Analysis: Military Intransigence Signals Dead End for Peace Process

By Nyein Nyein 6 July 2018

YANGON — A year ago, the ethnic group signatories of the nationwide ceasefire agreement signed a part of the Union Accord, which lays out 37 principles for federal union, “out of necessity” at the 21st Panglong peace conference. The agreed principles already exist in the current laws and 2008 constitution, thus the question remains as to whether the negotiators will be able to create an NCA-based federal constitution without it being dominated by the current military-backed constitution.

The leaders of the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) stated at the time that they were told the entire peace process could not proceed if they didn’t sign the Union Accord. The leaders asserted that the government (the NLD administration and Tatmadaw), the EAOs’ negotiation counterparts, refused to accept any of their alternative proposals and insisted that the NCA was the only pathway to peace.

The negotiations have continued but with both sides never being fully agreed on certain issues.

Despite the many areas of disagreement, the third session of the 21stUPC is due to convene next Wednesday. Among the issues left to discuss are whether gender equality should be included under the political agenda, as it is stated in the current political framework that at least 30 percent of the positions in the political leadership should be reserved for women.

Other key issues on the agenda of next week’s conference are how to ensure equality and fair distribution of powers over land use and natural resources; social and economic policies; and political issues not included in “the package talks” of drafting the state constitution or secession.

The Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee’s working panels for each sector — politics, security, social, economic and land and environment — have been discussing the new principles, and they will meet again early next week (July 8-9 before the main conference) at a gathering where some 700 delegates are supposed to provide their views on the already laid-out principles in each of the five sectors.

The principles are technically based on the public consultations each EAO has held with their people in the past few years. This year, as the New Mon State Party signed the NCA, the public recommendations gathered at their Mon National level Dialogue will also be included in the discussion.

Yet when it comes to the agreement at the union level and discussions at the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), many of the key points have been omitted, say the civil society members who raised them during the ethnic political dialogues.

A new political framework is needed that goes beyond the 2008 Constitution

Through the lens of land sector negotiations, the Karen Peace Support Network made the point this week that changes in the political dialogue framework would help to establish a genuine and inclusive nationwide political dialogue.

The KPSN said that in the land and natural resources sector, “federal reform is inextricably linked to genuine potential for peace, and as such the lack of reform remains a major driver of conflict.”

A network of more than two dozen indigenous Karen community-based organizations, the KPSN closely studied the recommendations made during the Karen public consultations and the agreement reached on the land and environmental sector at the union peace conference.

Saw Alex of the KPSN noted that more than 80 percent of the recommendations, which reflect the ethnic group’s desires, were rejected during the different stages of the negotiations at the UPDJC.

“While the framework for political dialogue cites “all inclusive political dialogue” and “equality and self-determination” as central tenets of the process, Tatmadaw representatives continue to block federal proposals across all five sectors of political dialogue, including political, economic, social, land and natural resources, and security,” he said.

KPSN also highlighted that the 37 principles were signed by a very limited number of representatives and did not follow the procedure established under the framework for political dialogue. It said the lack of recognition of the federal policy proposals as the basis of the union accord “showcases the lack of good faith in the current peace negotiation process.”

The network added that a genuine peace that “is equitable for all people of Burma (Myanmar) is impossible without respect for ethnic land rights.” It claims the Tatmadaw and the elected-civilian government use the peace negotiation “to further legitimise the centralisation of ownership, management and control over land and natural resources” but undermine the key goal of the process is the establishment of a democratic federal union.

Tatmadaw would not mind if peace process collapsed

Despite the EAO leaders being fully aware that the process has not been implemented in accordance with the framework, they were intimidated and forced to sign the accord. Both in the political dialogues and joint ceasefire monitoring committee, the Tatmadaw representatives dominate the talks, and uphold the military’s stance on the “six points” policy, one of which is to abide by the existing laws and 2008 Constitution.

According to sources close to the talks, the negotiations could not move forward until the Tatmadaw representatives got what they wanted; if not there has been the implied threat that the process would come to an end.

In May last year, Sai Nguen of the Restoration Council of Shan State told the Shan Herald News Agency that one crass but revealing statement used by the Tatmadaw during the talks was “We [Tatmadaw] don’t mind if the peace process collapses.” It has been true for more than five years, since the NCA negotiation began.

Padoh Nay Tha Blay, a member of the Land and Environment Working Committee of UPDJC, was quoted as saying in the KPSN case study that even though they put forward key proposals based on policy recommendations from the Karen National Dialogue at the land sector negotiations, “these key articles were blocked.”

“The government and military representatives to the UPDJC have colluded in using the Tatmadaw’s 2008 constitution to block our policy recommendations,” added Padoh Nay Tha Blay, who is also the head of Karen Agriculture Department of the KNU.

And it’s not just the land sector, problems exist in other areas as well. The principles set in the economic sector are very general and need a Fresouric and detailed provision of authority to the states for the fiscal governance of the energy, trade and environmental segments, as urged in the fiscal federalism study by the Ethnic Nationalities Affair Center last month.

In the first Union Accord, there were 12 principles under the political sector; 11 under the economic sector; four under the social sector; and 10 in the land and environment sector; and none for the security sector.

Even with the NCA implementation, the hurdles that have been raised have led observers to see that the peace process is a “dead-end.” Besides, the NLD government is currently not able to bring the active armed groups based in northern Kachin state and northeastern Shan State to sign the NCA.

In the almost seven years since the peace negotiations started, the fighting between the Tatmadaw and the EAOs in Kachin and Shan states have displaced more than 150,000 civilians. In Karen state, where the ceasefire has been implemented, more than 8500 civilians have still been displaced from their homes by fighting, according to KPSN.

EAOs’ lack of a unified position weakens the dialogue

When the generals are so intransigent, on both political dialogue and joint ceasefire monitoring, the EAOs leaders do not have “a unified position” to represent the EAO cluster.

A negotiator from the EAO side told The Irrawaddy that when the Federal Army issue was raised during negotiations, there was no common voice among the EAOs that they would support the principles of a “Federal Army.” The Federal Army concept has been rejected by the Tatmadaw, but it is upheld by the EAOs — both signatories and non-signatories of the NCA.

“EAOs representatives were weak in negotiating their proposed principles and political party representatives were not able to negotiate effectively,” according to Padoh Saw Hser Pwe, the joint general secretary of the KNU was quoted as saying in the KPSN study. He is a member of the UPDJC’s social sector working committee.

He added: “From the military side, they discussed from the same position. They would only discuss issues that were to their advantage; if not, they would refuse to talk about it. It also appeared that the government and parliament were on the same side as the military during the negotiations.”

Salai Yaw Aung, a representative to the Union level Joint ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC-U) from an NCA signatory, the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, said: “The unity is only on paper” for the EAOs. Thus, they look weak in the eyes of their negotiating adversaries, he said. Even though the EAOs have strong leaders, most of them fail to speak up at the negotiating table.

“The disagreements among the EAOs are seen as a sign of weakness and the negotiating partners know that,” therefore, he said, when these issues are discussed, it affects the whole process.

For the upcoming conference, it is pretty clear that there has been no agreement on discussing many of the key federal policies. Only when the Tatmadaw and the NLD leaders prove their political will and the ethnic leaders press to reflect their peoples’ voices, will we move closer to achieving a new democratic federal constitution.