NAYPYIDAW – The security and political sector discussions reached an impasse during the second session of the Union Peace Conference in Naypyidaw this week, according to stakeholders.
Some 700 delegates have been instructed to discuss the basic principles for building a future federal state, laid out by the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC). Talks have centered around three other key sectors, in addition to politics and security: economics, society, and land and the environment.
The delegates took part in discussions on each sector on Thursday and Friday mornings. Participants representing the government, Parliament, military, political parties and ethnic armed organizations that signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) were present.
With the exception of the security and political sectors, delegates discussing the other sectors were able to “reach common understandings,” according to dozens of representatives with whom The Irrawaddy spoke, but the talks at the Union Peace Conference were not made public.
Daw Khin Ma Ma Myo, a stakeholder who joined the peace conference with a special interest in the security sector talks, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that “any discussion about the sector would be kept as a record.”
In the political sector, the term “non-secession” from the Union became a point of contention, as the ethnic armed group delegates advocated for it to be removed from the basic principles, but the Tatmadaw wanted it to remain.
Lt-Col Sai Ngern from the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), told The Irrawaddy on Friday that by signing the NCA text, the signatory groups have demonstrated trust in what are referred to as the state’s—and previous military regimes’—Three Main (National) Causes: “non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty.” Therefore, the lieutenant colonel argued that there “is no more need to include the term ‘non-secession’ from the Union.”
On Thursday, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy party also expressed concern in its statement that the term seems to represent worry on the part of the state, rather than a pragmatic solution. The party said in its statement that “inclusion of the term is also opposite of the first Panglong agreement” in 1947, to which the late Gen Aung San and ethnic Chin, Kachin and Shan leaders had agreed.
UPDJC member Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong said at the Thursday press conference that it is important how the state will ensure that ethnic nationalities do not secede.
While the political sector outlines 21 basic principles centering around sovereignty, equality, self-determination and federalism, the security sector has just one topic: the existence of a “sole” Tatmadaw; further details on this issue—which was presented for the first time—were not made public.
Delegates told The Irrawaddy that the Burma Army representatives urged for this concept to be agreed upon without further discussion. When this approach was rejected by participants, the discussion reportedly came to a halt after a half-day, while other sectors enjoyed a full day’s worth of discussion on Thursday on their topics.
Discussions on basic federal principles for other sectors include the input from national level dialogues held in Karen, Chin and Shan states and in Tanintharyi (Tenasserim) and Pegu divisions between January and May 2017.
Previously, the UPDJC had planned to create a Union accord based on the principles discussed in each sector. But as national level dialogues have not yet been held by the RCSS and the Arakan Liberation Party, the RCSS has said that it would not sign any agreement that comes out of the Union Peace Conference.