Military Chief Says National Peace Deal Must Guarantee 'Non-Separation'

By Nyein Nyein & Htet Naing Zaw 15 October 2018

NAYPYITAW/YANGON — Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Monday insisted that the “non-separation” of ethnic minority states and regions had to be part of any future peace deal with the country’s ethnic armed groups as the Constitution demanded it.

Myanmar’s military chief made the remarks on the first of a three-day “peace summit” in Naypyitaw that has brought him together with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the leaders of 10 ethnic armed groups to break the deadlock in the country’s stalled peace process.

Among the main points of contention is the military’s demand that the armed groups promise ahead of any peace deal never to secede from the union, a proposal the armed groups have balked at.

“It is not that we don’t believe our ethnic brothers, as some groups have said. Adding ‘non-separation’ is for a long-term guarantee. We need to join hands together on the peace path with trust and without doubt,” Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said.

He noted that Article 10 of the military-drafted Constitution states that: “No part of the territory constituted in the union such as regions, states, union territories and self-administered areas shall ever secede from the union.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the government has repeatedly vowed to adhere to the democratic and federal principles the country’s ethnic minorities have long demanded.

“I want to say that it’s very important to collaborate for a union where stakeholders neither wish nor need to secede,” she said.

Last year the military said that if ethnic armed groups do not promise to not secede, there would be no further discussion of self-determination, autonomy or minority rights. As a result, peace negotiations have largely ground to a halt since the second session of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference in May 2017. The so-called package deal was left off the agenda of the third session of the conference in July.

“There are contradicting perspectives among the government, Tatmadaw [military] and us on self-determination and non-separation, which are the key hurdles to moving forward in every stage of the political negotiations,” Saw Mutu Say Poe, chairman of the Karen National Union, said in his speech at Monday’s summit.

He said the ultimate goal of establishing a federal system of government should not be boiled down to the issue of secession alone.

“Our demand for self-determination must apply to the respective states and regions of the union,” he said. “Our demand to draft state constitutions has to align with the union Constitution, and at the same time it will have a mechanism to solve any constitutional disputes.”

The armed groups feel that the military’s insistence on “non-separation” is “dictatorial” because the integrity of the union is already mentioned in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement they have singed, said U Ye Tun, a former Lower House lawmaker in the union Parliament and an ethnic Shan.

“One side should not push for adding ‘non-separation,’ and the other side should no longer demand the right to secede if it wants to,” he said. “This matter will not be overcome as long as the union government is seen as the government of the [majority] ethnic Bamar.”

The government plans to hold three more sessions of the Union Peace Conference by the end of next year to finalize the basic principles of a peace deal, or Union Accord. To date, 51 basic principles have been agreed covering politics, economics, social issues, land, the environment and security.