Burma

At Myanmar Peace Talks, State Counselor Urges All Parties to Put Country First

By Nyein Nyein 8 January 2020

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called on all signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) to take responsibility and accountability in implementing the pact, saying its principles apply equally to all stakeholders. 

She made the comments on Wednesday at the resumption of the long-awaited Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) in Naypyitaw, at which she was joined by military representatives led by deputy army chief Vice Senior General Soe Win, and ethnic representatives led by Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) chairman General Yawd Serk.

The JICM is considered a gateway to resuming the formal peace process, which has been stalled for more than a year since two NCA signatories suspended their participation. The Karen National Union decided to temporarily suspend its participation in formal peace negotiations in October 2018 and the RCSS withdrew from the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) on the NCA the following month.

“The NCA has joint ownership, and everyone needs to take responsibility and accountability,” she said, adding that parties to the agreement “need to avoid having the mindset of implementing only what we prefer.”

One reason for the recent hiatus in formal peace talks is that the EAOs, the government and the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) lack a common understanding of the NCA’s provisions—an issue still on the negotiation table.

“If any of the groups take on what they like and ignore the things they don’t like, it will cause difficulties to other groups and would create continuous hurdles for the peace process,” she added.

Acknowledging the efforts of the peace negotiators of both the government and the ethnic armed organizations, she said that politically, the JICM “had more substance than just the resumption of formal peace talks”, as the leaders had agreed to seek a common understanding on the various mechanisms for the peace process.

The JICM follows preliminary discussions between the government and representatives of the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in late December and October.

Gen. Yawd Serk, the chairman of the RCSS and the current interim leader of the Peace Process Steering Team comprising 10 EAOs, on Tuesday urged his colleagues to try to work on achieving good results to move the peace process forward, pointing out that the public is interested in the country’s politics, peace process and military affairs, and is “waiting to see the results of the JICM.”

Government representatives and the leaders of 10 ethnic armed organizations attend the 8th Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in Naypyitaw on Jan. 8, 2020. / Htet Naing Zaw / The Irrawaddy

Both sides agreed on eight points to move the peace process forward, according to U Zaw Htay, the government spokesman, who held a joint press briefing with Colonel Sai Ngern, the secretary of the RCSS, after the JICM.

They agreed to establish a stronger ceasefire and implement interim arrangements as outlined in chapters 3, 4 and 6 of the NCA text. They planned to further prepare and establish a model for what to include in part three of the Union Accord, which will be discussed and signed at the upcoming UPC.

Among the agreements made at the JICM were to convene the 21st-Century Panglong Union Peace Conference in the first quarter of this year; to form a working committee to ensure common understanding of the NCA terms and definitions; to make sure other EAOs who haven’t signed the NCA are included in the peace process; and to start the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) and JMC meetings.

 

At the past three sessions of the 21st-Century Panglong Union Peace Conference held in 2016, 2017 and 2018, 51 basic principles were inked as part of the Union Accords, but “these basic principles are not yet enough to achieve the union that we all dream of,” said the State Counselor. Thus, she urged, “We all have to continue to work harder to achieve thorough and complete federal principles for a future union.”

The stalemate began in May 2017 after the second session of the UPC, when the package deal—which includes such conditions as non-secession, forming a single army and self-determination—was thrown out. These key issues relating to federal principles were not resolved at the last UPC in July 2018.

No common understanding of the single army issue has yet been reached between the Tatmadaw and EAOs. Regarding a unified army, Sai Ngern told reporters in Naypyitaw on Wednesday that it depends on the level of trust that can be established during the course of the negotiations.

U Zaw Htay added that taking time to hold thorough discussions via informal, bilateral and multilateral talks would help build trust. He said he was optimistic that the hurdles can be overcome through step by step negotiations, as occurred in order to make the JICM happen in the past year.

During the impasse in the formal peace talks in 2019, the negotiators raised the issue of how to move the peace process forward after 2020, as Myanmar will be holding a general election this year and expecting a new government.

During the JICM on Wednesday, concerns for the peace process were also discussed and it was agreed to establish agreements for implementation of peace beyond 2020.

The JICM participants also decided to work further on the inclusion of those EAOs who are still negotiating with the government on their respective bilateral ceasefire agreements and on signing the NCA.

The government negotiators are planning to meet with those EAOs, especially the members of the Northern Alliance, which comprises the Kachin Independence Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), this month, U Zaw Htay said.

Their last meeting, in December in Kunming, China, was unsuccessful. 

However, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi reiterated the National League for Democracy government’s stand that the door to peace is always open to those groups who have yet to cease fighting and sign the NCA.

She said the government “always welcomes groups to come under the scope of the NCA. Our government opens the door to negotiate either in bilateral discussion with each group or multilateral discussions. For that, the NCA provides the outline.”

She also added that seeking political solutions through negotiations is the only pragmatic way to end Myanmar’s 70-year civil war.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also warned that, “Regarding the unexpected rises of armed conflicts [in the country] … problems cannot be solved by taking up arms and raising imaginary new solutions.”

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