Analysis: The Peace Process and an Unattainable Plan

By Nyein Nyein 9 August 2017

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – The government Peace Commission and the ethnic coalition the United Nationalities Federal Council’s Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) will meet for their sixth round of formal talks in Yangon on Thursday, mainly to reach an understanding regarding the signing of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).

Delegates from both sides – led by U Khin Zaw Oo, the secretary of the Peace Commission, and Khu Oo Reh, the head of the DPN – met informally in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Friday, Aug. 4. There, they agreed on the date for this week’s meeting, scheduled from Aug. 10-11, where they will continue discussing the UNFC’s nine-point proposal that they have put forward as a path to signing the NCA. The UNFC has asked that the proposal become an appendix of the NCA, if the coalition’s five members are to sign, which include the Shan State Progress Party, the New Mon State Party, the Lahu Democratic Union, the Karenni National Progressive Party, and the Arakan National Council.

Nai Ong Ma-Nge, a spokesman for the UNFC’s DPN, told The Irrawaddy this week that they “need to thoroughly discuss the definitions of the proposal and to make sure [both sides] can reach a common understanding during the upcoming talks.”

Since peace talks began in late 2011 under the administration of former President U Thein Sein, and the drafting of the NCA took place from 2013 to 2015, a lack of common understanding on the terms of an agreement has led to a stalled peace process. This has consequently frustrated the public whose trust in the peace negotiations has deteriorated.

The government delegates appeared firm in their determination to set a date for the formal talks with the DPN in Yangon taking place this week. According to a source close to the government, the administration hopes to finalize the agreement with the DPN, citing a need to prioritize work that that must be completed before the third session of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference, scheduled no later than December.

The government, the Tatmadaw and most of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armed groups initiated the drafting of the NCA pact and aimed to sign it together. Yet this goal has yet to be reached 20 months after the initial signing of the NCA by the eight ethnic armed groups, the government, and the military in Oct. 2015.

Last week, the peace commissioners—who are representatives of both the government and the army—said that they would continue working “to achieve peace, and open the door of the NCA,” as it is the path that their own leadership has accepted.

The five-member UNFC became weaker in terms of representation when one of its most prominent members, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) left the bloc in June. Now it is solely representative of ethnic armed groups in south and east of Myanmar.

Meanwhile, a Wa-led alliance of armed groups in the north and northeast of Myanmar, known as Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee has emphasized a desire to have talks with the government as a bloc, an approach which the government has rejected, except in dealing with the UNFC.

Peace commission representatives have stated that they will not acknowledge the bloc formation, and that it will only meet its members separately. The government acted on this most notably in Naypyitaw in May, holding sideline meetings with northern bloc members after they joined the opening of the second session of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference in Naypyitaw.

Thus, both formal and informal talks between the government and the northeastern alliance have not been strongly forged.

More than half a dozen informal talks have been held in recent months between the KIA and a Tatmadaw representative, yet formal military-to-military meetings have been stalled, reportedly due to the KIA’s inability to send its military representatives—who would match the ranks of the Myanmar Army’s delegates, upon their request—unaccompanied.

This suggests that the Myanmar Army mainly wishes to speak with high-ranking military personnel regarding military tensions. It has proven to be another hurdle in implementing peace talks, as long as the national armed forces continue to discriminate against their ethnic counterparts.

A peace commissioner told The Irrawaddy that he believed conversations between commanders from both sides would help reduce fighting on the ground and also could further peace negotiations.

But since the May conference in Naypyitaw, peace talks and national dialogues have stalled. The convening of national political dialogues in NCA-signatories’ controlled areas—in the case of the Restoration Council of Shan State and the Arakan Liberation Party—have not yet been able to be held due to the military and government objections over the venue and security, respectively.

Myanmar’s peace process remains in limbo as the government stands firm in its own desired direction and the ethnic armed organizations demand another. If such pressures, including those from the military, continue, bringing all the groups to the table to end fighting appears to be an unattainable plan.

The Myanmar Army also still is increasing military pressure on the ground while peace talks are being held, Nai Ong Ma-Nge added, explaining that the New Mon State Party received a military warning on the evening of Aug. 4, because members were planning to wear army uniforms for their revolutionary day celebration on Aug 7.

When asked by The Irrawaddy how long he speculated it would take to agree on the terms of peace, Nai Ong Ma-Nge said it would depend on the responses of the government and the military.

The Tatmadaw’s actions, he explained, “have impacted the building of trust.”