UNFC crisis, ethnic-democratic alliance meet and Commander-in-Chief hard-line stance

Ever since the confidential memo from United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) Foreign Department was distributed, in early August, among the UNFC circle, and some trusted individuals, disgruntled and critical remarks were making the rounds, specifically stemming from quarters like Karen National Union (KNU) and Chin National Front (CNF).

The memo, which suppose to be a reminder of what issues would be discussed, points out the need for the UNFC to reform and trim down the organization to be more effective. It also pinpoints the fact that Working Group for Ethnic Coordination (WGEC), which was formed to represent the UNFC and other ethnic groups, has dimmed and weaken the UNFC political leadership cloud. But somehow, the UNFC has overcome this obstacle and formed another group named Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), to conduct peace negotiation with the government. According to the memo, this newly formed team has been again manipulated by some factions of KNU and CNF, refusing to toe the line of UNFC political leadership and trying to form a new team.

KNU dissatisfaction

The KNU disagreement with the UNFC is reported by Mizzima, Burmese section, on 30 August as below:

We haven't reach the stage of resigning from the UNFC yet and have not decided like that. We see the need to reconsider the current political situation and formation of the organization; in our co-operation, it shouldn't be “top-down” but “parallel” form of doing things”, said Pado Kwe Htoo Win to Mizzima.

Nai Han Tha, New Mon State Party (NMSP) spokesman also told Mizzima, the rumours making the rounds at the conference that the KNU would resign from the UNFC was not true.

A source, who don't want to be named and close to the ethnic armed groups told Mizzima that there have been different views among the groups, in conducting the nationwide ceasefire and political talks with the government.

More or less there are disagreements. The KNU wants to materialize the ceasefire and peace process faster, while the UNFC wants to be sure and go slower”, said the source.

RFA, DVB and Mizzima reported, on 31 August, that the KNU delegation walked out from the UNFC meeting, amid rumours that it is resigning from the umbrella group. However, at this writing, it is not yet clear if this is really the case.

SSA and PNLO row

Meanwhile, a row flared up in Southern Shan State between the RCSS and PNLO over territorial dispute.

According to RFA report of 28 August 2014, Hkun Tun Myint said: “We are doing development with the government agreement, but RCSS is threatening to attack saying that it is their area. We are also poised to counter the attack. They have arrested 3 of our soldiers since 21 August.”

When asked about the conflict, RCSS/SSA official Major Sai Nguen said: „ I don't want to give comment yet. We are still discussing. This has long been our area and we don't have any idea that the government have given it to them. We are trying to sort this out.“

UWSP/MNDAA & Peace Process
The Irrawaddy 29 August report that United Wa State Party (UWSP) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) said to have push for the amendment of 2008 Constitution, during their meeting with the President and the Commander-in-Chief.
The spokesmen of UWSP and MNDAA held a press conference with the media, on 28 August, where they made their position known.

We've told the President and Commander-in-Chief that 2008 Constitution has to be amended and that this has to continue at the political dialogue phase,” said UWSP spokesman, U Aung Myint.
MNDAA spokesman, U Kham Maung also said that the demand for 2008 Constitutional amendment is due to the desire to establish a self administrated area for Mong La.

What kind of union we want to establish would be discussed at the phase of political dialogue. At this moment, we cannot say what should be done and what facts should be included. If federal, what type of federal set up. We should adjust the type of federal suitable to our area,” said U Kham Maung.

UNFC, UNA and Political Parties
A two days meeting, 29-30 August, between the UNFC, together with the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), 8888 Silver Jubilee Declaration Implementation Committee, 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, 1990 nationwide election winning representatives, Women's League of Burma etc., with participation of some 113 persons, was held in Chiangmai, Thailand.

According to RFA report, on 31 August, the meeting was able to agree on basic issues of nationwide ceasefire, 2008 Constitutional amendment, and all-inclusive political dialogue.

DVB report of 31 August, according to Ko Myo Win, ABSDF representative, mentioned the agreed common issues as democracy, rebuilding of future federal union, 2008 Constitutional amendment, and all-inclusive political dialogue.

In the RFA report of 31 August, Nai Han Tha said that although the UNFC members are bearing arms, they are also politicians like the those from the political parties inside the country. He further added that in order to achieve democratic and human rights, peace is needed; and that this is only possible through understanding between the government and the ethnic armed groups.

