Lawmakers Again Demand Participation in Peace Process

By Htet Naing Zaw 25 February 2014

RANGOON — Members of the Parliament Committee on National Race Affairs and Internal Peacemaking (CNRAIP) have called on President Thein Sein’s government to let lawmakers participate in Burma’s ongoing peace process.

The CNRAIP members met with Vice President Sai Mauk Kham, who heads the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC), on Monday and urged him to increase the participation of MPs, said Thein Aung, a committee member and representative of the Phalon Sawaw Democratic Party, a Karen opposition party.

He said that so far the CNRAIP, which was formed in 2011, has had little to do with the ongoing peace process. Thein Aung said the committee had met only twice in recent years with the UPWC and had only been briefed on the peace process on these occasions.

Chaired by Dr Sai Mauk Kham, the UPWC comprises officials from the Ministry of Defense, union and regional level ministers, parliamentarians and scholars.

The President’s Office Minister Aung Min, who is a vice chairman of the UPWC, has led all negotiations with ethnic rebel groups and has signed ceasefires with 15 main rebel groups since 2012. Despite these agreements, a joint nationwide ceasefire between all groups and Naypyidaw remains elusive, while the Burma Army continues to clash with Kachin and Palaung rebels groups in northern Burma.

Dwe Bu, an ethnic Kachin Lower House MP and CNRAIP secretary, said MPs should be regularly informed about the peace process, adding that lawmakers and chief ministers of Burma’s states and divisions should also be directly included in ongoing nationwide ceasefire talks.

“We don’t know the current stage of peace talks with ethnic armed groups because both chief ministers from different states and divisions, and the Parliament have been unable to participate in those discussions,” she said.

“Some chief ministers have asked for timely information about individual talks with different groups… [And] it is still not easy for Parliament to become deeply involved in the peace process.”

“We also asked the vice president to invite us, ethnic people in the Parliament, whenever the government meets with ethnic armed groups,” Dwe Bu added. “If we all can join such meetings now we will be able to build understanding and friendship among each other, which will make things easier during the coming political discussions.”

The vice president reportedly told meeting participants that he would find ways for the CNRAIP members to participate in peacemaking activities.

It is not the first time that lawmakers have complained over a lack involvement in the peace process. Both Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have indicated that they would like to be involved in the country’s peace talks, which could end decades of ethnic conflict.

However, government peace negotiators say they would prefer to sign a nationwide ceasefire with ethnic groups first and then let Parliament handle the thorny issue of finding a political solution for the ethnic group’s long-standing demands for greater political autonomy for their regions.

Ethnic armed groups have said there can be no nationwide ceasefire until the government guarantees that genuine political dialogue will follow after an agreement is signed.

The Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), an influential group of government advisors, again repeated the government’s line that MPs could become involve in the peace process in the near future.

“As the President has said, a nationwide ceasefire with ethnic groups is needed first and then a political dialogue will follow, which will be an all-inclusive one joined by Parliament, political parties, civil society organizations, the government and the army,” Hla Maung Shwe, a leading member of the MPC, told the Irrawaddy.