Shan National Dialogue In Doubt After Public Consultation Cancelled

By Nyein Nyein 5 January 2018

YANGON – A Shan national-level dialogue (ND) convened for Langkho (Lin Khay) next week is now unlikely to go ahead after a Shan public consultation planned to be held in Taunggyi this weekend had to be cancelled.

“We are not sure yet whether it will be held in Langkho, as the pre-consultation for the ND in Taunggyi on Jan. 7-9 has been cancelled,” said Sai Kyaw Nyunt, secretary of both the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and the Shan national-level dialogue convening committee. He also represents the SNLD at the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC).

If the Shan national-level political dialogue in Langkho is not held, the participation of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) in the upcoming session of the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference (UPC) later this month will pose a dilemma for the organisers. Although the Shan ND was not able to be carried out before May last year, the RCSS still participated in the second session of the 21st Panglong UPC, in order to allow the process to continue.

Tensions have been high since the last few weeks of 2017 when the pre-consultations being led by the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU) — which is chaired by the RCSS – were blocked by the Tatmadaw and later by the Shan State government.

Talks were held between the RCSS, a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), and the Tatmadaw, but they failed to find a way around the impasse.

The Tatmadaw has long insisted that only the RCSS, an NCA signatory, can lead the Shan ethnic based ND, and rejected the pre-consultations on the grounds that there is no provision for them in the agreement.

The Tatmadaw has said the RCSS can hold consultations or the ND in their territories but not in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, which is controlled by the government. Given this, the RCSS and the Tatmadaw have not been able to agree on a venue, as the RCSS had proposed Taunggyi as the site for the dialogue.

The military’s obstructionist moves were reportedly due to the consultations being held under the leadership of the CSSU. The CSSU – an alliance of Shan political parties, the Shan armed groups, the RCSS and the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), and civil society groups – includes the SSPP as a member. The SSPP is a non-signatory to the NCA and is a member of the northeast based Federal Political Negotiation and Consultation Committee.

Another possible concern of the Tatmadaw seemed to be centered on public gatherings held by the Shan, as the Shan were a politically strong group and a key player in the Federal movement in 1961, which preceded a military coup a year later.

“We Shans have put our efforts into building the federal union since new Union of Myanmar was created [70 years ago] and we have maintained those efforts. So the public gathering prior to the Shan national-level dialogue should be allowed. It is for good,” said Sai Aung Myint Oo, a prominent ethnic Shan youth.

According to the NCA text, only the signatories to the pact can hold national level political dialogues as laid down in the political roadmap (Section 20, Chapter 5), as agreed by both sides of NCA signatories.

Peace commission secretary U Khin Zaw Oo, a former lieutenant-general who is acting as the Tatmadaw’s intermediary, told The Irrawaddy last week that it was not a problem who led the ND, but the obstruction may be due to there being no stated provision for pre-consultations for the ND in the [framework] agreement.

Observers and some stakeholders have suggested that the Shan pre-consultations would not present a problem if they slightly amended the title to “public consultations” instead of “pre-discussion for the ND”.

The title has become a sticking point as the government, Tatmadaw and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) all have different understandings about the concept of a pre-consultation and the ND, said Khun Okkar, of the PaO Nationalities Liberation Organization. He said they hoped to find a solution to the matter during a UPDJC meeting next week, on Jan. 9.

“It won’t matter whether we change the title or not. They just don’t want us to convene. Prior to us, the Karens, Chins and PaOs also did the same and they were able to hold consultations [in 2017],” said Sai Kyaw Nyunt, adding that even the civil society groups, which held their final forum in Naypyidaw this week — were able to do pre-consultations in almost every state and region.

“If the rules are applied differently for different groups, it won’t be convenient,” he said.

Although the NCA guarantees participation to all ethnic nationalities at all levels of political dialogue, “the public collaborations are being reduced,” said Sai Kyaw Nyunt. “I also wonder why the civilian government doesn’t want to allow us to attend, and why the Tatmadaw keeps blocking us,” he said.

Sai Kyaw Nyunt asserted there had been a gentleman’s agreement on the pre-ND. “We were told it is not stipulated, and that we have to do it by the book,” he said, “I would argue there is no restriction either in the NCA, or in the political dialogue frameworks stating that non-signatories cannot hold such dialogues.”

According to the NCA roadmap, the political dialogues are a key foundation step to amending the Constitution, as an agreement from the political dialogues, including the discussion of security sector reform, would have to be presented at the Union Peace Conference (UPC) for the Union Accord to be signed.

However, the current peace-building process has become mired in uncertainty as the framework on the political dialogue has not yet become a common agreement and the UPC is being held without a complete convening of the political dialogues.

After the second 21st Panglong UPC, the first part of the Union Accord was signed with a lack of key federal principles. This was partly due to the Tatmadaw’s position of wanting a non-separation of the ethnic states from the Union of Myanmar and its demand for the EAOs to make such a pledge. The question remains whether the stakeholders will be able to include the key federal principles, such as the drafting of ethnic state constitutions and self-determination, in the new Constitution.

Without the key federal principles, any change to the Constitution, which is one of the main aims of the NLD government, will be unsuccessful. Sai Kyaw Nyunt said the UPC would not be needed if the government and the Tatmadaw did not want to change the Constitution.

For the federal principles to be included in the Union Accord, all nationalities of Myanmar must strive to achieve it, said Khun Okkar.