Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong is the vice-chairman of the Chin political organization the Chin National Front as well as the federal union affairs minister for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG). In this interview with The Irrawaddy, he dismisses the regime’s recent invitation for peace talks to the country’s ethnic armed groups, the junta’s exclusion of the NUG and its armed wing, the people’s defense forces (PDFs), from the talks as impractical and how the military has always obstructed the formation of a federal democracy union since 1962.
What is your view on Min Aung Hlaing’s call for face-to-face talks with leaders of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) for peace?
Min Aung Hlaing seized power illegally. It is a proposal made by an illegitimate military leader and the offer is therefore illegitimate. The [military-backed] government held talks with us on August 18, 2011, and signed the NCA [Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement] and we continued to engage in dialogue with the elected government from the 2015 general election.
And we implemented the peace process according to that dialogue.
All the peace process implemented in that period was based on the NCA, which is the pact between the EAOs and the elected government. It is the dialogue between the government and EAOs and thus it is legitimate. The NCA was signed with the government, not the military.
If dialogue is to be held, the NUG is the only government elected by the people.
There will be discussions and consultations between the NUG and EAOs. We have already done it. We have designed a federal charter together and adopted principles for federalism and democracy.
So what Min Aung Hlaing has done is wrong.
There is a question about if the dialogue is required considering the NCA. The NCA was signed to hold talks during a ceasefire and then to hold the Union Peace Conferences to sign a Union Accord.
The aim of signing the Union Accord was to amend the constitution. Now people no longer accept the 2008 Constitution. And elected parliamentarians have also announced that it has scrapped it.
The objective of talks at different levels is to amend the 2008 Constitution. But the constitution no longer exists and there is no point in holding talks for that purpose.
Min Aung Hlaing does not have the authority to hold any dialogue. The objective [to amend the constitution] based on the NCA no longer exists. Min Aung Hlaing has called for peace talks to deceive the people so that he can retain the power he has seized.
What is the response of the CNF to the junta chief’s proposal?
We stand by the statement released by the 10 NCA signatories on Feb. 20, 2021. The regime seized power illegally and we must suspend all peace talks under the regime. It is not the decision made alone by the CNF but a joint statement.
Is it practical to exclude the NUG and people’s defense forces [PDFs] from talks
The NUG was formed based on the mandate of the people who overwhelmingly voted [NLD] in the November 2020 election and the mandate of ethnic people who have engaged in revolution for many years. It represents both the people and the nation.
There will be no answer from talks without the NUG. The PDFs are also civilian.
They were born out of the people to protect civilians from the regime. So excluding the PDFs means excluding the people. I don’t believe Min Aung Hlaing’s proposed dialogue is intended for the interests of the people while people are not allowed to participate in the talks.
And the regime’s spokesman said threateningly that EAOs may suffer if they don’t attend the talks.
How much have the people suffered since the coup? How many lives have been lost? How many properties have been damaged? What happened to Thantlang in Chin State? How many more houses do they want to torch? How many more people do they want to kill? They have shattered so many lives. We have nothing to lose.
The whole country will only suffer more if peace talks are held to maintain Min Aung Hlaing’s grip on power.
If we join the talks, people will continue to suffer because Min Aung Hlaing’s intention in organizing the talks is to retain power.
Min Aung Hlaing and his regime will never serve the interests of the people. So we must reject the talks.
Moreover, the election that they are planning to hold to maintain their grip on power is unacceptable. A real election was held not long ago. They are holding another election because they cannot accept the votes cast by the people and they are trying to cast votes by themselves. We can’t accept that. I urge the people to continue fighting the regime until it is uprooted.
There are criticisms that previous talks were not fruitful because EAOs had to hold talks with both the NLD government and the military. But now they are invited to hold talks with the military alone. Will it work?
They said the peace process could not make progress because of frictions between the NLD and military in the previous peace talks and that the peace process will be able to progress now because the EAOs have to talk to Min Aung Hlaing and the military alone.
We need to look back at history. The intention of holding peace talks is to establish Myanmar as a genuine federal democratic union with complete self-determination in line with the 1947 Panglong Agreement. Ethnic communities demanded that the constitution be amended to make way for federalism at the Taunggyi Conference in 1961. We discussed it at a seminar on federalism the following year. Based on that discussion, we tried to establish a federal union. Who prevented it? The military prevented it. General Ne Win claimed that the military saved the union which was on the brink of collapse due to minorities demanding secession. That’s why the union system could not be established. The military has prevented it since 1962.
I was constantly engaged in dialogue from 2012 to 2022. And it was the military, not the NLD, which mostly raised objections to agreements reached.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi presented six principles for federalism on the fourth anniversary of the signing of the NCA.
Her principles were based on the demands that we have made since 1962.
So the principles presented by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and us are basically the same. However, at the last Union Peace Conference on October 19, 2019, the military opposed the agreements. Can the people who seized power throughout history because they don’t like federalism and democracy give us what we want? Throughout history, they have always opposed establishing federalism and democracy.
We asked for self-determination and equality and they have stopped us repeatedly since 2017.
Now they have seized power and destroyed the country to maintain their grip on power. So Min Aung Hlaing’s real intention behind his proposal for peace talks is to retain power.
They will never establish the democracy we want. They are trying to enslave the people under their boots.
After they have done it for so many years, we can’t trust them. They are saying a tiger can eat grass.
How do you feel about the military trying to resurrect the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee?
The committee was a roadmap being implemented under the NCA. The objective of the NCA was to amend the 2008 Constitution.
But the people have already scrapped the 2008 Constitution so it is not acceptable to resurrect the committee. It would be an insult to the people to join the committee which is intended to perpetuate the dictatorship.
I respect and value the political party leaders. If they do what they should not do, they will be like Seneca who supported the dictator Nero in the Roman empire.
Seneca was a great statesman who loved the country and the people. But he earned a bad name in history because he worked for Nero.
I urge all party leaders not to take sides with Min Aung Hlaing, but to represent the people. They will go down badly in history if they make the wrong friend.
This is not the time for peace talks.
A federal democratic charter was adopted by elected lawmakers, EAOs, civil society organizations and those who have joined the civil disobedience movement. Let’s work together to establish a federation under the agreed roadmap.
I request political parties and EAOs not to make friends with Min Aung Hlaing.