Peace Process Will Remain in Deadlock if Single Army Issue Cannot Be Resolved

By Nyein Nyein 18 December 2018

YANGON—The issue of establishing a single army will remain an obstacle to the ongoing peace process as long as the stakeholders of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) and the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) both hold their positions on the current conditions of the agreement, according to peace observers and stakeholders.

“The ideology of the single army is blurred, thus the conditions were raised when we talked about the issues,” said Col. Khun Okkar, patron of the Pa-O Nationalities Liberation Organization during his remarks at the book launch of “Non-secession, Single Army and Self-Determination” published by the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS).

He said on Monday that the EAOs would raise questions about conditions of the would-be single army, including on its structure, responsibilities and so on, before fully agreeing on the issue. The Tatmadaw has urged them to accept the basic principles without knowing the full extent of the conditions of the proposed single army.

The issue of forming a single army has fallen behind other discussions because issues surrounding the security sector have not been able to move beyond the initial stages. Along with it, a common understanding of non-secession and self-determination—labeled as part of the package deal—has not been reached and thus the discussions have been stalled for nearly two years.

Although the National League for Democracy (NLD) government does not strongly object to the package deal—which includes conditions of non-secession, forming a single army and self-determination—no common understanding of the single army issue has yet been reached between the Tatmadaw and EAOs.

Khun Okkar said the Tatmadaw’s immovable position on these three issues has delayed the peace process, and that solutions should be widely discussed between the negotiators.

In the MIPS publication, solutions and suggestions for overcoming the deadlock on the package deal were documented. They felt the need to focus on those issues since no agreement was reached at the third session of the 21st Panglong Peace Conference [in July], according to Salai Ngun Gung Lian, a researcher at the MIPS.

The book included examples from a number of different democratic states and their constitutional clauses on the issues of secession, single armed forces and self-determination.

The publication also highlighted three important suggestions on the single army issue: for the stakeholders to agree to a single army which protects the Union’s borders and to form an army and state armed police force which would take responsibility for law and order in the states and regions close to the borders. It suggested that the army and the state armed police force be under the command of the Tatmadaw’s commander-in-chief, but for the state armed police force to be a separate institution to the current Myanmar police force.

The suggestion caused confusion for observers who see the border guard forces and militia already in operation at Myanmar’s borders to be similar to his suggested groups.

The Tatmadaw’s forcing of the EAOs to form border guard forces back in 2009 resulted in renewed fighting, particularly between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army.

However, Salai Ngan Cung Lian told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the suggestions in the publication are not about border guard forces. He said more publications they expect to produce in the next six months will have further details on the analysis of the single army issue, as well as other suggestions.