NATIONWIDE CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT: Another hope for a breakthrough or replay of the 5th January meeting?

Once again, a new ad hoc meeting between the President and the Ethnic Armed Groups (EAOs), supposed to be held on Union Day, the 12th of February, is making headlines, leaving many to speculate, if this will produce the much needed trust and understanding, leading to the signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

According to the RFA report , on 26 January, Khun Okker, one of the leaders of a coalition of more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups, known as Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT), said on Monday that a “top-level” meeting with the government on the country’s Union Day next month could pave the way for a nationwide cease-fire agreement in March, though a peace deal would not be signed at the talks.

Khun Okker  confirmed that he had received an invitation to attend a February 12 Union Day meeting from President Thein Sein and that “all ethnic leaders” were likely to attend.

Furthermore, RFA Myanmar Section reported that he is optimistic that the meeting of top level decision-makers from both sides could usher in a new working atmosphere, leading to the signing of the NCA in March, if a concrete promise to build a federal union is forthcoming.

“This is a top level meeting with decision-capable leaders and if there is something concrete at the top level, it’s much easier to work at the lower levels, so the signing could come faster,” the NCCT chairman said.

“The signing might come in March—that would be the earliest, but we hope to get a promise … to build a federal union.”

A similar meeting with some of the EAOs' member, excluding Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Chin National Front (CNF) and Ta-ang National Liberation Front (TNLA), on the heel's of Independence Day celebration, on 5 January, was held, without any positive outcome. Many view it as a public relation stunt of the President, without substance or political accommodation to end the conflict earnestly. Some said that it was just an exchange of views, where EAOs' members were given a few minutes time to air their grievances.

A translated article, written by Si Thu Aung Myint, a well known political analyst, in Myanmar Times, on 26 January, pinpointed the fact that President Thein Sein is not keen to amend the constitution, even though he might seem like one, given his repeated promise to build a federal union, in many of his speeches, according to the desire of the non-Burman ethnic peoples.

In a meeting, on 12 January, where 48-person meeting was conducted, the president in his opening speech said, “I always say that the constitution must be amended if the circumstances dictate it. I believe we have to amend the constitution to build a federal union that ethnic minorities have continuously demanded and continue the implementation of the democratic transition.”

“But [amending the constitution] should be done based on the outcome of political dialogue that will be held as part of the current peacemaking process, as well as in accord with legal procedures stated in the 2008 constitution,” he said.

“Trying to change the constitution without legal procedures tends to overwhelm the rule of law so we have to amend the constitution in accord with provisions in the constitution.”

The article concluded that the President has no desire to change the constitution before the 2015 elections and that he wants to conduct the elections under the unchanged 2008 constitution.

In clear text, Thein Sein demands of adherence to the 2008 Constitution, which in effect means to postpone for some times if not give up the constitutional amendment as envisioned by the ethnic and democratic camps, leading to genuine federalism way of governance. In other words, changing a little here and there according to the liking of USDP-Military regime, as a token, would be acceptable, but no drastic overhaul or rewriting, which will jeopardize the military hold on its power monopoly.

Thein Sein knows pretty well that changing the constitution according to the 2008 Constitutional procedure is almost impossible, given that the military has 25% votes, for without the military consent nothing can be amended.

No wonder, UN Special Rapporteur’s report, distributed or transmitted to the UN members, by the Secretary General, at UNGA sixty-nineth secession, on 23 September writes:

The current Constitution of Myanmar was adopted following a referendum in 2008. Its adoption was widely criticized for being fundamentally flawed, in terms of both substance and process. Current attempts at constitutional reform present opportunities to address some of these criticisms. It is notable that one of the key priorities reportedly identified from various consultation exercises on this issue was a change to the currently onerous procedure for amending the Constitution.

Article 436 provides for the manner in which proposed amendments to the Constitution are to be approved. One study has pointed out that no other constitution in the world has an amendment procedure that requires the approval of more than 75 per cent of the members of both parliamentary chambers or allows for the military to have veto power over constitutional amendments.

