Saturday marked the first anniversary of the signing of the controversial nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) by the previous government and eight non-state armed groups, including those belonging to the Karen, Shan, Chin and Pa-O, among others. The occasion was commemorated in Naypyidaw by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the current National League for Democracy government.
Leaders highlighted the need to work toward building peace and national reconciliation. Yet, one year on, fighting is ongoing in the northern parts of the country, and clashes have renewed between NCA signatories like the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Burma Army.
Armed Organizations as ‘Fire Extinguishers’
In the past, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has highlighted her own role in the peace process as that of a mediator or negotiator. On the NCA anniversary, she called on the cooperation of others in moving forward.
“Organizations should not compete in their fire power, but rather, vie to extinguish the fire,” said the State Counselor in her address, which not did name specific armed groups, but pointed out that stakeholders which should be included are being left out.
There is also a continued Burma Army offensive against the Kachin Independence Army—which opted out of signing the NCA—in Kachin and northern Shan states.
Saw Mutu Say Poe, chair of the Karen National Union, spoke at the anniversary event on behalf of the NCA signatories.
“I would like to call for the government and Tatmadaw in all seriousness to ease their policies and suspend the use of force in order to pave way for non-signatories to sign the NCA,” he said.
Forty days before the anniversary, the NLD government concluded the Union Peace Conference, known as the 21st Century Panglong, in Naypyidaw, with both signatories and non-signatories of the NCA participating.
The framework on future political dialogue is being reviewed in order for it to include all armed group stakeholders. From there, political talks are to be held at the state and regional level. But those who have not signed the NCA would not have the opportunity to hold such talks; the Tatmadaw pointed out that it would be beyond the reach of the NCA.
In his speech, army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing reiterated that “without signing the NCA pact, any initiatives toward a national level meeting should not be attempted.”
Indeed, Burma’s biggest armed force, the Tatmadaw, has lacked any demonstration of magnanimity toward the country’s ethnic armed groups.
Could the UNFC Members Become NCA Signatories?
Despite setbacks over the past year, the seven-member non-signatory coalition of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) expressed optimism toward the peace process after meeting government peace negotiators on Saturday afternoon in Naypyidaw.
“Signing NCA could become possible as now the government has agreed to some of [the points in] our proposal,” head of the UNFC’s delegation for political negotiations (DPN) Khu Oo Reh told the press after the meeting, and added that further discussion on military affairs is still needed.
The UNFC stakeholders will meet with the government again in early November, according to Hla Maung Shwe, the adviser to the government’s peace commission. The team is optimistic that the UNFC’s DPN will join a review meeting on the framework for political dialogue this week in Rangoon.
The State Counselor, who is also the head of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center, laid out an updated seven-step road map toward achieving national reconciliation and peace at the Union level. It includes the review and amendment of the political dialogue framework, the convening of a peace conference [every six months] through the approved framework, and the signing of an agreement based on the results of the conferences.
The roadmap further describes a plan to amend the 2008 Constitution based on the future peace agreement, with the ultimate goal outlined as building a democratic federal union through the holding of multi-party general elections.
Currently the stakeholders are engaged in the first step, a review of the dialogue framework, which has been ongoing since before the commencement of the Union peace conference in late August.
Citizens of Burma are familiar with such roadmaps, which were introduced under the junta in 2003, as well as under the previous quasi-civilian government in 2015, based on the original text of the NCA.
Article 20 described the seven steps as: signing the NCA, drafting a framework for political dialogue, holding national talks based on the framework and working on the process of “security reintegration,” holding the Union Peace Conference, signing a Union-level accord, getting the accord ratified by the Parliament, and implementing the agreement and security reintegration process.
One year later, around half of the steps have been implemented.
“The current government should continue implementing the rest of the steps,” said a former staff member of the Myanmar Peace Center—which operated under ex-President Thein Sein—speaking under the condition of anonymity. The new roadmap, he said, is the same as the NCA’s, with the exception of the State Counselor’s suggestion that the Constitution be amended after the signing of a Union-level peace accord.