The new standpoints announced after a 3-day meeting of seven ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) have surprised many observers and politicians, as “Wa State” will lead political negotiations with the government.
The seven EAOs, which are the non-signatories of the current nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), said in a Feb. 24 statement after meeting in Panghsang that “a new ceasefire agreement” is needed to replace the NCA—from which the current political dialogue process stems.
The United Wa State Army, the largest non-state military force, has not clashed with the Burma Army for decades. The UWSA has said it does not need to sign the NCA as a previous bilateral ceasefire agreement with the former government still stands but that it would still partake in political dialogue despite its non-signatory status. The United Wa State Party has hosted EAO summits three times since 2015.
With ongoing Burma Army offensives against some of the ethnic armed groups—namely the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA) in Kachin and northern Shan states—the northern groups have continued military concerns, which observers noted.
With the Wa leading political talks for these EAOs, questions among oberserver regarding the fragility of the peace process have been raised.
“Current conditions have us concerned over whether the peace process has become even more distant,” said Sai Nyunt Lwin, the secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy.
But he thinks the process can be salvaged.
“We won’t give up on peace building whatever it takes,” Sai Nyunt Lwin said. We all must put our hope in peace, as we have done in worse situations in the past.”
“It is new that the Wa is shifting it role from military to political, by leading Kachin, Shan and Arakan people,” he added.
The third Panghsang summit urged an end to the Burma Army offensive in the region.
The EAO statement reiterated the call for equal discussion for all participants in political negotiations. It also called to revoke the Dec. 2016 Shan State Parliament’s branding of three EAOs—the KIA, MNDAA and TNLA—as “terrorist organizations” for their Northern Alliance offensives against the Burma Army.
Many ethnic groups blame the NCA—drafted by the now defunct nationwide ceasefire coordination team comprised of 16 EAOs—for ongoing offensives, while others see the NCA implementation process as the biggest weakness.
“Many groups came together to draft the NCA as best they could,” said Pado Saw Ta Doh Moo, a central committee member of the Karen National Union, an NCA signatory. But he added that disparities now are due to the implementation of the ceasefire.
“As the problems are different for each ethnic group, all responsible parties must seek pragmatic solutions. Our country’s political problems are not simple mathematical equations,” he said.
When implementing the NCA, the government must “inspire or convince” non-signatories to sign, so that those groups can see the benefit of signing, said Sai Nyunt Lwin.
“I also don’t want to see continuous blame placed on the NCA for issues that dishonor the spirit of the agreement,” he added, referring to the unequal treatment that has left the Arakan people unable to host public consultations in their state while other signatories have been allowed to do so.
Dr. Aye Maung, the chairman of the Arakan National Party, said the government has interfered too much with national-level political dialogues, despite a Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) meeting in August 2016 approving ethnic-based dialogues in each state where NCA signatories are based.
The former lawmaker and stakeholder in the political dialogue process added that issues stem from the “weakness of the current government” and use of the term Panglong for the Union Peace Conference, from which ethnic groups are seeking a guarantee of a democratic federal union.
Implementation of the NCA has not clearly followed its stated guidelines, as Union Peace Conference planning began before national-level dialogue—a pillar of the nationwide peace conference.
“I think the NCA needs to be reviewed,” Dr. Aye Maung said.
But the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) said the NCA is fine if the NLD government accepts their nine demands in order for them to sign the NCA. UNFC members led the initial drafting of the NCA.
The UNFC’s delegation for political negotiation will meet with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday in Naypyidaw to discuss its position.
UNFC leaders have said they are still on the NCA path and will not diverge from it, although the Panghsang statement—which included two UNFC members, the KIA and the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army North—called for a new ceasefire agreement.
“If our demands can be negotiated, we will follow the NCA process,” added Nai Hong Sar.
Nai Hong Sar told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that they will discuss the KIA and SSPP stances, as the KIA/Kachin Independence Organization is the current chair of the UNFC.
“We do not know all the details yet, but if the [Panghsang] proposal is pragmatic, the peace process might be diverted somehow,” Nai Hong Sar added.
Sai Nyunt Lwin said more would be decided after Panghsang meeting participants shared the outcome of the summit with their respective organizational leadership.
At the first 21st Century Panglong peace conference that began in Aug. 2016, participants raised 77 policies papers, some of which demanded self-administration in ethnic states. The Wa also demanded a “Wa State” as opposed the self-administrative region granted in the 2008 Constitution.
Regarding the issue of a Wa State, Pado Saw Ta Doh Moo said, “We all are seeking common ground that will be harmonious and convenient for all ethnicities in a federal state.”