Ethnic Issues

Aung Min: ‘I Will Continue My Peace Work’

By Nyein Nyein 25 February 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burma’s chief peace negotiator and the head of the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), Aung Min, recently held a series of meetings with leaders of ethnic armed groups in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. The outgoing president’s office minister spoke with The Irrawaddy, at the tail end of his visit, about his recent discussions with Aung San Suu Kyi, what he envisions for the future of the MPC, and his plans to establish a new organization focused on building peace.

As an experienced peace negotiator heading the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) and the Union Peacemaking Working Committee, will you stay involved in the peace process?

 I would like to focus on our MPC, [which is] a necessary organization… Myanmar has not had national reconciliation before, even though it is necessary for our country. We cannot move forward to nation building without peace. Thus, we must engage in peace building, which is the MPC’s priority. The journey has reached this far: we were able to sign the [nationwide ceasefire agreement, or NCA] with eight armed groups. The remaining armed groups have also agreed to the NCA text. The only reason they could not sign is because of [demands for] all-inclusiveness.

When you recently met with Aung San Suu Kyi, did you discuss an ongoing role for the MPC?

I met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi twice. When we met, she said the MPC should continue to exist as it is and [asked me] to help her regarding the peace process, if necessary. This is exactly what she said. She also wants peace and expressed that she wants the MPC to keep going.

Although you were asked to help out in the future, when the new government comes in, your position may be changed. Do you feel you would lose the work that you initiated?

There is so much more to do in the peace process. The process is taking longer due to the lack of manpower and those who are in the process also lack experience. We can still be involved in the peace process wherever we are, whether the MPC still exists or not… We will help to work for peace, therefore, I told [Suu Kyi] that I would help in any way necessary.

How do you respond to criticism of the MPC in terms of funding and its approach to the peace process?

Firstly, we could not do anything without money. Before the help from international organizations, we had to spend our own money. We need to spend money for travel and for the countless negotiation meetings. Later, the international organizations started to support us, as they believed in our work. When they do that, we cannot use the funding without [conditions]. They have internal audit teams who review our proposals and implementation work. Not only us but other organizations are also receiving funds from international organizations. It is not proper to say that the MPC misused international support. They support us until the end of March [2016]. We will have to stand on our own feet later.

Will you separately establish a peace foundation, as has been speculated?

I value peace a lot and I want my country to benefit from it. For Myanmar, it is key, as without peace, we cannot continue… to develop as well as [pursue] national reconciliation. Therefore, I will continue peace building wherever I am. I am thinking to form a peace foundation, like a think-tank. As an independent foundation, we could point out if there is any wrongdoing, either by the government, by the opposition or by the ethnic [armed groups]. Then, we could lend our help whenever they need it. Thus, we are preparing to establish a foundation.

Will plans to form a peace foundation continue if you were to keep working as head of the MPC under the new government?

I have decided that I would continue it [regardless]. Whether the new government will ask me or not depends on them. There could be limitations if they do. [People] think that many stakeholders have put all their efforts into the peace process. But the process has been mainly driven by the current president Thein Sein, Aung Min and the MPC. I have negotiated with the ethnic groups and the president assumes accountability for the negotiations I have done. Thus, the peace process was able to move forward. I am not sure whether the new government will do the same as Thein Sein has. If they do, the peace process will keep going. If not, I will face difficulties. Therefore, it would be difficult for me to dedicate myself to it as before. Thus I said I would help from the sidelines.

What other plans do you have, apart from establishing the peace foundation?

I will not be able to dedicate myself fully to the affairs of the country. But I will be supporting from the outside. For the peace building to be sustained, we must think of development. When I form the foundation, I am thinking of naming it the Peace and Development Foundation—I could work for peace as well as focusing on regional development.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing have met several times since the election, with the peace process said to be on their agenda. Do you think the process would benefit from these high-level dialogues, or should it be channeled through intermediaries such as the MPC?

When we negotiate for peace, we have to primarily negotiate with the Tatmadaw [Burma’s armed forces] as making peace is between the armed groups of both the Tatmadaw and the ethnics. So the new government would also have to obtain the Tatmadaw’s view on the process. Peace would be nowhere unless there is negotiation with the Tatmadaw.

 Is your current trip to Chiang Mai the last during the term of the outgoing government? Was there anything specific, either from the president or the commander-in-chief, passed on to the leaders of the NCA non-signatory groups?

The leaders of the ethnic armed groups are mainly based in Chiang Mai. So it is not to say that this is the last time. We may have work in the future. Therefore, we may have to come again. I came here to share details of the… Union Peace Conference, held in January. We invited them [non-signatory groups], but they did not join for various reasons. During the Union Peace Conference, participants from various ethnicities were able to talk about anything and it was a successful conference. I told these eight groups that if they want to sign the NCA, I would make it happen. If they don’t, it is their desire.

This week’s trip has been longer than previous ones, why?

Yes. We met many groups… We came here to clarify issues of the Palaung [of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army] and the RCSS [Restoration Council of Shan State] conflict. Then we met with other ethnic armed groups individually. Thus, it took a three night trip.

As far as we understand, you met with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), but did you also meet with each group individually?

Our meeting was not with the UNFC. I came here to meet with the leaders of the ethnic armed groups. Whatever the ethnic leaders of the UNFC said, I came and met with the leaders of the ethnic armed groups, not the UNFC.

What would be your advice to your successor if the MPC continues?

I would say to the new leader [of the MPC], you need to have good intentions and be a patient and tolerant person. In addition, they must try to understand the ethnic armed groups. I would say whoever keeps these points in mind would succeed. We have to listen to them. And we have to keep our promises, and be open-minded. Peace should prevail anywhere and anytime and it must be done. I will continue my peace work.