Commander-in-Chief's political commitment and anti-PR movement
In Mizzima report of 30 August, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hliang, in his speech given at the first ever, women cadet graduation day, held in Maw-bi, on 28 August, said: “ The constitution drawn and promulgated according to the people's wish must be respected and protected”.

He went on to say that the constitution is drawn, taking a lot of times, systematically together with the ethnic nationalities, academician, and experts; it is not copied from foreign democratic countries, but drawn with reasons stemming from the geographical, cultural tradition and historical background and promulgated.

In the meantime, an anti-Proportional-Representative campaign kicked off, on 28 August 2014, in Okklapa, to halt the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) government dominated initiative, which the public sees as a last resort to cling on to power through the new electoral system. For the ruling USDP could lose out in the forth-coming 2015 nationwide election; and only through the PR system will the party be able to maintain some presence within the parliament, together with the help of 25 percent non-elected military seats, allotted by the 2008 Constitution.

Summing up
Given such circumstances, it is hard to predict, which way the peace process is going.

The UNFC is having an inner crisis, notably on how to bridge the gap of “go-slow but sure” faction and “do-fast talk politics later” group, which is tearing the umbrella group apart. This development is not doing favour either to the government or the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). Thein Sein regime would be put into an awkward position, if it were to go back to its open-book strategy of letting sign the one that is ready and gradually followed by those, when their minds are made up. The regime were quite enthusiastic with this open-book strategy at first, but later gave up, for it could in no way be a nationwide ceasefire as has been announced and projected, which would be a lost of face and possibly cost the regime millions of the promised post-ceasefire international development aids. And as for the EAOs, the civil war, which is simmering and ongoing could escalate further, at least in areas who don't sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). And thus, will be back to the square one again.

The row between the Shan State Army South (SSA-S) and the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) is also a case in point. The PNLO insists that it has the government permission to set up shop in Mawk Mai area, while the SSA-S said that it has its operative area for years and knew nothing of the government blessing to let the PNLO take over. This seems like again a “divide-and-rule” tactics of the government.

And now, the UWSA and MNDAA are said to be ready to come in from the cold and attend the future peace talks. It is hard to know, whether this is a directive from above, or across the border, or their own initiatives, due to the speculation that the end game scenario is approaching, rightly or wrongly.

The UNFC, UNA and political parties' brain-storming have produced a common goal of achieving peace, democratic rights, establishing a genuine federalism and the amendment of 2008 Constitution or rewriting it anew.

The recently launched anti-Proportional-Representative campaign is also an indication that the confrontation between the government and the opposition is taking a new turn and could become hefty, disrupting the ongoing peace initiative.

Last but not least, the speech of Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hliang, in Maw-bi, on 28 August 2014, at the first ever held women cadet graduation day, that the Burma Army will defend the 2008 Constitution at all cost, for it is promulgated by the majority of the people, is a declaration and fortification of the military hard-line position.

The plot has thicken, or should we say becoming lively, even if it is hard to guess which way the recent development is leading. While the ethnic groups and political, opposition parties are driving hard to change the political system, the Burmese military has not budge from its position of defending the 2008 Constitution. As the 2015, nationwide election draws nearer, the power struggle between the ethnic, USDP-Military clique and political opposition parties is becoming more intense. For now, the ethnic and political parties alliance seems to be demanding the change of political system in unison against the USDP-Military establishment. But how the end game scenario will play out, in the near future, is anybody's guess.

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Will the Foreign Policy Success of Obama place Burma in the Proxy Hot War?

President’s Obama’s foreign policy struggles in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Palestine and most of the Middle East, not to mention Ukraine and the Pacific rim nations is a cause for “a palpable sense of disappointment on the world stage as well.[1] Having failed elsewhere in the world, Obama finds his foreign policy assailed by critics, and his legacy on the global stage in doubt. [2] Details of Secretary of State John Kerry’s talks with both Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, were kept Hush even though Kerry offered a slightly more critical assessment in remarks at the East-West Center in Honolulu following his trip to Burma, with the remark that in the end the leadership will have to make the critical choices.[3]

Next year’s elections will be a key indicator of how Burma want to move forward, with many an assessment of the reform process hinging on the outcome “all in” on a questionable hand? [4]Among those who will be keenly watching the election returns will be no doubt President Barack Obama, as his stakes are the highest in its foreign policy barometer, as underneath all the rhetoric of democracy, human rights, and free and fair elections, land grabbing, crony economy there is major US commercial and strategic interest in resource-rich country with a growing energetic young population vis a vis China.

American businesses are coming to Burma in what looks like an increasingly unstoppable tide, and to facilitate investment, most of the blacklisted tycoons will be whitewash as Secretary of State Kerry demonstrated by putting up in a blacklisted tycoon’s hotel.[5] It is also known that a senior State Department officials met privately with some of these tycoons, known by their acronym as SDNs (Specially Designated Nationals) telling them to put forward a request to have their names cleared.[6] At least in name they would have to sever ties with the military, avoid involvement in land seizures and respect civilian rule. And they will be removed from the blacklist, having been sufficiently rehabilitated in the eyes of US officials at the Treasury Department. But whether they would be posthumously be granted to the two gentlemen of Rangoon (Khun Sa and Lo Hse Han) is still to be seen. However, Canada has rolled out the red carpet welcome to Lo Hse Han’s son Stephen Lo. Such is the North-American standard of “Business always overrules the conscience”, the established arsenal of democracy.

           But it is a fact that 58 percent of Americans disapproving of his foreign policy, according to a June poll, claiming credit for the move toward democracy, such as it is, won’t sit well with the skeptics who assert that reforms remain incomplete and the military and its former generals are still calling the shots in a country that is far from a success story. Many in the dissident’s circles have warned that there should be a Plan B.[7]

Indeed, many Burmese were counting on the United States to inject some life into a reform program increasingly viewed as stalled. Whatever lingering moral authority remaining in the administration of Barack Obama may fell to dust. In a country like Burma; one is immediately struck by the staggering glibness that tore a great many people to pieces, among them many innocents, particularly the non Myanmar ethnic nationalities. As bad as the "some folks" gambit was, this, this right here, is where the moral authority of the American president and his administration became a dumpster fire. The moral failure on Burma in this is so vast as to be bottomless. President Obama isn't going to get any static from them on the issue; which the Myanmar had inflicted on their enemies.

President Obama has done nothing to bring those responsible to justice surely he knows that former Generals now in mufti, have never admitted their mistakes, nor asked for forgiveness, let alone punishing them, this explicitly means that they will repeat the same atrocities, as they had done for more than half a century, if things doesn’t go their way. Now by lining up with and defending these Generals, he has added his name to the roll call of shame that continues to dishonor the American nation whose hall marks is democracy and human rights. The cruel and despicable a practice which the Burmese Junta has imposed on its own people is not yet lost and it acted that these people are the "real patriots." “The administration can do more on this issue. As we tie a nice bow on what we call a success story, we need to make sure we aren’t a cheap date when it comes to human rights.” said representative, Jim McGovern of Worcester.[8] And warned conditions in Burma had taken “a sharp turn for the worse” and urged more restrictive measures, such as targeted sanctions. More than 70 lawmakers signed on, including all House members from Massachusetts. The Worcester congressman pushed a separate resolution through the House in May that highlighted the Rohingya’s plight, a move he labeled a “friendly reminder” for the White House.

Unblemished it is no more. The legalised assault on Unity Journal’s brave journalists was just like the bad old days. Courageous journalism who had known all the time that the Tatmadaw has used chemical weapons against the ethnic freedom fighters was made bare. Now in Burma suddenly became very much harder to report the truth because as I have often described that the corner stone of the Tatmadaw was “To tell lies against the very concept of truth.” is their unwritten rule in the Tatmadaw. Now that the sanctions are all gone but the job of reform is only half done?[9] In the past three months, a coalition of opposition forces has been holding rallies to demand radical reform of the 2008 Nargis Constitution, designed to cut back the dominating role of the military – they hold 25 per cent of parliamentary seats, and remove the arbitrary rule that prevents Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president.[10] A petition demanding these changes has gathered five million signatures.[11] But Thein Sein and his colleagues have shown no interest whatsoever in even discussing them and yet President Obama is said to be considering a second visit later in the year to this lonely outpost of presidential achievement.

As the United States insists that military engagement with Burma is crucial to promote political reforms, human rights activists and ethnic nationalities are raising who will take responsibility if US assistance to Burma’s armed forces is used to oppress, rather than help, the Burmese people? The ethnic nationalities combined together which formed the majority of the population has been victims of brutal military campaigns and have sent a letter to the US Consulate in Thailand’s Chiang Mai last month, saying they believed US military engagement in the country was premature. “We don’t even know what will happen in 2015. We don’t know whether the election will be free and fair. Now, proportional representation (PR) is being debated and we don’t know how things will develop,”[12] said Khun Htun Oo and there is every possibility that the American technologies will be used for ethnic cleansing as they have done in the past. The classic example is the Tatmadaw has signed bilateral ceasefires with most ethnic armed groups since 2012, but over the past three years clashes in northern Burma have left more than 100,000 people displaced. Cherry Zahau, an ethnic Chin human rights activist accused the US that it is due to the geopolitical importance of Burma for US national security and that the Tatmadaw has continuously been a hindrance to reforms by waging battles “It is ridiculous that the US is engaging with the Burmese military to encourage reforms,[13] she said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is also very disappointed with US policy in Burma, especially its policy of military-to-military engagement.[14] Not only the United States, but also the United Kingdom and Australia appear convinced that military engagement is crucial in this time of political reform. They have all already sent military leaders to meet with top-brass officials from the Tatmadaw, Obviously, the Obama administration and other Western countries are eager to work with Burma’s quasi-military government (if they can work with Assad of Syria in face of ISIS threat Burma is a small fry). After half a century of military dictatorship, their rationale is that they want to encourage political reforms and more equitable development for the country’s people. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other dissident leaders clearly do not oppose these goals, or the diplomatic engagement that is likely necessary to achieve them. But whether the international community should go so far as to engage with Burma’s military is a major question, especially lately, when it increasingly appears that the government’s political reforms have stalled.

           In the past, when Suu Kyi said something, world leaders listened. Their policy reflected well on her words.[15] But now, the situation is different. It is sad to witness that these days, Washington and other Western governments seem to need Thein Sein more, while Suu Kyi is becoming a mere symbol for the international community. Foreign diplomats aren’t missing meetings with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, but their meetings are more and more appearing as courtesy calls. It is important to listen to both sides. Burmese officials are skilled manipulators, that genuine democracy is not on their agenda, and that the military here still enjoys economic and political privileges. If the United States and others in the international community do not pay attention to these warnings—if they continue to court the president and the armed forces—sooner or later they will witness a proxy hot war.

            It’s a pity that Obama and his experts did not know what is the crux of the Burmese problem? The Myanmar race which control the imperial Tatmadaw wanted to colonise all the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities and that is the sole reason of the struggle as every ethnic race in Burma is fighting against the Myanmar dominated central government (note there is no horizontal struggle between the ethnic like in former Yugoslavia). A vertical struggle indicates that all these want some sort of genuine federalism. More than half a century since 1962, the Myanmar military dominated central government refused to grant them and now because of the unsurmountable pressure from China it has no choice but to go along with the Western democratic standards and began to negotiate grudgingly with the ethnic nationalities. The successful “Divide and Rule” policy of the Burmese government was able to coax the Southern Alliance composed of Karen, the Chin, the Mon, the Karenni and the Southern Shan and the All Burma Student Democratic Front to a cease fire after bribing their leaders outright and giving them some autonomy and economic incentives, however, the Northern Alliance composed mainly of Kachin, WA, the Palong (Tang), the Nagas, the Northern Shan and perhaps the Arakanese want genuine federalism and once it is clear that the Myanmar will not grant them may form their North Federal Military Alliance to resist the pressure. What proof is more wanted when the Central Government has waged an all-out war against the Kachin?

It is also a fact that Northern alliance have to rely on the narco-production to finance their war efforts and Burma ranks only second to Afghanistan in narco-production.[16] So with the active support of the US, (now that there is a military cooperation between the two countries of USA and Burma) it may launch an all-out war against the Northern Alliance as the imperial Tatmadaw has done to the Kachin. But the WA traditional supporters are the Chinese who has already given them some sophisticated weapons including helicopters gunships. Hence, there is every possibility that President’s Obama’s foreign policy on Burma will lead to a proxy hot war in the impending Cold War with China just like Korea. In an address at West Point in May, President Obama claimed, “We’re now supporting reform and badly needed national reconciliation through assistance and investment through coaxing and, at times, public criticism. And progress there could be reversed, but if Burma succeeds, we will have gained a new partner without having fired a shot.

Mr. President, the ethnic nationalities of Burma desire genuine federalism within the Union of Burma and does not want to be a slave in an ivory tower of development but rather be a free man staying in a small hut. We are not asking development or even democracy what we want is to live a free men and die a free men even though we may be poor and wretched. Neither your development scheme prevails or democracy establish as the narco production will not lack until and unless it is tackle at the source of it by listening to the local leaders and giving them a better choice. It’s time to rethink you foreign policy objectives in Burma.

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To Hopeland and Back - Day 4

Day Four. Wednesday, 20 August 2014.

Unlike most Shans, I’m not a lover of festivities. Some may say that’s because I’m only three-quarter Shan. The remaining one-quarter is Chinese from my father’s side.

However, I had decided to attend the preparatory meeting for the Shan New Year 2109 which falls on 22 November for this year. The reason is simple: this year’s celebrations will be joined by Shans far and near. And since Taunggyi is the capital of Shan State, they will be observed by people from neighboring states and countries as well as tourists visiting there.

 Most importantly, how Shans run the show will greatly affect the ongoing peace process, even though it is no more than a cultural event.

The meeting, attended by some 150 participants, is held at the Meeting Hall of the Shan Literary and Culture Society on the Main Road (now renamed Bogyoke Road during my 40 year plus absence) at 09:00.

It is presided over by Sai Tun Mya, 64, one of Burma’s construction tycoons. For three successive years, he has been elected as chairman of the Shan New Year Festival Steering Committee, as he has been able to collect huge financial contributions for the society.
He opens the meeting by declaring the upcoming festival must be an event of substance and that he has invited the Shan Vice-President of U Thein Sein’s union government Sai Mawk Kham to preside over the New Year ceremony.

Sai Kham Nood, joint secretary of the Steering Committee (who happens to be my nephew-in-law), then reads out the 35 planned activities that will be carried out by 35 sub-committees.

They include, among others:
Information and documentation
Accommodation for guests coming from afar
Cultural seminar
Miss Shan Culture contest
Cultural Exhibitions

The participants, most of who are from southern Shan State, with only 4 from eastern Shan State, report the preparations that have been undertaken, the problems they are facing and suggestions.
Among them, many useful suggestions come from eastern Shan State, where the 4 participants had been part of the steering committee that had organized the first all Shan State New Year festival two years earlier. They explain the problems that they had beset them, notably in the fields of  entertainment, transportation, sanitation and cultural seminar. “(For instance,) the date we had chosen for the seminar,” he says, “was on the last day of the festival. Naturally, there were only few attendees, because most of them were returning home.”

My contribution is little. Quoting Sun Wu’s “Governing a large number as though governing a small number is a matter of division into groups”, I suggest that the 35 sub-committees be regrouped into 5-7 sections to be supervised by vice chairpersons and assistant secretaries. “All of you know the famous Shan saying: If you want chaos, organize a festival. If you want to sleep alone, have a minor wife.” They all laugh but I cannot be sure whether they’ll take my suggestion seriously though I hope so.

We have a pleasant dinner party afterward.  I don’t eat after three, but drink a little with them, before taking leave.

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Shan IDPs petition President Thein Sein for Burma Army withdrawal from their homes

About 300 displaced villagers sent a petition letter today to President Thein Sein, calling for the withdrawal of Burma Army troops from their village Wan Pasaung in Ke See township, and demanding compensation for damage to their homes and farms during the past two months.
Since June 2014, about 3,000 Burmese government troops have been deployed to Ke See, Murng Hsu and Tangyan townships, in an offensive to seize territories of the Shan State Army-North/Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), in violation of an existing ceasefire agreement. On June 26, the Burma Army began occupying and firing shells from the village of Wan Pasaung, causing about 300 people to flee to the nearby village of Wan Warp. Over 500 heavily armed troops remain stationed in Wan Pasaung until today, causing destruction of property and crops.

On August 7, 14 Shan community based organisations sent an open letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry, requesting him to raise concerns about this new offensive in Shan State during his visit to Burma. However, the Burma Army continued their military operations during his visit, clashing with SSPP on August 8 and 9 only four miles south of Wan Pasaung. Most recently, on August 22, Burmese government troops again intruded into SSPP territory, firing mortar shells at SSPP troops about six miles
north of Wan Pasaung.

The IDPs are sheltering in a temple in Wan Warp, relying on donations of food and other supplies. They are being guarded and their movements restricted by Burmese troops. A deaf villager was beaten and kicked when he was unable to hear an order from the troops. In their petition to President Thein Sein, 291 IDPs have requested compensation for damage caused by the occupation of their village, including destruction of 422.5 acres of farmlands, such as rice, peanut and corn fields, and loss of cattle, pigs and chicken, which have been killed and eaten by the Burma Army troops.

Copies of the letter have also been sent to the Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, the four Regional Military Commanders in Shan State, the Shan State Chief Minister, as well as to the Shan political parties.

A copy of the petition is attached, and can also be viewed on www.shanhumanrights.org
Contact person: Nang Kwarn Lake: +66: (0) 84-668-0984 / 66: (0) 93-297-7754 (Burmes, English)

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To Hopeland and Back - Day 3

Day Three. Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue, which I have been chosen to escort, is not, as some believe, an affiliate of the MPC. Neither is it serving under the UNFC or the NCCT. (The UNFC now has its own research establishment, Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (ENAC). In fact, it is not subordinate to any organization, even though it is funded by the Euro Burma  Office (EBO) headed by Harn Yawnghwe, who has earned both loyal friends and bitter enemies throughout his politically active 26 years career.

The PI therefore faces both advantages and disadvantages in carrying out its peace missions . On the positive side, we are considered an independent group, able to speak and write more freely than the MPC and probably the ENAC, which require sanctions from their leaders either to say or write anything.

But the positive side of the PI is also its Achilles’ heel. The exercise of the its Freedom of Expression doesn’t mean we can afford to be loose mouths, or else we may be defeating our own mission to become one of the common spaces.

Having said so, I would like to present what we have learned today from our friends and colleagues (please don’t ask who) what were agreed and what were still under consideration:

The following points were said to have been adopted by the 15-17 August meeting between the NCCT and the UNFC:

·      Adoption of Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) as proposed by the NCCT, dropping Armed Ethnic Organizations (AEOs) as proposed by the UNWC
·      Adoption of the Burmese word pit khat tike khike phmu yat sey ye (literally cessation of shooting and attack) as proposed by the UPWC, though the English translation will continue to be “ceasefire”
·      Federalism
·      Not to exploit religion for political purposes instead of “secularism”
·      Armed forces for protecting the country against external dangers
·      “In accord with the law” instead of “in accord with existing laws”
·      To inform and instruct ceasefire within 24 hours (instead of 48 hours as proposed earlier) after the signing of the NCA and to clarify the text to/at all levels of the armed organizations including the Tatmadaw

·      To form the following committees-
1.     Military Code of Conduct Drafting Committee
2.     Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee
3.     Military Affairs Coordination Committee
4.     Union Peace Dialogue Committee (“Joint” and “Executive” were dropped)

  • ·      Forced land confiscation (dropping “by any justification”)
  • ·      To treat the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) according them adequate human dignity (dropping “in accordance with internationally-accepted norms)
  • ·      National level consultations (dropping multinational level consultations)
  • ·      Confirming that EAO members and associates will be accorded a waiver from the notorious Section 17/1 on Unlawful Associations during the peace process
  • ·      Interim arrangements as proposed by the NCCT will be discussed separately
  • ·      Deletion of NCCT proposition on how the NCA may become void 

“There are fewer points to jointly consider,” said a friend, “but whether they may take excessive time or not depends on both sides.”
The sticky points, according to them, are
  • ·      Panglong spirit and Panglong promises (UPWC had rejected the latter saying it contains the right of secession)
  • ·      Recruitment (NCCT wants to add “Forced”)
  • ·      Matters of adjoining areas
  • ·      The question of consensus or clear majority to pass resolutions
  • ·      Three parties (Government which includes army, political parties and EAOs) or 8 parties (Government, Parliament, Army, political parties, EAOs, CSOS, Business sector and academies) as proposed by UPWC
  • ·      Whether it is necessary to conduct a periodic review of the NCA as proposed by the NCCT
  • ·      Who and which parties are to sign the NCA (For instance NCCT wants Arakan Army that is fighting alongside the Kachin Independence Army to sign but the UWPC does not)
  • ·      Whether DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) of the EAOs must come before or after political settlement (The President, according to the MPC, is in favor of after)
  • ·      Whether “in accord with the law” should be added to sensitive words like “federal union” (The President, again according to MPC, is in favor of  “in accord with the outcome of the national dialogue”)

I think that’s enough of my whistle blowing. Now let’s get back what I do today. At 14:30 I fly to Heho (Haiwo in Shan ) to attend the Shan New Year preparatory meeting tomorrow.
As usual I pick up the in flight magazine (“Mai Hsoong”, the equivalent of “Hello” and “Sawiadee”) to see if there’s anything interesting to read. There is, about the Aythaya Wine operated by a German Bert Morsebach in Taunggyi, which has been producing red wine (from Meikhtila) and white wine (from Shan State). He announces that sparkling wine better known as Champagne will on sale soon with a brand name “Shan Panya” meaning “Shan wisdom”.

I hope I’m still alive to enjoy it by then.

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To Hopeland and Back (X) - Day 2

Day Two. Monday 18 August 2014.
It takes us some time to get to MPC because the road is packed with cars big and small, old and new. All of them however possess one common feature: the number plates are all in English. No more are the Burmese characters and numerals. One might say Hopeland has cut ahead of Thailand at least in this respect. Because while motor vehicles in the kingdom have long adopted the Arabic figures, they still retain their Thai characters.
The meeting hall is already jammed with both the participants-observers and the media when we arrive just a few minutes ahead of 09:00, when the meeting is due to start.
The seats and desks have been arranged in a triangle. The base, where there is a screen in the rear, is for the UPWC. (I don’t see any military representatives there). On the left hand side are representatives from 34 parties out of 37 that were invited. (There are 67 registered parties in Hopeland).

On the right hand side of the triangle are the NCCT members. The seat reserved for me is there near the apex, where the two moderators, Aung Naing Oo and Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing, are already seated.

Behind us are the technical advisers for the NCCT. All together, according to the self introductions there are about 75 attendees, including Vijay Nambiar, the UN Secretary General’s special representative.

The following is the gist of what takes place throughout the day:

U Aung Min   (opening speech)
At first there were 122 points to be discussed. During the previous two meetings, we were able to reduce them to 31. Now after three days of working together (15-17 August), only 4-5 points remain.

U Aung Min
U Aung Min

The Irrawaddy reports later that the 5 points that need to be resolved are in the 5 chapters, namely, 2,3,5,6 and 7. It however doesn’t say which points they are.
It should be remembered that the 7 chapters of the draft Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) are:
  1. 1.Basic Principles
  2. 2.Aim and Objectives
  3. 3.Ceasefire matters
  4. 4.Strengthening the ceasefire
  5. 5.Guarantee for Political Dialogue
  6. 6.Future tasks
  7. 7.General
It should also be added here that NCCT leader Nai Hong Sa, in response to a question from the media, said that the remaining 3 issues are: How the armed resistance movements are going to subsist during the transition, who are going to participate in the political dialogue and who are going to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). (He adds further details on another occasion, like recruitment).

Hkun Okker, another NCCT member, says what remains are mainly military matters.

Nai Hong Sa
This garden called Union will be ravishingly beautiful, if all varieties of flowers are allowed to bloom.

We’ve been called Hsupu Thaunggyan Thu (Troublemakers), but I would like to point out that our basic rights were denied. And when we had demanded them in peace, we were brutally suppressed, leaving us not choice but to take up arms.

Nai Hong Sa
Nai Hong Sa

The term “insurgent” is literally “Tha bon” (sounding much like “the bone”) in Burmese. But officially it has been translated as Hsupu Thaunggyan Thu (troublemakers).
U Thein Zaw
Our next step will be for ratification of the NCA by the parliament.

U Thei Zaw
U Thein Zaw

S.Gun Maw
Some have complained that it has taken so long for the NCA to be completed. But I would like to point out that three years are nothing compared to 5 years (and upwards) in other countries.

One of the problems that have consistently dogged us is terminology. I have thought about how the Burmese language will fare after the peace process. Will it become more sophisticated or damaged?

Gun Maw
S.Gun Maw

After the opening speeches, the floor is given to the political parties. It should be noted that all of them, without exception, are supportive of the perceived success of the 3 days palaver (“The glimmers of peace have pierced though the darkness, “praised Sai Saw Aung, Vice Chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy).

Dr Tuja, Kachin State Democratic Party (KSDP)
We fervently hope our happiness will not again turn to sadness. We don’t mind if it takes time (to complete the NCA). What we are asking is there be no unnecessary delay. (U Khin Maung Swe, National Democratic Force, later seconds by saying, “there must be no shilly-shallying. The momentum must be kept up.”)

My proposition is that there be a tripartite political dialogue afterward. (He is supported by
Sai Ai Pao
Sai Ai PaO
, leader of the White Tiger Party. Federal Democratic Alliance (FDA) while proposing basically for a tripartite arrangement, suggests other participants should be nominated by the three. Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF) on the other hand, calls for a 5 way dialogue: Democratic Parties, Ethnic Parties, Civil Society, Armed Groups and Government. The UPWC however has recommended on 8-party political dialogue: Government, Parliament, Armed Forces, Armed Resistance Movements, Political Parties, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Business sector and Academics. The NCCT has vehemently spoken against this configuration, fearing many of them will be government proxies).

Other Issues discussed by parties include: land confiscation; assistance for migrants in Thailand returning to Burma, especially the “1.3” million Shans; resettlement and rehabilitation of people affected by war; local government; to invite Kayan New Land Party (KNLP) a group that has been at ceasefire status since 1994 and the ratification of the Law Protecting The Rights of The National Races ASAP, among others.

The bombshell unexpectedly is dropped by a PaO leader, Hkun Soe Myint, chairman of the Union PaO National Organization (UPNO) who wakes up every sleepy attendee, including myself, by proposing that poppy cultivation be legalized if the zero- tolerance policy is to be implemented only half- heartedly, if all groups concerned are taxing the farmers and if no development projects are effectively carried out.

Vijay Nambiar then reads out the UN Secretary General’s message. (attached: see below)

Nai Hong Sa
We gratefully acknowledge the magnanimity of the UPWC for opening up doors for peace. We have now agreed upon the remedy for our malady. We will only need people who will courageously administer this remedy to cure our ills.

UAung Min
Since President Thein Sein took over, he has adopted a new culture: what is agreed upon, we will implement together. What is yet to be agreed, we will continue to discuss.
At 16:00, the meeting ends. Four of the NCCT members, whose organizations are also members of the 12 armed movements alliance, United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), go to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

For myself, no time is given to decide whether I should return to my hotel or visit my relatives. Because I find myself being dragged away to a special room occupied by SkyNet for a talk show conducted by Zaganar. Others who are being invited there to participate are Sai Ai PaO, Dr Tuja and Dr Andrew Ngun Zung Lian (MPC).

The session takes one and a half hour. And since I’m not taking any notes, I remember very little of most of what are being said by my friends. But I certainly won’t forget when Dr Andrew says: Successful negotiations, as Mr Khuensai has noted, are based on relationship-orientation rather than deal-orientation. So I would strongly suggest that a stable foundation is laid down before the 2015 elections.

By the time it is finished, it is already time for the dinner party hosted by U Aung Min at the MPC’s mess hall, where I meet several old friends and new ones.

Thus by the time I arrive at Summer Place, the hotel with the ground floor but no 4th floor, it is already 21:30, 22:00 by Thai count, well past my bed time.  
SG’s Personal Message on Myanmar Peace Process

UN Secretary General’s message.

I have followed closely the developments with respect to the peace process in Myanmar and my Special Adviser Vijay Nambiar has been keeping me informed of its progress. I fully share his faith in the commitment and determination that have guided the efforts of all the stakeholders in his process. The progress in negotiations during the past year and more has involved a wide variety of stakeholders. They have now come together to provide genuine grounds for optimism and hope of a decisive end to over six decades of conflict and for the launching of a new dialogue for national reconciliation.

Today, you are on the threshold of a unique opportunity to negotiate a successful and sustainable nationwide ceasefire and start a political dialogue between the national government and the various ethnic armed groups for power sharing within a unified Myanmar.

I recognize that this juncture has not been attained without difficulty. All sides have had to address challenges, make compromises as well as concessions. However, you have been able to show by your actions that you are animated by the larger object of reflecting the aspirations of the people you represent and not by any narrow or parochial political or economic agenda.

By embracing a nationwide ceasefire and a political dialogue process, all sides will agree to put aside the legacy of mistrust and suspicion and embark on a new era of mutual confidence and cooperation between the diverse ethnic groups and communities of the nation and to work in a unified way for a common destiny for Myanmar. You will agree to work as one for the nation for its people.

Such a prospect was unforeseeable even a few years back. It has required of a leap of faith on the part of many of your leaders. There will no doubt be many problems you will face in the future. There will also be differences you will have to resolve. But, every successful peace process reaches a point where those involved need to take such a leap of faith. I hope you have taken it today.

At this critical juncture I would like to commend your leadership at all levels and to reiterate the strong support and commitment of the United Nations in taking forward your efforts for their fullest realization. I am also happy to convey may personal felicitation and support to your peace efforts. 

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