Political Dialogue Moves Forward Without Input of Non-Signatory Armed Groups

By Lawi Weng 16 December 2015

RANGOON — The so-called Union Political Dialogue Joint Committee signed off on a draft framework for political dialogue in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, with the text handed to President Thein Sein for approval on Wednesday, according to the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC).

Hla Maung Shwe of the MPC told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the president would set a date for the commencement of the dialogue, expected in the coming weeks.

According to state-run media, based on Tuesday’s agreement, 700 representatives will participate in the political dialogue, including members of the Burma Army; political parties, including the National League for Democracy (NLD); lawmakers; government; and representatives of the eight non-state armed groups that signed the “nationwide” ceasefire agreement (NCA) in mid-October.

The Global New Light of Myanmar reported on Wednesday that the Burma Army, ethnic armed groups and political parties would each be allocated 150 seats in the coming dialogue, with 75 seats each reserved for government and MPs, 50 seats reserved for other ethnic leaders from non-armed groups and an additional 50 seats reserved for “other invitees.”

It was not immediately clear whether invited lawmakers would be drawn from the sitting chamber only or also include newly elected MPs.

A key outstanding question concerns whether, or how, non-ceasefire ethnic armed groups will be included in the process. According to Hla Maung Shwe, representatives of non-ceasefire groups, which include formidable forces such as the Kachin Independence Army and the Shan State Army-North, would be invited as observers.

“We are preparing to invite other armed groups who did not agree to sign the NCA to come and observe at the political dialogue,” Hla Maung Shwe said.

Speaking to reporters at a meeting of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) in northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai last week, the group’s vice-chairman, Nai Hong Sar, expressed serious reservations over the drafting process.

“We wanted them to wait before writing the political framework. We all needed to participate in writing the framework,” Nai Hong Sar said. “The NCA is fine, we agreed on it. But we cannot agree on their draft political framework [without reviewing it].”

The new NLD-led government could potentially revise the framework, Hla Maung Shwe said, but the current draft was intended to lay a foundation for the peace process.

Mya Aye, a pro-democracy activist with the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, said the NLD would potentially have to re-draft the political framework when non-signatory armed groups eventually signed the NCA.

Tar Jode Jar, vice-chairman of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, one of several non-ceasefire armed groups, said he was: “surprised to see discussions on political dialogue without major [non-signatory] groups.”

“I don’t know how they could go further without getting major armed groups [involved],” he said.