceasefire area definition agreement – should include whole country, varying demarcation procedure according to individual party, to find common definition on unclearly defined vocabularies.

The meeting also decided that NCCT’s future role will be determined by the Ethnic Leaders’ Summit.

5th NCA Draft
The 5th NCA draft has 7 Chapters and 33 clauses. According to Aung Naing Oo of Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), “A careful analysis of the agreement reveals that 55 of the overall provisions are related to military matters while 35 points deal directly with political issues. The remaining points focus on various other issues aimed at strengthening ceasefires, such as confidence-building measures.”

The finalized draft, 7 steps roadmap agreed are:
1. Signing of the NCA
2. Negotiations and agreement on the Framework for Political Dialogue within 60 days after the NCA signing (Negotiations on Code of Conduct and Joint Monitoring Mechanism to be completed within 30 days)
3. Launching of the Political Dialogue within 90 days after the NCA signing
4. Convening of Union Peace Conference
5. Signing of Union Peace Accord (UPA)
6. Submission to the Union Assembly for approval
7. Implementation of the UPA

Words and terminologies
Debatable words and terminologies were, more or less, shelved or watered down to the benefit of the government, while the EAOs long-held political position, related to their aspirations, were compromised.

Three such words or terminologies, that need emphasizing are “national versus nationals or nationality versus nationalities”, usage of the word “Taw Hlan Ye – resistance or revolution”, and mentioning “Panglong spirit without Panglong promises”.

By accepting the word “national and nationality”, in a singular sense, the EAOs have capitulated and embraced the collective, common national identity of “Myanmar” imposed by the Burmese military, which they all along have resisted, by employing the usage of “nationals and nationalities”. In other words, the present forcefully enforced Republic of the Union of Myanmar and its corresponding imposed common, national identity “Myanmar”, without the consent or participation of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities, were accepted by the EAOs. Thus their all along held political posture that Burma is an multi-ethnic state, inhabited by a wide range of ethnic nationalities, and are still struggling to build their desired genuine federalism that is not yet completed, is being abandoned. In fact, for the time being, it should be taken that usage of “ethnic nationalities” is more appropriate and pragmatic in contemporary Burma’s political arena, for an all accepted common, national identity still has to be worked out, with all-inclusive participation and consent, after achieving the genuine federal system of governance. In short, a national identity imposed by the military has not taken roots, due to the failure of nation-building process, after all these years.

The usage of “Taw Hlan Ye”, which could be translated as “resistance or revolution”, in the NCA text is bitterly protested by the Burma Army (BA) for this implies the successive military regimes are oppressors and aggressors and the non-Burman ethnic nationalities are waging a war of resistance, a revolutionary war. But this is the reality and the UPWC, or rather the BA faction within it, agreed to the usage grudgingly, although it was agreed that it should not appear on the cover of the draft text.

As it turns out, the 5th NCA draft text did use the word “Taw Hlan Ye”, but not to in a sense the EAOs leadership has hoped for. They have wanted the regime to differentiate them from drug trafficking gangs and addressed them as dignified, revolutionary armies, as time and again, stated by Nai Hong Sar, the top NCCT negotiator.

One single word used in the 18 pages draft writes: “Understanding the ethnic armed organizations’ resistance/revolutionary based political aspirations, together with aimed, steadfast union spirit and those ethnic armed groups, that are eligible and ought to participate, sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement.” (Source: 5thNCA draft, Chapter 2, Clause 2 (d) – unofficial translation from Burmese text by the writer)

The formulation and its meaning is misleading and not at all clear, but would make sense if it is written “Understanding the ethnic armed organizations’ political aspirations based on resistance/revolution” . However, the text never once address or mention the EAOs as revolutionary armies, as desired by the ethnic leaders.

Again, mentioning “Panglong Spirit” only without “Panglong Promises”, in Chapter 1, Clause 1 (a), could be seen as giving up the long-held political legacy of all non-Burman ethnic nationalities, from the part of EAOs, that Panglong Promises, closely linked to the ethnic nationalities’ rights of self-determination, democracy and equality, have to be upheld, honored and is non-negotiable.