True, Thein Sein has opened the door of reform process and have done quite a number of positive things for the country; partial freedom of press, if not absolute press freedom, release of political prisoners, launching the peace process and so on, among others. But the main obstacle of overcoming the “constitutional crisis” remains and he seems not to be fully or wholeheartedly committed to the cause, if what he has been doing could be seen as indicators.

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it,” said Benjamin Franklin, hundreds of years ago.

Thein Sein fits into this saying for all his reputation as a good-hearted reformer goes down the drain, when he demands for adherence of the very constitution, which people are demanding to change or rewrite it so that their aspirations will be met, despite empty promises to amend it according the people's desire.

As for Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, he has time and again made it clear that he will defend the constitution with his life and the latest interview he has given made it clear that the army will retain its 25% unelected seats within the parliament, for Burma still needs the army to guide the young democracy.
In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, on 20 January, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing said the military needs to be in Parliament because the country is still a young democracy.

The current Constitution mandates a 25 percent military representation in Parliament. Military officers occupy one quarter of the elected seats in Parliament. But under the Constitution, they are appointed and not elected by the people.

Citizens are calling for that clause, known as section 436, to be amended. The military chief however is reluctant to do so at this stage of Myanmar's transition.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said: "It's been only about four years. We are still a young democracy. When we are moving towards a multi-party democratic system it needs to be a strong system. The military representatives in Parliament only give advice in the legislative process. They can never make decisions."

For now, the ongoing running battles with the KIA in Kachin and Shan states, the Burma Army's refusal to tackle, or even talk about, the bombardment  of Laiza Cadet training school, where 23 of the resistance armies cadets met their death, including more than 20 wounded; and the recent rape and killing of the two female Kachin teachers in Shan State by the Burma Army, which are met with national uproar, are in no way conducive to help achieve the much wanted NCA.

Such being the case, one wonders what really could Thein Sein achieve, inviting EAOs to the party on Union Day,  given his reluctant attitude to amend the constitution and outright opposition of the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing to alter it in anyway. If there is to be a breakthrough, the August 2014 draft Single Text Agreement would have to be revitalized; even better, if a concrete commitment of building a federal union is emphasized to make it clear that the people's desire will be heeded, without any reservation.

It is high time now that the President makes a bold move to end the decades old ethnic conflict and bring back peace and harmony to the country, once and for all.

The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor

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UNFC leader: Call for signing on federalism made

Gen N.Ban La, Chairman of the 12 armed organization alliance, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), said on Sunday, 25 January, a proposal has been presented to President Thein Sein to host a ceremony for the signing of an agreement on federalism.

“If it is agreed then I’m ready to sign it as the chairman of the UNFC,” he said.

He explained that his proposition was made in reference to the President’s monthly radio address on 2 December when he reported: “A firm political agreement on forming a federal union, which is vital to the peace process, has been reached.”

The proposal followed media reports saying the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA) that has been negotiated since 2013 between the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the armed organizations’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), would not be signed on 12 February, the 68th anniversary of the historic Panglong Agreement as expected earlier.

“The UNFC represents not only the 12 member organizations that are members in the NCCT but also the other 4 that are its confederates,” he added. “The RCSS/SSA (Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army) is the only non-confederate.”

He warned that failure to achieve progress could place the peace process at risk. “I fear we may be forced to reconsider the role of the NCCT if our proposal fails to receive consideration from the government,” he said.

Details of the proposal were not disclosed.

The UNFC leader made a visit to RCSS/SSA headquarters on 19 January when he made the proposal to hold a summit of all leaders in the near future. The RCSS/SSA leader Sao Yawdserk had heartily agreed to that, according to him.

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Panglong Agreement: Burma’s Magna Carta

This year’s Union Day is significant, not only because leaders of all non-Burman states including armed movements that have been fighting against successive governments for so long, would be invited to join the ceremony in Naypyitaw, but also it coincides with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta (“Great Charter”) which falls on 15 June.

