Could a Logistical Issue Overturn Myanmar’s Peace Talks?

By Nyein Nyein 29 October 2019

The Myanmar military’s Central Eastern Command blocked the delegation of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) from traveling to Naypyitaw last Friday to attend the fourth Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) anniversary. It is a sign that negotiations will become harder, according to the RCSS chairman.

The NCA anniversary was previously held annually on Oct. 15 until this month, commemorating the day when eight ethnic armed organizations, including the RCSS, signed the peace deal with the government and the military in 2015.

This year the anniversary commemoration was held on Oct. 28 with nine of the 10 signatories, excluding the RCSS.

RCSS chairman General Yawd Serk told a press conference on Sunday: “We had arranged to meet the State Counselor and the army chief. If we could meet, we would be able to discuss peace-building and find solutions together. But Major General Than Hlaing of the Central Eastern Command stopped our motorcade and now the peace boat has been overturned.”

The 11-strong RCSS delegation, led by Gen. Yawd Serk, canceled its participation. The delegation was about to cross the Nar Moon border in Shan State from Mae Hong Song in Thailand and use the Langkho-Namhsan-Taunggyi route.

A military spokesman in Naypyitaw during a regular press conference on Saturday said there were security concerns about the RCSS route, and suggested that they fly to Naypyitaw from Tachileik.

The RCSS dismissed this as an excuse as there was no problem along the route. The group said the military did not want the delegates to meet the public along the proposed route.

Was it already agreed?

Gen. Yawd Serk told The Irrawaddy via his interpreter that they had agreed the route with military representatives and the Peace Commission during their negotiations this month.

“If we could not use this route, the response should have come a week earlier. On the night of Oct. 24, we were suddenly told that we would not be allowed to pass the gate. They [the military] changed their minds quickly,” said Gen. Yawd Serk.

He said it pointed to a lack of cooperation between the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), Peace Commission and the military, even though the RCSS had negotiated with all of them about the route.

Peace Commission chairman Dr. Tin Myo Win requested the RCSS chairman join the event on Oct. 25, saying the group’s participation was vital for the peace process.

Gen. Yawd Serk acknowledged Dr. Tin Myo Win’s letter but said: “It did not include how they will help solve the problem with the route. Like the Tatmadaw [military], they say we must fly from Tachileik. They did not see our difficulties.”

The RCSS, which operates close to the Thai border, said it took around five days to receive approval from Thailand for the route because they have to use Thai roads and re-enter Myanmar.

The RCSS said it did not have enough time to change the route.

Relations with the RCSS, government and Tatmadaw had been friendly but the rushed process this month had caused problems, said Dr. Min Zaw Oo, an adviser to Myanmar’s Peace Commission and director of the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS).

JICM delay hampers negotiations

This week the Karen National Union chairman General Saw Mutu Sae Poe met State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the army chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The meetings were seen as a way to push forward with the eighth JICM formal peace negotiations.

The RCSS was also supposed to meet them and the reported plan for the State Counselor to host a dinner for the RCSS chair was also canceled.

Formal JICM discussions have not been held regularly since last year, but the negotiators prepared the discussion points for the JICM. RCSS delegates were among the active negotiators until last Friday, when the latest pre-JICM discussions were conducted and laid out at least eight points to be agreed at the formal JICM.

“The JICM meeting is important but the Tatmadaw’s blocking our attendance means it does not want it to happen,” said the RCSS chairman. “It is a sign that shows it wants to dissolve the NCA.”

The RCSS claimed the Tatmadaw was violating the NCA by trying to restrict signatories’ freedom of movement and to communicate with the public or political parties.

The eighth JICM is a way to move forward with political negotiations and the observers say it will lead to a Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee meeting and the fourth session of the 21st-century Panglong peace conference can be convened.

The RCSS chairman said trust-building was key to achieving peace and reforms.  “But the Tatmadaw is trying to undermine trust-building and cause disintegration.”

SEO: RCSS, Restoration Council of Shan State, NCA, National Ceasefire Agreement, Tatmadaw, military, Aung San Suu Kyi, General Yawd Serk, Min Aung Hlaing, peace talks, Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting, JICM, 21st-century Panglong, Naypyitaw, Shan State