Panglong Promises
The 1947 Panglong Agreement underpinned the ethnic aspirations of democracy, rights of self-determination, equality and democracy, as could be seen by the three clauses included in the nine points accord.

They are:
The Frontier Areas will enjoy full autonomy in internal administration
Citizens of the Frontier Areas shall enjoy rights and privileges which are regarded as fundamental in democratic countries.
Financial autonomy vested in the Federated Shan States shall be maintained
In this conjunction, one of the now defunct Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) statement, on 12 February 2007, is also worth mentioning.

When the ethnic nationalities leaders met again for the second time in Panglong in February 1947, Bogyoke Aung San came to join them. He had been to London to negotiate with Prime Minister Atlee for Burma’s independence, which was conditional on the unification of the Frontier Areas with Burma. Based on Aung San’s promises of democracy, equality and self rule, the ethnic nationalities agreed to work together with Aung San’s interim government to form the Union of Burma. Some of the historical quotations are as follows:
“We stand for full freedom of all the races in our country, including those so-called Karenni states…” (Aung San, 14 January 1947 – The Times, London).
“If the Burmese receive one kyat, the Shan will also get one kyat.” (Aung San at Panglong, February 1947).

On how the inclusion of secession clause enshrined in 1948 Union of Burma Constitution come about was documented by Pangmu Shayi as below:-

Duwa Shan Lone recalled the exchanges that took place between the Nyaung Shwe Sawbwa (Prince of Yawnghwe) and Bogyoke Aung San thus:
Bogyoke: Sawbwa Gyi, let me put to rest all your concerns regarding union with Burma. Federated or not, your rights to secession will be honored. I would strongly urge you to join hands with us to form a union after we gain independence from the British.
Sao Shwe Thaike: Bogyoke, we the Sawbwas and the people of Shan States have complete trust in you, but we cannot say the same about the other Burmese leaders around you.
Bogyoke: I am glad to hear your expression of trust in me, but let me tell you this. Do not put your trust in man. Rather, trust the constitution that we will be drafting. I can assure you here and now, that all matters such as the right to secession and other safeguards you wish included in the constitution, will be fully addressed. So please join hands with us in the Constituent Assembly where further details will be discussed and thrashed out. (Source: Kachinland News – 20 April 2015)

Interpretation and approaches on federalism
Accordingly, the UNFC has total desire for all to pledge and sign an “Agreement relating to the establishment a Federal Union” together with the government led by President U Thein Sein, on the occasion of 68th Anniversary of the Union Day, which falls on February 12, 2015, to uphold the establishment of a Federal Union based on democratic rights and national states, with full national equality and self-determination, as yearned for by the entire people. The UNFC issues this position statement that by signing this Agreement together, the President and ethnic nationality leaders will further strengthen mutual trust and recommit to concluding the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement without delay. (Source: UNFC Statement 29 January 2015)

Thein Sein, however, rejected the UNFC proposal and come up with his own version of Deeds of Commitment.

In comparison, the Deeds of Commitment Statement, prepared and headed by President Thein Sein, doesn’t mention anything about Panglong Promises or legacy that has to be honored. One from five of the paragraphs writes:

“Aiming to safeguard sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity on the basis of the peace process; and building a Union based on democratic and federal principles in the spirit of Panglong and in accordance with the outcomes of Political Dialogue to ensure freedom, equality, justice and self-determination for all citizens”.(Source: Deeds of Commitment for Peace and National Reconciliation – Naypyidaw, 12 February 2015)

To sum up, the Panglong Promises are non-Burman ethnic nationalities’ political legacy, that is non-negotiable. To be more precise, the combination of 1947 Panglong Agreement – where ethnic and democratic rights are enshrined -, 1948 Union of Burma Constitution – where secession clause is explicitly promulgated, even though it is federal in structure but unitary in practice -, and 1961 Federal Proposal – which all the non-Burman nationalities seek to amend the constitution to ward off the then brewing, armed conflict and amend it to be federal – are the political aspirations of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities and as well, their political legacy, which still need to be materialized.

