As the nationwide elections draw nearer with each passing day, problems surrounding the country’s future seems to be accumulating rather than lessening, causing people to wonder if these developments will make the country a better place to live in.
Recent issues, the peace process debacle and the Myanmar Army’s military offensives, which are linked and currently making headlines need to be addressed.
As all know, on 15 October, the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) signing initiated by the government, was held, with pomp and ceremony, even though it was only a partial-ceasefire agreement, in contrast with a nationwide one.
But to ward off the incomprehensible stigma of the treaty, President Thein Sein in his opening speech said: “Although some organizations are currently not ready to sign, the government decided to conclude the NCA with the vanguard group of organizations that are ready to proceed with the signing.”
He further stressed: “However, we will continue with our efforts to bring the remaining organizations into the process. The door is open for them. Since the NCA is based on the terms that these organizations have negotiated and agreed to, the implementation of the NCA is in accordance with their intent. If requested by the remaining organizations, the government will coordinate and facilitate their participation in the various stages of the peace process.”
In an attempt to address a number of continuing problems and following the escalation of armed engagements, caused by the Myanmar Army, against the Shan, Kachin and Palaung resistance forces, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) had issued a statement on 10 October.
It accused the regime of not being sincerely committed to the peace process and playing “goodcop-bad-cop” by claiming “from a nationwide ceasefire to [the] resolution of political problem through negotiation peacefully”, But, actually, it is attacking some of the EAOs and at the same time soliciting the rest to sign the NCA.
The statement pointed out the fact that the Tatmadaw has escalated armed conflict with the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA), Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) and made probing attacks into Karen National Union (KNU) territory. These armed attacks are made to pressure the non-signing EAOs of the NCA to yield to the government’s demands.
It also alleged that the regime is reverting back to its “total annihilation” policy by waging war on the EAOs that have refused to sign and selectively inviting those who are keen to sign to destroy ethnic unity and impose its will.
On 8 October, the SSPP/SSA released a statement stating that the Tatmadaw attacked its positions around its headquarters Wan Hai, on the 5 October, and had deployed hundreds of troops.
The statement accused the regime of militarily pressuring the SSPP for its refusal to sign the NCA and pointed out that it is counter-productive to be engaged in such acts, on the eve of the NCA signing.
On 12 October, a second statement was released, emphasizing that it is not refusing to sign but only waiting for all-inclusive participation, when it will take part in the framing of political dialogue and discussion, including the signing of NCA.
Also, on 8 October, the RCSS released a statement which said that the RCSS has followed the NCA deliberations between the EAOs and the regime, which produced a draft that it is also in agreement with, and has decided to sign and cooperate to solve political problems by political means, through political dialogue, to achieve equal rights, self-determination and the building of a genuine democratic federal union.
Lt-General Yawd Serk of RCSS told news media that although he had reservations on whether armed conflict will totally stop after the signing of the NCA, he hoped that the regime would not take advantage of it just to win some votes in the elections and forget the building of genuine federalism.
In regards to the NCA signing, a number of well-known and influential public figures, including Aung San Suu Kyi, Hkun Htun Oo, U Aye Tha Aung and Min Ko Naing, who were invited by the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) didn’t attend the NCA signing ceremony because it wasn’t all-inclusive.
Hkun Htun Oo, Chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) said that he wouldn’t get involved in the signing, saying that that since not all ethnic groups are participating, it could not be seen as a nationwide ceasefire and besides, he didn’t want to tarnish his political dignity.
In September, Tatmadaw troops continued to clash with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) the Restoration Council Shan State/ Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), the Myanmar National Defense Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Sixty-seven clashes marked a nearly 650% increase in conflict from August.
Information Minister, U Ye Htut, told RFA, on 12 October, that the battles with the SSPP/SSA have nothing to do with the accusation of the regime pressuring the EAOs to sign the NCA, but rather for other reasons, like intrusion into government-controlled areas to extort the population, illegal logging or drug trafficking. It was these that pushed the military commander of the area to deal with them. He further said it is nonsense that the government has to resort to military pressure for it always has the military edge and that it is out of good will that the regime has started the peace process, in the first place.
Ultimately, the whole peace process debacle started when the Union Solidarity and Development Party-Military (USDP-Military) regime entered the peace process arena with a fixed idea of “negotiated surrender of the ethnic armed forces” to maintain its own ethnocentrism and power monopoly, while EAOs were hoping for “mutual cessation of hostilities” leading to equal power and resources sharing. This led to the main obstacle of establishing a common set of values necessary to build a national state-based federal union. And this is the core problem that has obstructed the peace-building process all along.
In reality, the two parties, the government and the EAOs, are not functioning on the same wavelength, with each interpreting the aspirations and values of each group in opposite and differing ways.
When the regime said building “a union based on democracy and federal system from the outcome of political discussions,” it could mean anything, from maintaining the present presidential unitary system, minimum devolution of power, maximum devolution of power, or fully-fledged federalism. But the military-dominated regime, if its past actions are any indication, will at the most be only ready to commit to a minimum devolution of power, within the present unitary system, perhaps with a federal veneer. A world far apart from the EAOs preferred national statebased federalism.
Thus, the major pitfall of the much touted NCA draft is its failure to establish national state-based federalism.
General Gun Maw, vice chief of staff of KIA, outlined the majority of the EAOs’ aspirations when he said some weeks ago that they were really ready to go into a serious political negotiation collectively and inclusively by toning down their core demand, so as to give political dialogue a better chance, leading to conflict resolution and reconciliation, even if the final NCA draft is not perfect and satisfactory to their liking. But the regime has stymied this by rejecting all-inclusivity, the one single demand that the EAOs could not concede.
The toning down of the core demand, although not spoken, is none other than the forsaking of “Panglong promises” and “national state-based federalism” in the NCA and going along with the government’s vague interpretation of “building a union based on democracy and a federal system through the outcome of political dialogue”.
It should be noted that “Panglong promises” and establishing a genuine federal union have been a cornerstone and non-negotiable position for the ethnic nationalities all along and they have even toned this down for the sake of finding a solution with the military ruling clique.
Such being the case, the majority of the EAOs were reluctant to ink the NCA from the outset and this distrust escalated when the regime rejected all-inclusiveness.
Added to this, military pressure applied on the KIO/KIA, SSPP/SSA and PSLF/TNLA only leads to more animosity and heightening of armed engagement instead of bringing them into the NCA fold. The regime cannot expect this regime initiated, half-baked, NCA which is just a partial-ceasefire agreement to morph into a real comprehensive, nationwide agreement.
Perhaps, the best way to come out of this deadlock for the regime is to reassess its unspoken doctrine of ethnocentrism and military supremacy and replace it with political good will based on national equality, democracy and rights of self-determination as called for by most stakeholders and the people at large.
This Article first appeared in the October 22, 2015 edition of Mizzima Weekly.
Mizzima Weekly is available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at www.mzineplus.com