CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Nai Hong Sar, the vice chairman of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), recently spoke with The Irrawaddy’s Nyein Nyein about the stalled peace process.
Many think that the peace process has stalled. What is your assessment of the current state of the peace process?
It seems that it is difficult to move forward. The third session of the 21st Century Panglong [Peace Conference] discussed nothing about political principles and important issues. By important issues, I mean federalism and ethnic rights. It only discussed gender equality. Security matters, which are important to guaranteeing the political agreements, were barely discussed. So the last session of the 21st Century Panglong was hardly fruitful. It seems that it was held because it had been scheduled.
The Tatmadaw [military] has said that it would discuss the rights of states and ethnic [minority] groups only when [ethnic armed groups] agreed not to secede. Ethnic groups find it difficult to accept that. So [the peace talks] have reached a stalemate. Progress is slow because no solution has yet been found to break that stalemate.
Peace talks have been on and off since the drafting of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement [NCA]. What is the essential precondition to overcome this?
If both sides do have the genuine desire for peace, this can be overcome. If one side has a bigoted stance and gives it precedence over the peace process, we will not be able to step forward. The peace process has reached that stage now.
The Tatmadaw put pressures on you before your organization, the NMSP, and the Lahu Democratic Union signed the NCA earlier this year. What is the situation in Mon State now?
People know that there was military pressure in the past. There is no such pressure now. But there is no improvement. It [the Tatmadaw] has taken control of two of our outposts and hasn’t given them back. We, the NMSP, are on the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee [JMC] at the union level. But at the state-level JMCs, we are only allowed to be involved in Mon State and not in other states. I mean we are not members in Karen State and Taninthayi Region even though our troops are active in both of those areas.
For example, the Karen National Union [KNU] is allowed to join the JMCs in Karen and Mon states, Bago and Taninthayi regions. But we Mon are only allowed to join the Mon State JMC. So it is not fair. We have raised objection about it. Our troops are in Karen State; in case of conflict [there], how can we resolve it if we are not a member to the local [JMC]? So we don’t have equal rights and there is no honesty.
KNU and NMSP troops have clashed in the past. We were interested to see how the two would settle after signing the NCA. What is the current situation?
There are no clashes between the two now. There were clashes between ground troops in the past. But leaders on both sides tried to control it as much as they could.
There are ongoing clashes in Shan and Kachin states. We heard that there have been negotiations between the warring sides. But what actions are the NCA signatories taking to deescalate the situation?
So far I haven’t heard that NCA signatories, as a bloc, are holding talks [with the government or non-signatories to deescalate]. There are concerned JMCs in those states and I don’t know how those JMCs are handling it. For example, there are frequent clashes with the RCSS [Restoration Council of Shan State] in Shan State, and also with the KNU. They are trying to solve it bilaterally. There is still no multilateral negotiation.
There are reports that the NMSP chairman said the NMSP will resign from the UNFC [United Nationalities Federal Council]. As the UNFC is a coalition of NCA signatories and non-signatories, what is the latest situation with the UNFC, as you are the UNFC chairman?
The continued existence of the UNFC is important and we are trying to maintain it as much as possible. When the United Nationalities Federal Council became aware of the position of the New Mon State Party’s central committee, the UNFC responded in a letter asking whether the NMSP could reconsider leaving the bloc. But a response has not yet been received.
What are the major challenges for Myanmar to achieve peace and become a federal democratic union?
It largely depends on the Myanmar Tatmadaw. It indoctrinated Burmanization under General Ne Win’s regime since the coup in 1962. And Senior General Than Shwe’s government gave many opportunities to Tatmadaw leaders in politics and granted them many businesses. Tatmadaw leaders now have high positions; it is difficult for them to abandon them. It is mainly because of the Tatmadaw that the peace process has reached an impasse.
People are no longer interested in the peace process. They feel like it is not working. What do you want to say to the people?
Today, the opportunity presents itself for talks, and people have a certain degree of democratic rights. Under such conditions, it is normal for them to feel frustrated. People are dissatisfied, and so are we. But we need to keep on trying. Over the past 70 years, there was no political negotiation around a table. The opportunity has come only now. We want [the EAOs] to use it in that framework and to try to reach our own goal. Armed struggle will not solve the problem. I want us to try to make the best use of that opportunity. I also want the people to support it and do their fair share.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.