Tuesday, July 28, 2015

NATIONWIDE CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT: More of a stalemate than progress?

July 25, 2015

Media and some optimistic leaders from Ethnic Armed Organizations-Senior Delegation (EAOs-SD) and Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) have been hailing that the recent peace talks as a success and that the finalizing and signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) is just a step away, might be a bit overwhelming positive, for at best the situation now is only a “ stalemate ”, if one would take the pains of interpreting the outcomes and remaining unresolved issues that are still left to be iron out.

The UPWC and SD came up with a joint statement, dated 24 July, that stated the meeting took place at Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), in Yangon, from 22 to 24 July; have negotiated and discussed the EAOs’ amended proposal of 31 March NCA draft; have agreed to meet again to resume the talks within the first week of August; and vowed to finalize and sign the NCA together, to achieve long-lasting peace.

According to BBC, Burmese Section, on 23 July, 10 points have been touched, of which 5 are amendments alteration of words that don’t change the meaning, while the other 5 are conveniently pushed on to appendix part as meeting decisions, which means the parties may or may not touch the issues.*

The remaining 3 are all-inclusiveness of all EAOs signing the document; participation list of signatories from regime and EAOs to NCA, and list of international observers and witnesses to the NCA, that still need to be negotiated.

However, DVB on 24 July reported, in addition to the remaining 3 points above that “ security reintegration, securing endorsement of the parliament – on Union Accord -, and land use and natural resources issues ”, still need to be discussed, which the SD would talk over with the EAOs’ leaders, before the NCA text could be smooth-out.

Security reintegration is taken by the regime’s side as Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), which is interpreted by the EAOs as “negotiated surrender”, but the SD prefers to implement Security Sector Reform (SSR) that would facilitate the reform of the present Bama-dominated, Burma Army to become Federal Union Army. According to SHAN report of 23 July, there was a heated debate on the issue for the ethnic wanted to include SSR in the main NCA text, while the UPWC didn’t see eye-to-eye with the proposal. As a result, the pending issue would be discussed again in the forthcoming meeting, probably, within the first week of August.

The EAOs have decided to leave out “reintegration” and addressed as only “security” issue. The reason is that it could either be surrender or integration of the EAOs forces into the Burma Army. And as such could become a problem in further interpretation.**

In securing the endorsement of the “Union Accord”, which might be formulated later, if the peace talks move forward and all goes well, at the parliament, the EAOs proposed to insert a paragraph, that writes: “It is decided that it means, in endorsing the Union Accord to become law, the Assembly of the Union may not in any way refuse, reject and make postponement.” This also doesn’t sit well with the UPWC and needs to be ironed out in the upcoming meeting. Signing a “Union Accord” or “Pyidaungsu Accord” is the second last step, in NCA’s seven steps roadmap.

The reason the EAOs insisted upon such a clarification or definition is to outline the importance of how it considers the parliament from ethnic point of view. Although the reason was not spelled out, it is clear that they see the parliament, executive and military as a combined unit, which identifies itself with the Bama ruling clique. And as such, the said entity personifies the Bama mass, in official sense, if not popularly supported by the majority. On top of that the SD has openly declared that it doesn’t accept the military-drafted 2008 Constitution. Thus, the endorsement of “Union Accord ” must be taken as a treaty between the Bama representative government and ethnic states, which resembles the Panglong Agreement of 1947, where General Aung San signed the agreement on behalf of the Bama ethnic group or Burma Proper with the ethnic nationalities.

Another unresolved issue is the interim period arrangement. Since the transition time span could be long there are things that need to be worked out in cooperation or jointly between the two negotiating parties. In this respect, the EAOs have included an issue in the NCA text, which concerns “Land use and natural resources management”. This means, the hitherto regime sole responsible area of decision will have to be shared with the EAOs.

Thus the core issue of constitutional amendment or rewriting it anew is again pushed to the forefront, that the regime is so eager to procrastinate. But the regime did pulled through the amendment voting that ended all hope of power devolution and reasonable amendment, to push the country forward, for the military had blocked all the meaningful amendment proposals with its 25% veto vote. As any proposal amendment needs to overcome the 75% voting threshold, in order to sail through the first motion in the parliament.

