The Irrawaddy

‘If an Ethnic Group is Excluded, We Can’t Say the Peace Process is Complete’

Kyaw Kha: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we discuss the latest developments in Myanmar’s peace process. Vice-chairman Ko Myo Win of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), and political and ethnic affairs analyst U Than Soe Naing join me for the discussion. I’m The Irrawaddy Burmese edition chief reporter Kyaw Kha.

U Than Soe Naing, which stage has Myanmar’s peace process reached? Considering the fresh clashes, is it reversing or has it stalled?

Than Soe Naing: For the time being, it is fair to say that the peace process has stalled. The [third session of] the Union Peace Conference—21st Century Panglong—has been put off three times now. The government said that it would be held in early May, but the preconditions have not been fulfilled. There is a big hurdle facing signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) holding national-level political dialogue. This problem has not yet been solved. And as long as this problem remains unsolved, there is no way the third session of the 21st Panglong Conference can be held. I don’t know whether I would call this stalled or in reverse, but clashes are still going on between the Northern Alliance and the military. Overall, the peace process is stalled rather than making progress, and there is a need for greater efforts.

KK: Ko Myo Win, why do you think has this happened?

Myo Win: The peace process is broad, and there are two main parts — cooperation between NCA signatories and the government on implementation of the NCA, and secondly, negotiations between non-signatories and the government, as total inclusiveness is vital for the peace process. Assessing both parts, (progress has) not been satisfactory, but has stalled, as U Than Soe Naing has assessed. The implementation of the NCA has stalled, and so has the communication and negotiation between NCA non-signatories and the government. But then, it is notable that the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) recently signed the NCA, which had already been signed by eight ethnic groups. The peace process is based on the NCA. But signing the NCA is not the end. It is just a step to solve political problems through dialogue.

KK: You belong to an NCA signatory group. As everyone knows, there are obstacles to implementing the NCA for the time being. What are the major hurdles?

MW: There are three parts to implementing the NCA. The first is to make sure no more clashes happen. The Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC) was formed to handle this. Another part is the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), which is responsible for holding the Union Peace Conference. The third part concerns implementation of plans during the period from the ceasefire to the peace conference, which has not yet been done. There are problems with all parts. Even two years after forming the JMC, not all the provisions of the NCA have been implemented, such as deployment of troops and designation of territories. Because of this, there were clashes with the RCSS [Restoration Council of Shan State], and more recently with the KNU [Karen National Union]. This shows that the JMC can’t still be implemented according to the NCA. When there are military problems, political problems also arise since they impact each other. When there is political trust and agreement, there will be military trust. But, there have still been no significant results in the political dialogue.

KK: What is the cause of this? Is it the problem of the military or the government or the ethnic armed groups?

MW: It depends on various factors. Mainly, the political landscape had changed since the 2015 election. Under the U Thein Sein government, the government and Tatmadaw were considered to be the same entity. But under the government of the National League for Democracy (NLD), they are not on the same side. There is also a problem with relations among the ethnic armed groups. Under the U Thein Sein government, ethnic groups formed the NCCT [Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team] and SDs [Senior Delegations] to hold talks with the government. After the NCA was launched, the ethnic armed groups could be divided into two groups — NCA signatories and non-signatories. They were further divided into the bloc of eight NCA signatories, and UNFC [United Nationalities Federal Council] and the Northern Alliance. So, there are different blocs among the ethnic armed groups. This is also a problem for the peace process.

KK: Talking of the peace process, we can’t leave out the FPNCC [Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee] led by the UWSA [United Wa State Army]. What are the barriers for them to join the peace process?

TSN: The FPNCC rejected signing the NCA, saying it would take a different route from the NCA. This has made it difficult for both the government and Tatmadaw to continue the peace process. Zhao Guo-ann, the head of the UWSA delegation to the second session of the Panglong Conference, said that they would take a different path because the NCA signatories had experienced troubles and they did not consider the NCA as comprehensive.

Though the FPNCC talked about a different political approach to the NCA, their approach is 70 percent the same as the NCA. They would attend the 21st Century Panglong Conference and participate in political dialogue.

KK: But without signing the NCA.

