Ethnic Issues

Nai Hong Sar: ‘If They Continue to Hold a Hard Line, Peace Will Be Difficult’

By Kyaw Kha 3 July 2015

With the road to peace in Burma looking bumpier than ever, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing met with China’s Asian affairs envoy Sun Guoxiang this week in Naypyidaw, where the commander in chief told the visiting diplomat that it was important for the country’s ethnic armed rebels to abandon their armed struggle and lay down their guns, a process in conflict resolution circles known as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR).

But with trust in the Burma Army damaged due to ongoing conflict between the government and at least three ethnic armed groups, some have balked at the idea of disarming in the face of a powerful military establishment still willing to engage in hostilities with ethnic rebels.

Nai Hong Sar, leader of the ethnic armed groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and a member of a recently created negotiating body that intends to replace the NCCT, spoke to The Irrawaddy this week about apprehensions when it comes to DDR and security sector reform, as well as discussing the broader peace process.

The commander in chief on Monday told the Chinese diplomat Sun Guoxiang that ethnic rebels should accept the DDR process. What is your take on that?

Yes, he did. They [the military] said so in March too. They would like us to initiate a DDR process. But we can’t disarm and demobilize all of our troops given that [the military] was not trustworthy for more than 60 years. Our country does not fully enjoy democratic rights. Considering that the military has taken up a very large share of power, we can’t accept the one-sided view that all of our troops must be disarmed and demobilized.

We accept the principle that there must be only one military in a country. However, much will depend on whether or not a federal union will be established, and whether or not the military will be restructured in line with that federal union. They [the military] do not seem open to changing at all and we can’t accept that.

We would like to turn our troops into something like state security forces, which would be under the military leadership of the entire country. By separating the troops like that, it would prevent the military from staging a coup. Again, because of our experience and distrust in the military, I think it would be better to do something like that to provide a guarantee for both sides.

Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing also said that everyone, every organization, should act in line with the law as the country is moving forward to multi-party democracy. What are your thoughts on that?

The phrase ‘in line with the law’ can be interpreted in different ways. For example, if we sign a ceasefire, we will have to abide by the laws of the government in the country. But the phrase ‘in line with the law’ can mean all of our freedoms are controlled by their laws in negotiating with them about the future. So, how can we accept that? If we did, we would not be able to do anything.

They have called for adhering to all the laws, including the 2008 Constitution. Today, we are holding political talks with them [on equal terms] and we should have our own freedoms. It is unacceptable that one side totally controls the other with its laws.

I heard that the government and the military do not accept the amended nationwide ceasefire agreement drafted by ethnic armed groups at Law Khee Lar [last month in Karen State] as well as the new negotiating team formed there. What can you tell me about that?

I am not sure about that. At first, that was the case, but then U Aung Min [the government’s chief peace negotiator] agreed to meet and give us their response. Until then, we have no idea.

Is it a cause for concern with regard to the peace process that the commander in chief is calling for DDR under such circumstances?

If [the government and military] continue to hold a hardline attitude, it will be difficult to achieve [peace]. The government often implies that we are [deliberately] delaying [the peace process] or that we do not want to sign a ceasefire during the term of the current government. This is not true. In fact, we want a secure situation. Under such circumstances, the sooner a ceasefire is achieved, the better.
But we want a secure situation.

Ethnic armed groups have said the nationwide ceasefire should be open to all ethnic armed groups, but the government does not appear to be receptive to the idea. What’s your view on this impasse?

They do not accept the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army [MNDAA], Ta’ang National Liberation Army [TNLA] and Arakan Army into the NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement]. They have not yet stated clearly whether they would consider accepting those three groups. And we are very unhappy about that.

We stated clearly before signing the NCA draft on March 31, and it is also written into the bilateral agreement, that we were only signing a draft version of the NCA. A draft is not final. We, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, can’t make the final decision. The Union Peacemaking Working Committee [UPWC] will have to submit the draft to the Union Peacemaking Central Committee [UPCC]. Likewise, we also have to submit the draft to top [ethnic armed group] leaders so that they can amend and add clauses as necessary.

After that, we will have to hold another round of talks. We have clearly stated that [we have to submit the draft to our leaders and seek their approval] in the [bilateral] agreement. It was also reported by the media. But now, [the government] says they do not want to amend and add clauses to the draft NCA. And we are very sorry to hear that. It is disappointing. They said one thing in the past and are saying another at present. How can we trust them?