The Myanmar peace process is so complicated and involves so many actors that even those involved in the process sometimes turn to the Myanmar Peace Monitor Reference Guide to find out what is happening.
The third issue of the Guide has just been published. It is an invaluable and comprehensive reference volume for anyone who wants to know how the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) is progressing.
The two previous editions were published in March 2013 and May 2014.
The book, published in Myanmar and English, is an in depth guide to the ongoing peace process in Myanmar. It details all those involved in the process, including ethnic, government, non-governmental and international actors. Not only does it help those who confuse their KNLP with their NMSP with a handy guide to all the acronyms, it also goes into much more in-depth detail. The second half of the guide is taken up with profiles of all the groups and organisations involved in the peace process, from the largest ethnic organisations to the smallest and most obscure groups.
It also covers how the peace process has progressed since the last edition covering topics like battle clashes between the Myanmar army and ethnic armed organisations (EAOs); the various meetings held by all the groups involved in the peace process; factors affecting the progress of the peace process; the role of international actors, community based organisations (CBOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs).
Since the first edition was published the Guide has become an invaluable reference for journalists, academics, NGO workers, embassy staff and anyone involved or interested in the peace process. It can be used to find out very specific pieces of information about the peace process or read in more depth to give those new to the peace process a comprehensive overview of the situation.
Myanmar members of parliament have even requested copies of the Guide.
The Guide is published by Burma News International (BNI) a media network with a membership of 13 ethnic news organisations. As well as the Peace Monitor book BNI also has a Peace Monitor website in English and an ethnic news website in Myanmar and English that carries a selection of the member agencies’ news. It also hosts an annual ethnic media conference and runs workshops for journalists amongst other things.
Though the Guide is published by BNI it is actually compiled and written by Sai Leik, an ethnic Shan from Kachin State who has also written all the previous editions of the Guide.
Having worked on the guide for almost the entire NCA negotiations he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the peace process and probably knows more about it than anyone else not actually taking part in the NCA negotiations.
He has given talks about the progress of the NCA to academics at conferences, and different embassy officials regularly call into the BNI office to consult him about aspects of the peace process.
Fortunately Sai Leik is friendly and talkative and loves nothing more than imparting his accumulated knowledge to anyone who has an interest in the peace process.
These characteristics and his obvious passion for and knowledge about the entire peace process have helped him gain the trust of the many people involved in the process who give him valuable and sometimes exclusive information that he can include in the Guide.
Before coming to Thailand 15 years ago Sai Leik had personal experience of what being an EAO member is like. He was in Kachin State with the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) before walking all the way through Shan State with his ABSDF colleagues, after the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), who were sheltering them, signed a ceasefire with the government in 1994. Eventually, when he reached southern Shan State he ended up joining the Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) armed group. This has given him a good idea of what the situation on the ground in ethnic areas can really be like.
He joined BNI in 2005 working part-time as a translator whilst he was studying at university in Bangkok. He then started working full time for BNI in 2010 when he worked on their election report before working on their 2012 by-election report.
He explained that originally the Peace Monitor had been a website, which was started by an independent researcher from Hong Kong called Donna Ong in early 2012 while she was studying for her PhD at Yale.
She ran the website from 2012 to early 2013, but she did not have the time to continue so Sai Leik and BNI took over the website in early 2013.
Sai Leik has continued to update the Peace Monitor website since then. Now, the website has also become a repository for information about the ceasefire process. It has many categories including the peace process, the background to the peace process, stakeholders in the process and a record of the conflict and violence that has happened whilst the peace negotiations have been taking place.
The most active part of the website is the Peace Monitoring Dashboard. For each calendar month it records conflicts, peace meetings, peace agreements made, aid pledges and the number of new IDPs. At the end of the month all the data from that month is collated and that month’s figures and peace process activity is added to the Monitoring Archive, which goes back to May 2013.
The website also has links to news articles about the peace process published by month.
The Dashboard and list of articles are an essential resource for anyone who needs to know how the peace process was unfolding at any given time.
Sai Lek said that soon after taking over the Peace monitor website he and the management at BNI came up with the idea of producing the more in-depth Peace Process Reference Guide book.
According to Sai Leik the first book was well received and there was a lot of interest in it. He said: “The Library of Congress took our book, some embassies in Yangon, many NGOs and the MPC (Myanmar Peace Centre).”
The book was also well received by those involved in the peace process many of whom were prepared to give their opinions.
He said: “At the beginning of our project after we published the first book we got a lot of feedback. Some said it was good, some said you need to do more research.”
For the next book he said: “We tried to research more and more and got better and better and also the EAOs participated more to give us information.”
The Guide contains more information about the peace process than any other publication and Sai Leik works hard to gather that information and ensure it is accurate.
He has many sources of information. These include interviews with ethnic leaders and MPC officials, reporters and even Facebook, which is a very popular source of news inside Burma, though sometimes the accuracy of news on Facebook can be questionable.
Sai Leik is very aware of this and strives to ensure accuracy. He said: “We have to check the sources and information. For example if I saw something on Facebook I have to check with my friends in the field.”
He said ascertaining exactly what happened and how many people died in fighting between the army and ethnic groups can be hard because neither side wants to admit how many casualties they suffered, so often they will say there were no casualties or give a figure lower than the true figure.
Again, Sai Leik will do his best to confirm exactly what happened. He said: “We have to confirm with our field reporters, though sometimes they are not reporters. Sometimes they are villagers or hospitals or police stations. We have to check with other sources.”
Because the Guide will only publish confirmed information it is likely that there are more casualties and fighting than what appears in the Guide.
Sai Leik said: “Most of them [the Myanmar Army and EAOs] don’t want to give out casualty numbers so we can only confirm some numbers, so really they must be higher than our recorded numbers.”
But now just after the release of the third edition of the Guide the NCA was finally signed on 15 October, though it was only signed with eight ethnic armed groups.
Sai Leik said that it was not really a nationwide ceasefire because it was “incomplete”. He also does not think many others will be fooled by this NCA signing.
He said: “The government is still using the [term] NCA, but many people see that it is not really nationwide because only eight groups participated in the NCA, so many people will say it is incomplete, but the government is still using [the term] NCA and many criticise them for that.”
When asked if this would be the last edition of the book now that an NCA has been signed Sai Leik laughed.
He said: “The ceasefire has taken from 2011 to now, four years, but implementation will be a lot longer than that because they have to discuss a lot of issues, for instance: the federal issue, administrative issues and natural resource issues.”
The Myanmar Peace Monitor website can be found at: http://mmpeacemonitor.org/