Khun Myint Htun: ‘All Political Processes Need Sincerity’

By Phyo Thiha Cho 24 October 2015

Khun Myint Htun is the chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), which signed the recent ceasefire agreement with Burmese government and seven other non-state armed groups on Oct. 15.

A former youth leader in the National League for Democracy (NLD), he was elected to parliament in the 1990 election, the results of which were ignored by the then ruling junta. He was held in prison for more than seven years, and on his release he joined the insurgent arm of the Pa-O people.

Speaking to Myanmar Now this week, the 52-year-old discussed the reasons the PNLO joined the ceasefire accord, relations between the group and the military, and his views on the 2015 general election.

Why did the PNLO decide to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)?

Our unwavering ideology is to solve political problems through political means. In accordance with the NCA, prior discussion will be needed before making any decision. However, both sides are required to negotiate a political roadmap. Neither side should try to take advantage. So we decided to sign the NCA.

What were the fundamental reasons for the PNLO to sign the deal?

Our decision was a reflection of the existing political and military situation, as well as our policy and the national interest. We can hold political dialogue during the term of the next government. We can imagine the next administration will be influenced by civilians. It is not certain that the next government will have good relations with the military. So we decided to sign peace deal during the term of present government.

We fought against the military under the lead of the Karen National Union (KNU) when the junta made the 2004 roadmap. But the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and northern rebel groups, including the Kokang and SSPP/SSA accepted this roadmap. However, this time we and the KNU signed the peace deal, but the KIO and northern rebel groups are fighting. We expect all-inclusiveness in the roadmap.

Those armed groups which have not signed in the deal did not say they would never sign in the deal. They will sign the peace deal at an appropriate juncture. Both the government and the ethnic armed groups need to persuade them to join the NCA. Although they want to sign the deal, political and military situations in their respective areas are blocking them from doing so.

Which side has compromised in the NCA—the government or the ethnic armed groups?

Both sides have made adjustments. The senior military officers of the government are the same age as us. As the ideology to wipe out all the ethnic rebels has been rooted in their minds for many years, they seemed to regard us as the rebels until now. The government defines ‘disarmament, demobilization and reintegration’ as abandonment of weapons. We assume the government and the military are on the same side in accordance with NCA. The government side has made these adjustments.

All political processes need sincerity. If all stakeholders can implement the points in the agreement, we can reach the final goal. They must guarantee the establishment of a federal union with rights on equality, democracy and self-rule. We all will take responsibility for national security by establishing a single military under a single order. However, we will not accept the formation of militia and border guard forces.

Could there be conflicts in the future, as the demarcation lines have not been drawn up for armed groups?

We will have more discussions about this issue. But the armed groups outside the NCA cannot discuss it.

Do you think the details in the deal could be discussed in the term of next government?

President Thein Sein signed the deal as a president of Republic of the Union of Myanmar. The existing government will remain during the first parliamentary session after the elections. The government will have to submit this NCA to the parliament for approval. After it is approved, the deal must be adhered to in favor of the national interest.

Has the NCA made political capital for the ruling party?

The public doesn’t show that much interest in the peace deal. They will vote for the party they believe in. People have the right to choose the party they like. We never considered that any political party would win in the elections on the basis that they signed the peace deal.

Do you think clashes will erupt while decisions are made for the drawing of demarcation lines?

Clashes will decline, but it cannot be said they will stop entirely. Both the military chief and deputy military chief signed the deal. They are accountable and responsible for their promises. The president, the speaker of parliament and the military chiefs signed the deal.

What outside pressures will come up, given that international diplomats also signed as witnesses in the deal?

Some diplomats signed the NCA as witnesses. The government of the United States and the United Kingdom commended the peace deal. They have pledged to support the peacemaking process. They are also responsible for their financial and political contributions.

What are the building blocks for the establishment of a federal union?

We will try to amend the 2008 Constitution. Our political dialogue should not deviate from mainstream politics. While the national (constitutional convention) in 1993 backed by the junta did not take into account existing situations, future dialogue should not ignore it.

Is the PNLO enthusiastic about the prospect of merging with the government military?  

I will not take any military rank or title in front of my name. We have a policy that the military wing of PNLO must be under the management of political wing. I have no plan to take any positions in the future military, but we might take responsibilities for national security.

Some candidates have reportedly been threatened by some ethnic armed groups. What is your view on this?

We expect a free and fair election. The results of election must be recognized. We never disclose our support for any political party or organization. Our members will have individual ideas. We have never disturbed any candidates as we value the upcoming elections.

This interview originally appeared on Myanmar Now.