NCA Signatories’ Team Urges Govt to Allow for Dialogue

By Nyein Nyein 15 May 2017

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A team providing leadership in the peace talks for eight signatories of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) has urged the government to let two of its members hold national level dialogue before the second round of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference.

The Peace Process Steering Team (PPST), led by the Karen National Union (KNU) chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe, met in Chiang Mai, Thailand, over the weekend to discuss the prevention of the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) from conducting ethnic-based national-level political dialogues.

The dialogue collects public opinion on issues such as political rights, land disputes, and the environment, which will be shared by representatives at the Panglong conference—also known as the Union Peace Conference (UPC)—to begin on May 24.

The dialogues—based on region, ethnicity and theme—are a mandatory step in the process laid out by the NCA. The government, however, has not allowed the ALP to hold public consultations, citing the instability due to ongoing conflict in Arakan State.

The Burma Army’s reluctance to allow the RCSS to gather the public in the Shan State capital Taunggyi has delayed the group’s attempt for ethnic-based dialogue.

ALP vice chairman Khaing Soe Naing Aung said the PPST would send a letter to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma Army commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing asking for permission to allow his group to conduct national dialogue at a suitable place.

“The ALP is ready to conduct our dialogue, and we think it would just take a day to do so,” he told The Irrawaddy on Sunday.

The ALP has formed a committee comprising its members, the Arakan National Party, and civil society members for the dialogue, said Khaing Soe Naing Aung, adding that they just need the government’s permission to proceed.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said Rakhine is a sensitive place to conduct national level dialogue at the moment,” he said. “But we have other places that are not very sensitive, like Yangon, [southern Arakan townships] Thandwe or Kyaukphyu, which are not in northern Rakhine State. Our request has been repeatedly rejected.”

The State Counselor turned down the ALP’s request on April 24 to hold ethnic-based national level dialogue.

The situation in Arakan State has remained volatile since the Burma Army began “clearance operations” after militants attacked border police outposts there on Oct. 9; a Rohingya group calling itself Harakah al-Yaqin claimed responsibility for the attacks.

During the operations by security forces that followed, hundreds of Rohingya Muslims were reportedly killed and about 75,000 fled to Bangladesh, according to the United Nations.

U Khaing Soe Naing Aung said participants of the ethnic-based national-level dialogue would be of “Rakhine ethnicity and its sub-tribes,” and there would be no representatives from the Rohingya community, a majority in northern Arakan but a minority in the state as a whole.

On Friday, the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, discussed recommendations collected at government-led events and from public consultations at national-level dialogues of the KNU, the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), the Chin National Front (CNF), and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF).

The recommendations, categorized as political, economic, social, security, and land and environment, will be negotiated at the Union Peace Conference and, once they are agreed upon, signed as Union accords.

The RCSS has stated concerns that the views of people who live in its territory will not be heard at the Union Peace Conference.

“We do not want that to become an obstacle for the peace process, so we shared our concerns with the PPST and requested some time for us to find a way to overcome it,” said Sai Laeng, a leading member of the RCSS’s peace implementation committee.

Both the ALP and RCSS have stated that they will not skip the upcoming Union Peace Conference, regardless of whether they can hold national level dialogues before the conference.

Sai Laeng said the RCSS would consult with the Committee for Shan State Unity this week to find a way “to reflect the Shan State people’s wishes in the peace process.”