Peace Stakeholders Soul-Searching With MPC’s Fate in Limbo

By Saw Yan Naing & Lawi Weng 18 March 2016

The National League for Democracy’s failure to articulate a clear plan for the Myanmar Peace Center’s future has its staff dusting off résumés, pledging fealty to the incoming administration or, in the case of the outgoing government’s lead peace negotiator, eyeing a role “outside” the official dialogue.

While peace process stakeholders largely agree that the status of the MPC will be decided by NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, there is no such certainty about the institution’s fate over the years to come.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Hla Maung Shwe, a senior advisor at the MPC, a government-affiliated organization that brings together government and ethnic leaders for negotiations, said Suu Kyi has not yet made clear how the organization will function in Burma’s changing political climate.

“When we met her [Suu Kyi], she said three things about the MPC: First, she appreciated what the MPC has done. Second, she will keep the MPC. And third, she will have to review all of the work that [the organization] has done,” Hla Maung Shwe said.

Some observers, however, predict that there will be major changes within the MPC, particularly when it comes to deciding which members will be dismissed and which members might be integrated into a new peace organization led by Suu Kyi.

Tun Tun Hein, an executive committee member of the NLD, told The Irrawaddy on Friday: “We will not abolish the MPC, but we will have to reform it in the future.”

“All of the [necessary] people will find out about these reforms when the time comes.”

He assured members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of nine ethnic groups that have so far opted out of signing the Oct. 15 “nationwide” ceasefire with the outgoing government, that they would have a seat at the negotiating table in an NLD-led dialogue, whatever form that might take.

Aung Min, MPC chairman and the outgoing government’s lead negotiator, said he would split from the center and form a think tank-style organization that focuses on peace and development in the region.

“I’ll be supporting from the outside,” Aung Min told The Irrawaddy during a meeting last month in Chiang Mai with leaders from ethnic armed groups. “For peace-building to be sustained, we ought to start thinking about development. When I form [a new] foundation, I am thinking of naming it the Peace and Development Foundation. I could work on peace issues while also focusing on regional development.”

A BBC report, quoting a senior MPC member, has claimed that Aung Min is applying for a license at the Home Affairs Ministry and plans to open his new office in downtown Rangoon.

Min Zaw Oo, director of the MPC’s ceasefire negotiation and implementation department, told The Irrawaddy that as the organization goes through its own transition, some members will pursue different tasks within the MPC, while some may leave altogether.

“All individuals can decide freely. As of right now, I don’t know whether or not I’ll continue at the MPC. I’ll help whoever comes to power. I’ll help the NLD when it comes to power,” Min Zaw Oo said, adding that the NLD had not officially contacted him about a job offer. However, he said that it was unlikely that he would join Aung Min’s new organization.

Sources familiar with the MPC say Western donors such as the European Union (EU) will halt financial support of the MPC at the end of March until Suu Kyi makes a decision on the center’s fate.

The MPC, launched in 2012 as a part of an agreement with the Norway-led Peace Support Donor Group, marks one of the EU’s earliest re-engagements with Burma after the ruling military junta transferred power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011.

The Irrawaddy reporter Kyaw Kha contributed to this report.