TSN: Yes, that is the problem. They don’t oppose the NCA, but would take a different approach. They also want to participate in the 21st Century Panglong and hold national-level political dialogue as stated in the NCA roadmap. So, we can’t say they are totally against the NCA. But we all understand that not opposing the NCA is different from accepting the NCA. But the problem is that NCA non-signatories are barred from attending the 21st Century Panglong Conference. This has caused problems for the Wa and for Mongla [National Democratic Alliance Army]. They didn’t participate in negotiating, drafting or signing the NCA. But, they had already signed a Union-level ceasefire agreement. That Union-level agreement is enough for a ceasefire, and the NCA is another step for peace. But, as NCA non-signatories they are not allowed to join the peace process, which has created a problem for the FPNCC.

KK: Now NCA signatories like the RCSS, Arakan Liberation Party [ALP], and New Mon State Party [NMSP] have had troubles in holding public consultations prior to the national-level political dialogue. As the national-level political dialogue could not be held, the 21st Century Panglong has been put off several times. What is the likelihood of the 21st Century Panglong Conference being held without political dialogue? Signatories will have nothing to discuss at the Panglong Conference if the political dialogue is not held.

MW: That’s why I said there is a need to review the negotiation process. There are different negotiation methods in the peace processes used by international countries. And we have to adopt a method that fits our country. Maybe you have noticed that the Northern Alliance expressed their stance in the second session of the Panglong Conference. Their negotiation method is simple: Only ethnic armed groups and the government can hold political dialogue, and there is no national-level political dialogue [to be organized by ethnic armed groups in their regions as stated in the NCA]. Political parties will not be involved. The talks will be between the ethnic armed groups and the government only. Then any agreement will be submitted to the Union Parliament for approval. Then, they will amend the [2008] Constitution as necessary. This is the negotiation method proposed by the Northern Alliance. But according to the NCA, national-level political dialogue must be held with the participation of the public, and the results will be sent to and discussed by the working committee of the UPDJC, and then the Union Accord will be signed. But what has happened is the peace process is now stuck over the negotiation method. The problem is not yet about political disagreements over federalism and democracy, but still about how the political negotiations should be held. The problem is still about the process and not yet about the substance. Nothing has been discussed yet, and the process is stuck in disagreement over negotiation methods. Frankly speaking, I think there is a need to review how the political negotiation should be held.

KK: As everyone knows, the peace process has failed to make progress under the NLD-led government as was expected. Given the current situation, the trend is not good. What preconditions are needed for the peace process to move forward smoothly? For example, agreement between the military and the government or tripartite talks? What do you think?

MW: First of all, it needs the clashes to end. It needs trust to be built with both NCA signatories and non-signatories. Political dialogue will not be successful without trust. Clashes break out as trust is being built. For non-signatories to sign the NCA, first of all, they must have trust in the NCA. But as U Than Soe Naing has pointed out, even the NCA signatories are reviewing the implementation of the NCA. It is worse for NCA non-signatories. The most important thing is the clashes must end, and the government must negotiate thoroughly to halt the clashes. After the clashes stop, political agreement on the NCA must be strictly and systematically implemented. The pledges made during negotiation for the NCA must be fulfilled. The problem is that agreements on the NCA have not yet been implemented.

KK: What is the precondition for peace process to make progress under the NLD-led government?

TSN: The peace process has stalled as NCA signatories are not satisfied with the implementation of the NCA. What is more important is we need to find an opportunity to hold talks with the FPNCC. As I’ve said, they don’t oppose the NCA, but they want to participate in the 21st Century Panglong. And we need to create a setting for them to join the peace process. Restriction won’t work. No matter which group is excluded, the peace process will never end. Especially, if an ethnic group is excluded, we can’t say the peace process is complete. [The military] is still clashing with five ethnic armed groups in northern Myanmar. We need to remove all those obstacles that restrict them from joining the peace process. The FPNCC said they would meet the government together as a group. But the government insists it will only meet them separately. It is not a political problem, but a problem of negotiation method. If [the government] can change that, talks can be held with the Wa and Mongla as well as the KIO [Kachin Independence Organization]. For that to happen, first of all, there must be a ceasefire. Military operations and clashes must halt. The key to this is a frank discussion between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is leading the peace process, and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who is the chief of the Tatmadaw. I think there are problems with the national-level political dialogue because there is no frank discussion between them. The national-level political dialogue is a mandatory part of the NCA. But when political dialogue is held, the Tatmadaw has raised objections in several places, and then general administration departments have followed suit. Public consultations are a mandatory step. Without them, [the discussions at the 21st Century Panglong] are meaningless. But there are doubts and mistrust about implementation of the NCA. And it is the responsibility of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing to handle them. If the two discuss those issues frankly, I believe the way the peace process is being implemented now can be changed so that it can move forward.

KK: Thank you for your contributions!