The USDP-Military regime tactics is, intentionally or unintentionally, to disregard the Panglong political legacy with vague “in accordance with the outcomes of political dialogue” statement, which could be anything less than the ethnic and democratic rights enshrined in the Panglong treaty. The diversified seven divisions/regions from one single entity “Burma Proper” created by the military regime, in 1974 Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) Constitution, presumably, to off set the veto power of non-Burman ethnic states, should the country become federal in the future; and implementation of a unitary system in BSPP and Military-drafted 2008 Constitutions were promulgated with aimed intention, to subordinate the non-Burmans ethnic nationalities under Burman-dominated regimes to come.

Conceptual difference on issue of armed conflict
As the name is NCA most clauses are concerned with ceasefire arrangement and rightly so. The hardest task seems to be drawing demarcation lines, to separate the respective confronting forces to a distance, so that actual ceasefire could be maintained.

The frequent armed clashes that have occurred even with those that the regime has signed union -level ceasefire agreement, like Shan State Army (SSA) South and Shan State Army (SSA) North, not to mention with the KIA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) that the regime still has not signed ceasefire, is due to the implementation of territorial gain and cleansing policy of the regime.

While the regime views its activities as trying to protect the country’s sovereignty, the EAOs see it as a war of aggression and occupation and that they are waging a just war of resistance. This conceptual difference is also a hindrance in resolving and implementing the actual ceasefire on the ground.

The original demand of the EAOs was the total withdrawal of the regime’s armies from ethnic homelands, before any peace deal could be started. But now they seem to have changed to a less rigid posture and are engaged in the peace process and the military should as well, be more flexible, by withdrawing its troops to their respective mothers’ units, or at least, to a safe distance without fuss. After all, these armed conflicts are occurring in ethnic homelands and the Burma army is conducting occupation offensives and not EAOs raiding or occupying Burma proper or Burmese heartland. Besides, the claim of sovereignty monopoly by the regime have never been accepted by the ethnic nationalities and all along maintained that it is a shared-sovereign, which the successive, Burman-dominated regime have hijacked and robbed them of their birthright legacy.

On top of this, the EAOs’ desire to include military code of conduct (CoC), Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), all-inclusive signing of NCA by all EAOs, and prior implementation of actual ceasefire on the ground, before ratifying the NCA draft.

Core principle issues swept under the carpet
But the most formidable task that has been swept under the carpet, with the reason of first signing the easily agreed parts and move on to harder agenda later, might be a smart approach, especially if practiced in personal and corporate conflict settings. But ethnic conflict, which stems from the basis of union formation between major ethnic groups, pertaining contractual obligation and corresponding violations of the treaty – Panglong Agreement or Accord – is something, much bigger and more sophisticated, to apply with such conflict resolution approach. For it has something to do with violation of contractual obligation, between states, and not just a household dispute, or mere internal conflict, that has to be settled between kinship. We should all be reminded that the Panglong Agreement involved, at least four political entities – Burma Proper, Federated Shan States, Kachin Hills and Chin Hills- that have previously nothing much to do with each other, but coming together voluntarily to achieve speedy independence from the British, through legally binding political contract, and form a new political entity, the Union of Burma, in 1947-48.

Originally, the NCCT position has been to at least secure a minimum commitment of national state-based federal setup, before signing the NCA. But the latest 5th NCA draft doesn’t include any of the Panglong political legacy and thus, it could be said that the NCCT has cut the preliminary deal, which would discussed about the political system in a later political dialogue phase, without even insisting to include the Panglong political legacy.

And as such, the discussion of Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) and Political Dialogue (PD) phases will be looking at the core issues of political system based on federalism and the reformation of the Burma Army. In other words, it would be the tackling the issue of “constitutional amendment or rewriting” directly or indirectly again, for it is this political settlement or decision made here that will determine, whether the peace process will succeed or fail. To put it differently, it will be the contest between the installing of genuine federalism in a true sense, spelled out by the ethnic nationalities and the watered down, consideration of Burman-dominated, unitary system with some federalism trappings, if the military mode of thinking all along and its recent statements on systemic governance are to be taken as indications.

As it now stands, the future and real political fight will not be avoidable, even if the 5th NCA could be ratified, as expected by the Thein Sein regime, but seems quite skeptical, from the part of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities.