Guest Column

Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement is a Forlorn Hope

By Joe Kumbun 12 October 2017

The government plans to hold a ceremony to mark the two-year anniversary of landmark peace accord the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw on Sunday.

Three leaders—State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Army Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, and leader of the Karen National Union (KNU) Gen. Saw Mutu Sae Poe—will deliver the opening speeches.

For Khun Okka of the Pa-O National Liberation Organisation (PNLO), the anniversary celebration is an attempt to awaken a stalling and faltering peace process. The NCA has brought no quantifiable results, some like Khun Okka argue, only a complex stalemate. Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) member Sai Kyaw Nyunt has complained that the NCA has become even more complex and convoluted in the two years since groups first signed.

Only eight out of Myanmar’s 21 ethnic armed groups signed the accord at its inception. We must ask the question: Why has the NCA failed to include all ethnic armed groups and why are they refusing to sign it?

The success of the NCA can be seen to hinge on four groups: The Myanmar Army, the civilian government, NCA-signatory ethnic armed groups, and non NCA-signatory armed groups.

The Myanmar Army (The Tatmadaw)

The Tatmadaw is the major linchpin in the peace process. Peace or conflict depends on how it reacts to the demands of ethnic groups.

The 2008 Constitution is heavily loaded in favor of the Tatmadaw by granting its members 25 percent of seats in the Union and state parliaments and leaving the military in charge of three key ministries.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself admitted she cannot control the Tatmadaw under the military-drafted 2008 Constitution when she met the New Mon State Party (NMSP) in early September.

The National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) is the country’s most powerful body and is comprised of eleven members: From the military, the commander-in-chief, the deputy commander-in-chief, one vice-president, the defense minister, the home minister, the border affairs minister and from the civilian government, the president, the second vice president, the speakers of both houses of the Union parliament, and the foreign minister (Daw Aung San Suu Kyi).

With six members from the military against five from the civilian government, voting power remains with the Tatmadaw.

The Tatmadaw’s blatant power hangs over Myanmar’s peace process and unless it is willing to cease conflicts and expedite negotiations, the NCA will go nowhere and bring no benefits.

An example is the case of three armed groups—the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—who are excluded from the peace process by the Tatmadaw.

The Civilian Government

The government acts as negotiator between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups. Under the tenure of U Thein Sein’s government, numerous negotiations took place but no quantifiable results were seen, except perhaps the, now stalling, NCA.

The process has now been taken over by the new government led by Nobel Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who has convened two conferences dubbed the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference. Despite the State Counselor’s stated conviction to inclusiveness, a number of ethnic armed groups have been excluded from participating in the conferences.

The first session of her 21st Century Panglong peace conference ended with the United Wa State Army walking out on the second day of talks, claiming they had not been given permission to address the conference.

The second session of the conference ended without agreement on the contentious issue of non-secession from the Union, which participants claimed was contrary to the spirit of the 1947 Panglong Agreement and the promises made by Gen. Aung San.

The conference reached agreements on 37 points, 12 of which concerned politics.

The government declared these agreements a historic breakthrough, but there is still no clear timeline to fulfill agreements made at the conference.

NCA Signatories

The culmination of negotiations under former president U Thein Sein saw eight ethnic armed groups signing the NCA on 15 Oct, 2015.

The eight ethnic armed groups that signed the NCA are: the KNU, the PNLO, the Chin National Front (CNF), the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (Peace Council) (KNU/KNLA PC), the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).

After signing the NCA, these groups were allowed to fully participate in both the first and second sessions of the Panglong conferences. They have attempted to expedite the peace process by active participation in the conferences and other dialogues with the government.

NCA Non-Signatories

Most ethnic armed organizations—including powerful outfits the UWSA and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)—refused to sign the NCA. According to Maj-Gen Gun Maw of the KIO, the reasons were threefold:

Firstly, the Tatmadaw set a precondition for three smaller ethnic armed organizations—the TNLA, the AA, and the MNDAA—to disarm before entering the talks. The KIO is alligned particularly with the TNLA and two of KIO’s brigades—four and six—are stationed next to TNLA and MNDAA troops. The groups share territory and conduct joint operations against the Myanmar Army.

Secondly, the UNFC presented a nine-point proposal to the government while meeting at the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre in Yangon on March 3, 2017 which would need to be fulfilled before signing the NCA. The government and the bloc have so far agreed on half of the bloc’s nine-point proposal, but the Tatmadaw has not agreed on UNFC concerns regarding ceasefire monitoring, a military code of conduct, demarcation, and troop relocation.

Thirdly, some EAOs, including the KIO, have said they expect a certain level of agreement with the government. They proposed a joint committee of the government, political parties, ethnic armed groups, and the military to oversee the peace process framework. The government and military rejected this request.

In an Aug. 24 statement, the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) emphasized adherence to its policy that any political negotiations with the government and the Tatmadaw must involve the FPNCC as a bloc, rather than separate talks with the seven groups. The government Peace Commission is planning to meet the UWSA and NDAA, without the rest of the bloc, soon.

The third session of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference will be held soon, but it is still not clear who will be included.

Hopefully, the anniversary will remind all groups to evaluate the stalled NCA process and move forward. The country needs to stabilize conflicts and expedite the peace process as the image of the country is stained by the Rakhine State crisis.

Thus, these four major actors—the Tatmadaw, the Government, NCA signatories and Non-NCA signatories—must put concerted efforts to accelerate the momentum of the peace process. Absent of such efforts, the success of the NCA seems a forlorn hope and gaining peace in Myanmar will be elusive.

Joe Kumbun is the pseudonym of a Kachin State-based analyst.