Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘Prospects For Peace Are Not Good’

By The Irrawaddy 29 July 2017

Ye Ni: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we discuss the latest developments in Shan and Kachin states and their impacts on politics and the country’s peace process. The Irrawaddy news crew members Ko Kyaw Kha and Ma Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint join me to discuss this. I’m Irrawaddy Burmese editor Ye Ni.

Speaking of the latest developments in the peace process in Shan State, Lt-Gen Yawd Serk of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) has said that the prospects for peace now look dim. Shan politicians raised objections when they were asked to promise not to secede at the recent talks on federalism. U Harn Yawnghwe, a Shan politician living abroad and the son of [Myanmar’s first president] Sao Shwe Thaik, was blacklisted [from entry to Myanmar]. And clashes have recurred between government troops and the SSA-S, though it has signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

The news reports we’ve heard about Shan State are more and more discouraging. Ko Kyaw Kha, do you agree with what Lt-Gen Yawd Serk has said? And you’ve talked to the Shan politicians who attended a recent discussion in Thailand’s Chiang Mai. What did you hear from them?

DATELINE IRRAWADDY: This week, The Irrawaddy discusses developments in Shan and Kachin states and their impacts on the peace process.

Posted by The Irrawaddy – English Edition on Friday, July 28, 2017

Kyaw Kha: The Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU)—composed of Shan political parties, particularly the SNLD (Shan Nationalities League for Democracy) and SNDP (Shan Nationalities Democratic Party), and Shan armed groups SSA-N and SSA-S, and Shan local civil society organizations—planned to hold a meeting in Chiang Mai. The committee’s main objective is to engage in Shan national politics and promote the rights of ethnic Shan people. However, the military attaché of the Myanmar Embassy in Thailand banned their meeting. So, the meeting was disrupted. They think their meeting was banned because one of the participants, the SSPP [Shan State Progress Party, the political wing of the SSA-N], is not an NCA signatory, as well as because of the news that U Harn Yawnghwe would attend the meeting, and because [the government] did not want to see political solidarity among Shan stakeholders. Currently, there have been renewed clashes between the RCSS [Restoration Council of Shan State—the political wing of the SSA-S] and the Tatmadaw. The RCSS held talks on this issue with joint ceasefire monitoring committees at state and Union levels, but there is still no clear answer. Both the RCSS and the Tatmadaw said clashes took place because there are still no clear lines of demarcation between the territories of the two sides.

YN: Let’s talk about Kachin State. As you know, there have been clashes in Kachin State since 2011. Though they are not that frequent today, there are still sporadic clashes. The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) was previously leading the ethnic alliance United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), but has partnered with the United Wa State Army (UWSA) now. This has upset ethnic allies and raises question among them and the Kachin people about the KIO’s leadership role. We have covered a report about KIO leadership as analysts have said that the political views of KIO leaders differ from one another. I’ve heard that the KIO leaders explained their stances and political developments in Kachin State at a meeting in Laiza. What will be the future political steps of KIA [Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of KIO]?

Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint: Kachin people have criticized the KIO’s switch from the UNFC to the FPNCC (Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee) led by the UWSA. They criticize out of their concerns about the uncertainties over political developments in Kachin. They asked if the KIO would not try for peace. But from July 15-17, the KIO invited people’s representatives from inside and outside the country, community leaders, and locals to Laiza and explained their political shift. They explained that the UNFC had reached a dead end, and that Kachin was hit hard as the KIA has lost many outposts and hills in the large-scale assaults by the military since August 2016, and displaced persons had had to flee from place to place.

They explained that they had no other choices but to cooperate with UWSA to demand federalism and ethnic rights from the government. According to KIO leaders, some people understood the KIO’s decision after the explanation, though they criticized KIO before, and they said that they would wait and see to what extent the KIO leaders can do this.

Another criticism is that there are divisions in the party. KIA spokespersons and sources close to them have said that there are groups who have moderate views and want to hold talks on the NCA with the government, as well as groups who want to demand autonomy and ethnic rights together with the UWSA. Chinese analysts have said that Gen Gun Maw, who continuously engaged in the peace process with U Thein Sein’s government, has moderate views, and Gen N’Ban La is a hardliner who would demand autonomy for Kachin State. Sources close to the KIA said that there are always members who have different views in a family, but that the divisions do not amount to a power struggle; and that the ones who have greater support from Kachin locals will take the leading role in engaging in the peace process with the government. Gen N’Ban La has cooperated with UWSA as it is also pressing the same demand—autonomy.  Again, there have been continuous clashes between the military and the Arakan Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Kokang group in northern Shan State. So, from a geopolitical perspective, the KIA feels unsafe remaining a member of the UNFC. For these reasons, the KIA has decided to cooperate with UWSA.

YN: It can be said that the main stakeholders in peace process now are the military, the NLD (National League for Democracy) government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the UWSA and ethnic armed groups based in northern Myanmar, the CSSU or Shan political forces, UNFC—the ethnic alliance of NCA non-signatories—and the eight NCA signatory groups, including the KNU (Karen National Union). And Lt-Gen Yawd Serk said peace prospects look dim. Ko Kyaw Kha, how do you think these players will end the show on the peace process stage?

KK: As we have consistently covered the peace process, what we see is that the prospects for peace for the time being are not good. The peace process is down. In the case of the joint ceasefire monitoring committees, discussions have stalled as territories haven’t been designated yet [between the military and ethnic armed groups].

We can look at the peace talks with NCA non-signatories as two parts—groups led by UNFC in the southern part of Myanmar and groups led by the UWSA in northern part. The northern groups want to hold talks with the government as a bloc under the name of FPNCC. But the government has said that it would only meet with them separately. So, there is no negotiation at all. Despite the fact that China is mediating, the two sides still have not been able to meet, and discussions could not take place.

In the case of the UNFC, it has insisted that it would hold talks based on the nine points it has presented to the government; and the government is set to meet the UNFC next week.  But there are no talks between the government and the other stakeholders. In the case of the NCA signatories, some of them have not been able to hold a national-level political dialogue, and there is no progress in discussions about the renewed clashes between the government and NCA signatory groups [like the SSA-S]. NCA signatories are now just reviewing their dissatisfactions at 21st Century Panglong. There is almost no progress in the peace process, except that the UNFC will meet the government next week. It is suffice to say that the prospects look dim. That’s why SSA’s Lt-Gen Yawd Serk said that 2017 won’t be the year of peace at all, as was claimed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Htin Kyaw.

YN: So, it seems that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has shifted her focus to the issue of IDPs (internally displaced persons), as the peace process has reached an impasse. She has met with the KBC (Kachin Baptist Convention) recently. Ma Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint, what have you heard about the meeting?

NLHP: They held talks for an hour and a half on July 24. They had some discussions about peace, but according to those who attended the meeting, before the second session of the 21st Century Panglong conference, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged Kachin leaders in Myitkyina to sign the NCA. But as it didn’t happen, this time she asked KBC leaders if they would help children in areas controlled by the KIA to be able to go to school, and that the government would cooperate with the KBC.

The talks also focused on cooperation in returning IDPs to their homes. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi asked what the barriers were in peace process, and KBC leaders replied that the assaults of Tatmadaw were barriers to peace, and they urged her government to handle this seriously. And she replied that as the government was still trying to amend the 2008 Constitution, they only had formal relations with the Tatmadaw according to the Constitution, and the government therefore was not in a position to exercise direct control over Tatmadaw. She said the government wouldn’t neglect the Kachin and the IDP issue, and the two sides agreed to cooperate on those issues as well as on the peace process.

YN: Thank you for your contributions!