Whereas the Magna Carta, which was signed by King John (1167-1216), has been hailed as Democracy’s first victory and as the first declaration of human rights in reference to clauses such as:
War tax would be levied only with the general consent of the realm
That no freeman shall be seized or imprisoned

the Panglong Agreement contains firm pledges such as :
Appointment of the representative from Frontier Areas (now known as Border Areas) as minister responsible for the affairs of these areas
“rights and privileges which are regarded as fundamental in democratic countries”
“financial autonomy” (which means self-supporting)

Another similarity is also striking: its sacnosanctity. Statutes and laws conflicting with it are considered (“ruled” in British case) invalid. As in Burma, when the king reneged on the charter, there was rebellion. Only when it was reaffirmed after his death, the rebellion ended, because the rebels no longer possessed a cause to fight for.

This lesson from the British history may be a harsh one but vital especially for those trumpeting the three “sacred” causes: Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Solidarity and Perpetuation of National Sovereignty. Because nothing can be clearer than the precedent in British history.

Any Burmese leader, present or future, who has vowed to bring peace to this war-torn country must therefore realize that he/she cannot achieve it just by paying lip service to the Panglong Agreement but only by fulfilling the solemn pledges contained in it. Any other way invites only conflict and war.

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Rape-murder in Shan State shows peace process cannot remain at the top

Exactly 2 months after 23 cadets training at the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) camp near its Laiza base were blown up to death by the Burma Army’s 105 mm howitzer shell, another incident, which was even ghastlier, took place in northern Shan State, where two young Kachin teachers were raped and beaten to death.

SHAN had already reported in 2013 about Burmese authorities in Nam Kham trying to turn back Kachin villagers fleeing from fighting between the KIA and the BA to seek temporary sanctuary there. The reason cited by them was that the villagers were Kachin.

Which raises the question: Do the Burmese government servants and armymen consider the war between the KIA and the BA as the war between the Burmese (Burman/Myanmar/Bama) and Kachins?

Because while the Laiza shelling could be more easily dismissed as accidental, not even a six-year old child is not going to say the rape-cum-murder in Kutkhai was a chance occurrence.

Unless the perpetuators are apprehended soon and punished, the future of the ongoing peace process, already facing thorny problems which include the Laiza incident, could be at stake. (So far, Naypyitaw is still “looking into the case”, according to Washington.)

Moreover, these incidents that have been taking place also mean that peace talks at the top level, which was something of a novelty when it began in 2011, is no longer sufficient.

It’s high time authorities on both sides, especially the government-army side, educate its subordinates the new culture of making peace, that rapes and killings don’t make good ingredients for the future Union of Myanmar/Burma.

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Shan, Kachin leaders meet

Gen N.Ban La, Vice President of the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) and also Chairman of the 12 armed organization alliance United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), was received by Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) Lt-Gen Yawd Serk at his Loi Taileng base on Monday, 19 January, according to SSA sources.

“We found many points in agreement,” said a source close to the RCSS/SSA leader without offering elaboration.

N. Ban La left on the same day to Chiangmai where the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) that is negotiating with the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) for the much-awaited Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA), was holding a two-day consultation, 19-20 January, before meeting with the UPWC’s technical team, the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) on the following day.

A week earlier, Yawd Serk had told SHAN that since he had already signed both the state level and union level ceasefire agreements, the NCA was just another formality.

“All the same, we will need to deliberate on the final draft if it includes too many clauses on political issues,” he said. “But if it doesn’t dwell too much on political matters apart from fully guaranteeing that political dialogues will take place forthwith, we have no problems signing it.”

SHAN has not been able to interview Gen N.Ban La.

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Mizo ex-rebel: Peacemakers should be at peace

Former rebel and former chief minister of India’s Mizoram, who is on a visit to Thailand has urged peacemakers on both government and rebel camps in Burma to exercise infinite patience.

“You sometimes will find it necessary to outpatient your counterparts,” he told his hosts at the Chiangmai based Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue on Tuesday, 20 January.

Zoramthanga, 71, who was chief minister of India’s 23rd state, 1998-2008, said the peace process with New Delhi had lasted 15 years, 1971-1986, 5 of which were spent in clandestine negotiations. “Which also included 9 months in Indian jail,” he smilingly added.

One major factor that had expedited the process was the fact that India was already a federal democracy, if not in name. “We didn’t need to demand that it became one,” he said.

Mizoram, formerly part of Assam, became a full-fledged state by virtue of a constitutional amendment in 1986 following successful negotiations between New Delhi and the Mizo National Front (MNF), of which Zoramthanga has been a leading member.

