Myanmar’s Peace Commission has said ethnic armed groups that signed the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) may not contact the international community directly for aid donations without first getting the permission of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center which oversees the commission.
“We need to know when any ethnic armed organization contacts the international community, including foreign embassies, UN agencies and international NGOs, about development work in their area,” said Peace Commission Secretary U Khin Zaw Oo, who signed the statement.
According to U Khin Zaw Oo, the recent statement from the Peace Commission isn’t intended to restrict ethnic armed groups.
“Most of the projects proposed by ethnic armed groups have already been agreed to by the government. We gave permission for most of them and the idea isn’t for our government to reject their proposals,” said the secretary. “But the government wants to know how much money they get. They need to take responsibility and be accountable for the money they receive and whether they use that money to work for peace or not.”
U Khin Zaw Oo described how the government is worried that ethnic armed groups will misuse money from the international community.
“For example, if the international community donates a million dollars to [ethnic armed groups], they may buy weapons with that money and they may recruit more troops with that money. The government wouldn’t know about it. If we look from the side of government, the government does not want to see this happen.”
If ethnic armed groups build roads, clinics, schools, bridges and houses for local people and for local development, the government will give permission, he said.
“If only the two of them [the international community and ethnic armed groups] negotiate donations, no one would know how they spend the money. There have been ongoing meetings in Chiang Mai—where did they get that money? There were also meetings in Yangon with titles like ‘Peace,’ ‘Federalism,’ ‘Human Rights’ and ‘Women’s Rights.’ They held meetings almost every day. How did those happen?” he said.
Many people including ethnic armed groups were disappointed when they read the Peace Commission statement, which was posted on Facebook only recently despite having been issued and sent to ethnic armed groups on Sept. 5.
“We did not feel good about the actions of [the National Reconciliation and Peace Center],” Saw Mra Razar Lin, secretary of the Arakan Liberation Party, an NCA signatory group, told The Irrawaddy. “We signed the NCA and we want to work for our people, for development, so we want to contact the international community directly.”
The current National League for Democracy government, led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has attempted to more tightly monitor money coming into the country from the international community. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is also the chair of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center.
“We feel that they have tried to force us into their own frame. We are organizations who have tried to work for equal rights for our ethnicities,” said Saw Mra Razar Lin.
U Khin Zaw Oo said that other countries have donated a lot of money to help Myanmar work towards peace but that little of it has gone to the government. For example, he said, if the international community has donated US$100 million, the government has officially received only US$25 million.
“Our government has received only a fourth of the money. We do not know where the other 75 percent has been going,” he said.
U Khin Zaw Oo also told The Irrawaddy on Friday that even ministries and state governments are not allowed to contact the international community without permission.
“They [ethnic armed groups] have to go through the government first if they want to contact [an international actor]. This is our procedure for how we do this as a nation,” he said.
The Myanmar government is working with ethnic armed groups to establish a federalist system for the country, which Saw Mra Razar Lin said that should not place many restrictions on ethnic armed groups.
“We even discussed this issue at meetings when we signed the NCA,” she said. “This issue has been an ongoing discussion, in which we haven’t agreed to anything yet. We asked the government to let us contact the international community freely during the peace negotiation process.”