Guest Column

A Partner in Peace

By Katja Nordgaard, Political Parties 31 December 2012

As a long-time backer of Myanmar’s efforts to restore democracy, Norway was recently asked to coordinate international support for the country’s ceasefires by chairing the Peace Donor Support Group. To provide concrete support, the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI) was established.

Unlike the situation when previous ceasefires were established in Myanmar, the current efforts are taking place in a context of nationwide political reforms and democratization. For the international community not to support this opportunity to achieve peace after decades of conflict would be irresponsible.

Of course, we are fully aware of the need for the fighting to stop across the country and for a genuine dialogue on political issues to begin. But, to be clear, Norway is not mediating in or facilitating the ceasefire talks. Our role has been to support the agreements already reached between the government and the non-state armed groups (NSAGs), and to help build trust and confidence in the fragile period between when the ceasefires are signed and the political process of addressing the underlying causes of the conflicts begins. A precondition for Norway’s engagement to support the ceasefires has all along been that these agreements are followed by a genuine political process.

At a meeting between Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Myanmar President Thein Sein in Naypyitaw on November 3, the president confirmed that the government will now begin a political dialogue process by meeting all the armed groups to ask them to identify issues that they feel will be most important in future talks.

The MPSI is not a development program; nor is it about the repatriation or relocation of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). It was created earlier this year as a short-term effort to support the ceasefires as the first stage of the peace process. Under this initiative, members of the international community are supporting the peace endeavors in Myanmar in a concrete way.

Just half a year after the decision was made to form the MPSI, it has begun a number of very small but significant and politically important pilot projects in a number of ceasefire areas where there was previously no access to IDPs and the most vulnerable populations.

The MPSI responds to concrete requests by the parties to the ceasefires. These vary from ceasefire to ceasefire, and reflect the different levels of confidence between the parties to the ceasefires. Before the MPSI decides to respond to the requests, and before any activity is undertaken, intensive consultations are undertaken with affected communities and civil society.

The MPSI aims to facilitate consultations with and interactions between the NSAGs, central and local governments, local communities, civil society organizations including women’s group’s, and other stakeholders. Claims that the MPSI is only engaging Yangon-based NGOs are not correct. In our pilot project in Kayin State, for instance, our implementing partner is the exile-based Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People, which has never before been able to operate openly in Myanmar.

The MPSI also hopes to support the establishment of community-based ceasefire monitoring mechanisms in Chin and Kayah states. Most of these projects will not be financed by Norway, but by other donor countries identified by MPSI. This is another important feature of the MPSI: that it has provided a platform for a coordinated approach from the donor community and given the possibility to share information and to plan and discuss how best to support peace in the longer term.

When the parties to the ceasefires agree to liaison offices, the MPSI will look at how to support these offices and their role as platforms for local dialogue amongst stakeholders. What this demonstrates is that the MPSI is as much about testing the political will of all parties as it is about the activities themselves.

The MPSI is breaking new ground and striving to ensure that the experiences from the initiatives are captured and fed into longer-term strategies. In addition, support for consultation processes will help start the dialogue on key issues in the peace process. Once more sustainable support mechanisms start to operate, the MPSI will no longer be needed.

The full responsibility for the initiation of a genuine political process to establish lasting peace lies only with the parties to the conflicts. It is extremely difficult to build peace after a long and bitter conflict. It will take years, and there will be setbacks and difficulties, and everybody will have to make sacrifices. Courageous and visionary leadership will be required on all sides. But if the political will exists, then peace and a democratic transition are possible. Norway and the rest of the international community stand ready to support this.

This story first appeared in the December 2012 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.