Ethnic Armed Groups Lament ‘Delayed’ Peace Process

By Htet Naing Zaw 20 October 2017

NAYPYITAW — The new peace process under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government has been sluggish, according to some ethnic armed groups, who cite differences between the Tatmadaw and government as well as a lack of experience and skills in those leading the process.

“It has been delayed,” said Saw Mra Raza Lin, vice chairperson of the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP). “If the government care about the people and the country, it should prioritize how to overcome those delays.”

While there are differences within the government, ethnic armed organizations (EAO) are also not unified, proposing alternative approaches to peace building, which has hampered the process, she said.

“It is the disunity among the EAOs which is hindering the process to step up. So we, including the government, all have to try to get all of the EAOs on board,” she added.

According to peace observers, clashes between the Tatmadaw and nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)-signatories reduced by 90 percent after signing the NCA. The Myanmar Army chief has said all EAOs must sign the NCA to join political dialogue, whether they are in clashes with the Tatmadaw or not.

Problems with leadership have strained the peace process, according to EAO leaders, as the country requires decisions from the civilian government and the military, which holds key security powers, to move forward on issues.

Previous chief peace negotiator U Aung Min convinced former president U Thein Sein to support him, enabling U Aung Min to effectively work with Tatmadaw generals. But this aspect of the peace process is missing under the NLD government, said a peace negotiator from the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF).

The peace negotiator who asked for anonymity told The Irrawaddy that if NCA signatories did not sign the NCA under the U Thein Sein administration, signing under the current circumstances would be impossible.

“The current peace negotiators can not make any decisions. All have to go to the State Counselor, who is the chief peace negotiator. Besides, we have seen some negotiations regress, as the Tatmadaw does not agree on the negotiations although the government has agreed,” he said.

Khun Okker, patron of the Pa-O National Liberation Organisation, said the government wants to allow ethnic armed groups to hold national-level political dialogues freely but the Tatmadaw wants controls.

He is optimistic, however, that if the NCA is maintained, the aspiration of peace will not be destroyed despite the country being far from achieving it.

“The slow movement in the peace efforts are due to the people,” he said, tersely appraising the peace process.

Leaders of NCA signatories hold government leaders and the Tatmadaw directly responsible for the delays, although they welcomed the start of political dialogue after 70 years of civil war.

“The main hurdle is how to do the ceasefire. There is no restriction either by the government or the Tatmadaw on whichever status of the delegates joining the [union peace conferences],” said U Min Zaw Oo, advisor to the peace commission, who has been involved in the peace process since its inception.

The government peace commission is still in talks with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) to sign the NCA. They will meet on Oct 23-24 in Yangon for their seventh round of talks over the nine-point proposal of the UNFC.

The current peace process continues in two different paths. The NCA signatories are moving forward to reach a lasting peace in the southern part of the country, while clashes persist in the north.

The government sticks firmly to the NCA, while new the Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee (FPNCC), led by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) urge for an alternative approach.

Notably, the FPNCC and the UNFC did not join the celebration of the two-year anniversary of eight EAOs signing the NCA last week.

“We invited them [the non-signatories of NCA], they did not come. Same for last year. If I have to frankly criticize, they do not want to acknowledge the work of the eight EAOs and the government and the Tatmadaw. If they come, it shows that they are with us; as they don’t want to show this, they avoid,” said Khun Okker.