Guest Column

Myanmar’s Peace Process Is A Puzzling Phenomenon

By Joe Kumbun 30 September 2019

When the civil war resumed in 2011 between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), it quickly spilled over into other states like an Amazon wildfire, spreading from Kachin State to Northern Shan and Rakhine states. Since the resumption of fighting, the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) have met several times both formally and informally to try and stop the conflicts and seek peace in Myanmar.

The groups involved have been seeking a way to end the conflicts for eight years. So far, this quest for a solution has proved elusive. Solving the problem in Myanmar has proven to be a puzzling phenomenon.

Recent meetings between the government plus the Myanmar Army and the Northern Alliance—the KIA, Arakan Army (AA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—reached seven points of agreement as a prelude for bilateral agreements, but challenges and uncertainty linger.

Challenges to bilateral agreements

The Northern Alliance wants to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement as a collective, whereas the Myanmar Army prefers separate agreements. The Northern Alliance proposed signing a bilateral agreement collectively, though its individual members are willing to hold detailed discussions. After several discussions, the Myanmar Army seemingly has accepted the proposal.

However, the condition for the bilateral ceasefire is that once both sides sign the agreement, they must stop fighting and remain where they are deployed. For instance, if the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) and the AA sign an agreement, the AA’s troops would have to stop fighting and leave its troops where they are. In this case, the Tatmadaw does not want the AA to be stationed in Rakhine State. Thus, the military proposes that if the AA wants to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement, it has to pull back from Rakhine State and go back to its “birthplace” in the KIA-controlled areas of northern Shan State.

However, the AA categorically refuses to do so, because it has deployed many forces in Rakhine State. This issue has become a major barrier to the AA and the other groups signing bilateral agreements.

 7 out of eight points

At the recent talks in Kengtung, Shan State, the Tatmadaw and the Northern Alliance reached agreement on seven out of eight points.  The seven points they agreed on are: 1) to discuss ceasing armed conflict and signing a bilateral ceasefire agreement; 2) to tackle the internally displaced persons (IDPs) issue; 3) to set ceasefire rules; 4) to establish communication offices to avoid further clashes; 5) to avoid making arrests on both sides to build mutual trust; 6) to discuss the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) process; and 7) to discuss establishing a mechanism for conflict resolution.

One point that has not been agreed involves ceasefire monitoring. The fact is, the Northern Alliance has proposed that China, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), or both, be invited and included in the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC).

The current JMC consists of representatives of the three main groups, namely the government, the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and individuals proposed proportionately by the government and EAOs. However, all the chair positions, ranging from the Union to the local levels of the JMC, are held by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military).

The government doesn’t seem to want China or the UWSA to participate in the JMC, partly because China is a foreign actor and partly because the Tatmadaw is not clashing with the UWSA.

Uncertainty

The next meeting is scheduled for early October. However, officials from the government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) are currently traveling in Western countries on a study trip.

Besides this, the government is also preparing to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the NCA with 10 ethnic armed signatories on Oct. 15. There are also the Thadingyut holidays in the middle of the month, and government officials will be celebrating during the festival.

Thus, the talks cannot be held again until late October or early November. If the fighting continues or escalates, it is uncertain whether a meeting could be called anytime soon.

Sooner the better

The sooner bilateral ceasefire agreements can be signed, the faster the peace process can move forward. If bilateral ceasefire agreements can be reached between the Myanmar Army and Northern Alliance, it will be a major step forward for the peace process.

Therefore, both sides must stop the fighting and seek possible solutions to end the armed conflicts. Stopping the fighting, as soon as possible, is a sine qua non for the ceasefire talks and the peace process.

In the meantime, the Myanmar Army should extend the unilateral ceasefire it terminated in mid-September, as the AA, MNDAA and TNLA have extended their truce till December 2019. This is a major linchpin in stopping the fighting and signing bilateral ceasefire agreements with the Northern Alliance.

Thus, the Myanmar Army should show its magnanimity and accept the demands of all groups for the sake of Myanmar’s citizens, who have yearned for peace for many years. Unless it can adopt such an attitude and utilize the existing momentum, it will be too late for peace in Myanmar.

Joe Kumbun is the pseudonym of an analyst based in Kachin State.

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