Join Peace Process, Don’t Complain from Outside: Senior Govt Negotiator

By Chit Min Tun 14 June 2019

YANGON—When it comes to the peace process, it is better to come inside the house and start a debate than shouting and stoning the house from outside, said U Khin Zaw Oo, a member of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) secretariat.

The secretariat held an informal meeting on Thursday and Friday at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) in Yangon to try to find solutions to break the impasse in the country’s peace process.

Speaking at the meeting, U Khin Zaw Oo, who is also the secretary of the government’s Peace Commission, called on all concerned groups to continue to work within the peace process, instead of complaining about it from the outside.

“It is important that everyone comes inside and discusses [the issues] frankly,” he said, seemingly frustrated at some ethnic armed groups’ decision to stay away from peace talks.

The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), announced in November the suspension of its participation in formal meetings of the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC) at various levels.

The move came a month after another NCA signatory, the Karen National Union (KNU), announced the suspension of its participation in the talks.

The suspensions followed disagreements at a meeting between the 10 NCA signatories and the Myanmar Military (or Tatmadaw) on Oct. 15-16 over the latter’s insistence on a single military for the country, and its demand that ethnic groups forgo the right to seek secession from the Union.

Though the formal UPDJC meetings are supposed to be held monthly according to the NCA, nearly a year elapsed between the previous one and the ongoing meeting in Yangon.

Similarly, the 21st-Century Panglong Union Peace Conference has not been held since July 2018, though the NCA states that the conference should be held twice a year.

“No matter what changes they want, they are to be discussed at formal meetings. Only then will we be able to converge. While they have the right to talk at the formal meetings, speaking from the outside and not coming to the [negotiating] table will only harm—not help—the negotiations,” U Khin Zaw Oo said.

Both the RCSS and the KNU said they would try to push the stalled peace process through informal talks. The KNU, however, was absent from the UPDJC informal meeting, which ended on Friday.

“Informal talks contribute to trust building, but they are not enough. There is a need to hold formal meetings in line with procedures to reinforce the relations. Decisions reached at the formal meetings are key to overcoming the obstacles and keep the negotiation process going. We have to admit that the negotiation process has stalled, as formal meetings have stalled,” U Khin Zaw Oo said.

Secretary-2 of the RCSS Colonel Sai Ngern, who is also a secretary of the UPDJC, blamed the dogmatism of the stakeholders for the stalled peace process.

“While ethnic armed revolutionary organizations stick to federalism, the Tatmadaw insists on a single army and non-secession. So we could not find a convergent point and are trapped in the peace process, blaming each other. Different groups have different priorities and there is a need to look fairly at both sides. There must be sympathy. It is also important to ensure equality, respect and recognition among dialogue partners,” he said.

He called on the signatory groups to assist the government’s efforts to adopt core principles of federalism and democracy by 2020.

U Khin Zaw Oo called for frank discussions on obstacles to the Union Peace Conference.

The 10 NCA signatories are: the KNU, the Karen National Liberation Army – Peace Council (KNLA-PC), the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, the RCSS/SSA-S, the All Burma Student’s Democratic Front, the Chin National Front, the Arakan Liberation Party, the Pa-O National Liberation Organization, the New Mon State Party and Lahu Democratic Union.