Government to Accelerate Political Dialogue

By Saw Yan Naing 21 October 2016

RANGOON — Amid fighting on the ground in Kachin and Shan states, the Burmese government’s peace negotiation body is planning to hold a national-level political dialogue with or without all ethnic armed organizations in November.

According to regulations within the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), only the eight ethnic armed organizations who are signatories, alongside the Burma Army, are eligible to attend the political dialogue. Those who didn’t sign the NCA, including the seven-member United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), are not qualified to participate.

Hla Maung Shwe, a spokesperson for the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), said that the Burmese government will move forward with the plan, and hinted that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could be open to including UNFC members.

“The State Counselor even said that we were late in holding the [peace] conference,” Hla Maung Shwe said, in reference to the 21st century Panglong event held at the end of August. “While opening one door, we will continue what we need to do.”

During meetings in Rangoon this week, the Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), a committee that represents the UNFC, agreed to hold another meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi early November. If they reach an agreement with the State Counselor, it has been speculated that the UNFC would sign the NCA and join the national-level political dialogue.

Representatives of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) and leaders of ethnic armed groups—both signatories and non-signatories to the 2015 nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)—held meetings this week in Rangoon where they reviewed the political framework in preparation for the dialogue to be held in all of the country’s seven states and seven divisions in late November.

Dates for the political dialogue will be announced by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—who also serves as chairperson of the Union Peace and Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC)—on October 28, when a meeting with government peace negotiators is planned in Naypyidaw.

Khun Okkar, an advisor for the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), said, “It is neither accelerating nor slowing. We are going according to the NCA process. In the NCA, we are supposed to hold national-level political dialogue.”

“We can’t take time to reach an agreement to build a federal union. There will be conflicts. It is not possible to wait until the end of the conflict to build a federal nation. We accept that there are conflicts, but, we can’t wait. So we move in accordance with the plan,” said Khun Okkar.

He added that it is expected that conflicts will be ongoing during a political transition, and that he feels the political dialogue will lead the country toward an official end to the civil war.

Leading members of the UNFC, such as the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) pointed that they are not ready to sign the NCA as there is ongoing fighting in Kachin and Shan states, according to sources at the recent meeting.

On the one year anniversary of the NCA signing on October 15, Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said that ethnic armed organizations who did not sign the agreement should not be able to participate in the national-level political dialogue, as it would be against the NCA regulations.

If the UNFC again opts out of signing the NCA, only eight NCA signatories including Karen National Union (KNU) and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) will be eligible to participate in the political dialogue.

According to the observers and sources at the meeting, the UNFC attempted to access the political dialogue without signing the NCA, but failed. The government peace delegation told them that they could participate in the political dialogue only after they sign the NCA.