The DDR-SSR, securing endorsement of the parliament regarding Union Accord,  and demanding joint-administration and cooperation of land use and natural resources in ethnic areas issues are aimed at achieving “shared sovereignty”, rather then just accepting the sole ownership of it by the military-dominated regime. This in turn triggered the ethnic nationalities’ demand of equality, democracy and rights of self-determination, within the mold of a genuine federalism.

Another important clause in the NCA draft has also been relented by the EAOs-SD, which should be a matter of principle for the ethnic nationalities to adhere to and pushed through to obtain genuine federalism.

On 12 February 2015, “ Deed of Commitment for Peace and National Reconciliation Statement ”, a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding, was signed by four Ethnic Armed Groups, some ethnic academics, some ethnic political parties, including 29 Ethnic Affairs Ministers, the Government (led by the President and his two VPs), Hluttaw, Tatmadaw, and political parties.

The first point of the statement 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.”

The same phrase “in accordance with the outcomes of Political Dialogue” is also included in the NCA latest draft of 31 March 2015, which the EAOs failed to correct. The EAOs’ leadership summit meeting at Law Khee Lah, from 2 to 9 June 2015, has accepted the phrase, as it is, even though it was rejected by many of its members. General Mutu Say Poe, Chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU), headed team, which was entrusted to rule on issues that were stalemated, reportedly decided not to alter the phrase.

When one looks at the said phrase generally, it seems quite reasonable. But if read between the lines, from the outcomes of political dialogue could mean from retaining the present presidential unitary system of governance, minimum or maximum devolution of political power within the mold of presidential unitary system to fully fledged federal union government. And by failing to buttress the demand of federalism based on national states, as envisioned by the founding forefathers of the union, in the NCA, the EAOs might have softened their stand unnecessarily, which could have far more complication than have anticipated, in future political negotiation with the regime.

The recent constitutional amendment debacle and the refusal to compromise on the NCA deliberation in Yangon indicated that  the regime is committed to its power monopoly and leading position, as has been the case for 53 years.

Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing has repeatedly been voicing his intention of “ total surrender ” of the EAOs as the sole way out for the betterment of the country. He again reiterated his hardliner position, in his interview with the BBC, on 20 July 2015. In the interview, he confirmed that the military will be present at all political decision-making level for as long as necessary, until there is peace within the country, and that this could take from five to ten years, depending upon the situation. To put it differently, until all EAOs lay down their arms and demobilize, the Burma Army or Tatmadaw will be around to take the lead in political arena.

Last, but not least, the attacks on Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) and Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) in Northern Shan and Kachin states even during the peace talks in Yangon, from 22 to 24 July, is a stark reminder that the military is not keen to accommodate peaceful solution, in a fair and equal manner. The military has also conducted offensives recently against Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), in Karen state.

The hurdles that the EAOs have to overcome, at the negotiation table and as well, the armed engagement with the regime’s forces, despite state-level and union-level ceasefire agreements, are many and the military-dominated regime keep raising the bar higher. One concerned ethnic observer said: “If the EAOs-SD continues to give in too much, so that a compromise could be reached, they might soon find themselves with no space to even stand.”

To sum up the present situation, this stalemate situation could be only overcome, if the regime’s side, particularly if the Tatmadaw would change its mindset. No amount of propaganda that the military is already a union army and proclamation of sole ownership of country’s sovereignty could justify its military occupation and suppression of the ethnic homelands. Even more so, to proclaim that the military will take the lead in all political and social lives under the pretext of “national unity ” and lack of peace, which in its point of view is “total surrender” of all EAOs. Ethnic conflicts have been going on for decades, with no one winning, at the expense of the country and its people. As such, the military needs to question its position of “self-appointed savior” and turn a new leaf to really serve the people, so that the country could move forward. Otherwise, all parties concerned will never be able to get out of this vicious circle of violence and achieve reconciliation. It is as simple as that.

Note by editor
According to the NCA draft:
*On decisions made outside the NCA text, “In implementing this agreement, in line with respective categories and subjects, we agree to include the implementation of all agreed meeting minutes and decisions struck between the two parties, which are adopted during the negotiations for the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.”

** Meeting Decision #23: “We agree that concepts concerning security related reintegration and procedures will be continued to be discussed.”