To Advance Peace Process, Gov’t Urged to Build a Union All Groups Want to Join

By Nyein Nyein 28 September 2018

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—To resolve the current standoff over the issue of non-secession, observers of the peace process urged the government at a stakeholders meeting in Yangon on Friday to focus its efforts on building a Union whose conditions would make it unnecessary to extract a pledge of non-separation from ethnic groups.

The Myanmar military currently demands that ethnic groups pledge never to seek secession from the Union as a prerequisite for moving ahead with the peace process. Ethnic groups have balked at the request, believing it would put them at a disadvantage as the process moves forward.

“[The secession] issue is a stumbling block, because [Myanmar’s military says] that without a pledge not to seek secession, we cannot draft a state constitution. Our suggestion is that instead of asking for this promise, which is merely words on paper, what if we build a Union from which no one wants to separate in the first place?” said U Maung Maung Soe, an analyst who closely follows ethnic and political affairs.

The government invited nearly 40 people to a meeting of stakeholders in Myanmar’s peace process and sought their perspectives at Yangon’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center on Friday.

It was the second such meeting to be held under the National League for Democracy-led government. The first, in July 2017, was attended mainly by descendants of the signatories of the original 1947 Panglong peace agreement, along with a few other experts.

Friday’s discussion was attended by some representatives of Kachin, Shan, Rakhine, Karen and Bamar political parties; civil society groups and think-tanks working on the peace process and related policy; former Myanmar Peace Center employees; and writers and journalists. They spent a day discussing the current peace process and sharing insights. All of the participants were close followers of the peace process.

The secretary of the government’s Peace Commission, U Khin Zaw Oo, and State Counselor’s Office director-general U Zaw Htay shared details of the government’s efforts and the challenges it faces dealing with the country’s ethnic armed organizations during peace talks, and offered their views on why the process has been delayed.

“After listening to the government’s explanation of its efforts, I expressed my view that we must all think in terms of the whole country’s sovereignty, not in terms of individual [groups’] sovereignty, so that we can move forward onthe peace building journey and build a federal state,” said U Khin Maung Swe, the chairman of the National Democratic Force (NDF) party

The 29 participants in Friday’s discussion shared their opinions, while the government negotiators were able to clarify some of the misunderstanding that exist regarding the peace negotiations, said U Hla Maung Shwe, an adviser to the Commission.

Some of the invitees, such as former peace negotiators U Aung Min and U Khin Yi, were not able to attend due to schedule conflicts. Others were unable to travel to Yangon.

“Every issue related to the peace process was discussed,” U Hla Maung Shwe told The Irrawaddy, though he declined to discuss details.

Among the main hurdles to progress in the peace process are non-secession, prohibitions on the holding of ethnic political dialogues in Shan and Rakhine states, and the absence of negotiations between the government and northern-based ethnic armed organizations, including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

U Hla Maung Shwe said he was glad that Yup Zau Khawng, a leader of the Kachin Peace-talkCreation Group (PCG) based in Myitkyina, was able to participateThe PCG served as a key peace broker during talks between the KIA and the previous government.

“Such discussions are good if we can spare time for [regular] meetings,” he said, because they allow the majority of participants to air their concerns, while the government gets a chance to respond.

Such stakeholder discussions were held frequently under the previous administration of former President U Thein Sein.