Another significant fact is that India’s armed resistance movements in the 7 states of its northeast have never formed grand alliances like those in Burma, that have boasted the National Democratic Front (NDF) in 1976, Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) in 2001 and currently the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) since 2011.

Zoramthanga was accompanied by two assistants and No Than Kap, Chin affairs minister for Sagaing. Chins and Mizos are ethnic cousins.

Chin State is bigger than Mizoram, 36,000 to 21,000, but less than half the population of the latter, 1million.

Regarding Mizoram relations with Chin National Front (CNF), he said. “I have made quite clear to them (I hope) that we are with them in peace but not in war.”

He added that, on the other hand, 7 Kuki groups in Manipur had also asked for assistance. “I had advised them if they are trying to negotiate with the Indian government separately, there is nothing it (Indian government) can do for you. They have to form a single negotiation body to speak for all.”  

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BURMA PEACE PROCESS: Concentrate On Interests, Not Positions

As President Thein Sein hopes to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) on 12 February, Union Day, Commander-in Chief Min Aung Hlaing was said to be frustrated with the whole development, possibly due to the EAOs reluctance of signing the ceasefire deal for lack of political guarantee from the government side.

While Thein Sein told The Straits Times, in an interview, on 18 January, that despite slow progress due to the complexities of negotiating with as many as 16 armed groups, he still hopes for a nationwide ceasefire pact on 12 February, coupled with the assertion that Burma army will step back from its prominent role in the government once peace agreements are reached with insurgent groups, fighting erupted in Kachin state between the government troops and the KIA from 15 to 18 January.

According to Mizzima report of 20 January, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said peace was the "only path" if the country is to continue its democratization and development, in a rare interview with Singapore's Channel NewsAsia.

He said that if the EAOs really want peace there is no reason that they cannot have it. He further added that conflict parties cannot keep on disagreeing, for disagreeing hinders the country's development.

Meanwhile, according to Mizzima Burmese Section report, on 20 January, U Ye Htut, presidential spokesman said that Kachin Independence Army (KIA has been disrupting the peace process with prepared intention. He said the coincidence of arresting Kachin State Minster and his security team of policemen and the subsequent happening of running battles in Hpakant township were intentionally carried out.

He wrote in his face book: " I see it that by restarting armed clashes, it (the KIA) aimed to disrupt the peace process. As soon as the battles started in Hpakant and Lone Khin areas, exploding of mines and attacks of police stations happened simultaneously. If you look at this you could imagine that it is arranged beforehand."

As expected, each time the fighting flared up accusation, mud-slinging and blame game followed. But one sure thing is that the conflict parties are coming nowhere near to peaceful resolution.

When SHAN Opinion Section, on 12 January, highlighted how crucial peace is for the betterment of the country and the people suffering from the ongoing armed ethnic conflict. It writes:

The situation has prompted one from the government side to admonish, “Peace is bigger than any individual in the country”, while on the non-Burman resistance side, leaders like Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong are saying: “It is a mistake to delay the peace process just because we either like or dislike a certain party. It is not appropriate to gamble peace with politics. Make a visit to a refugee camp, take a look at children born in the war zones. One year for them is a very long and difficult one. It would therefore make life easier for them if we can bring peace to them as soon as possible, be it an hour , a day, a month, or a year earlier.” (Eleven News, 19 October 2014)

It is true that peace is bigger than everyone and also true that the refugees and IDPs are rotting and suffering in camps and make-shift shelters in the jungles, but there need to be a genuine desire to achieve peace, if this human misery and under development are to end. Not just dictating the adversaries the terms you want it or letting one signs without including concrete, core, political settlement issues. It is quite evident that "compromise" is the name of the game.

There is no denying on what Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian military theorist,  had said for centuries is still true today that "War is the continuation of politics by other means".

And as such, we have been at each others throats for more than six decades, with no side wining, but only becoming heavy burdens to our respective people physically, mentally and economically. True the non-Burman ethnic areas have to bear the most brunt of the war, but Burman or Bama also become "slaves of war" for the tyrannical regimes, without knowing, even though they were hoodwinked by the vision of being a superior race, who have the right to lord over other non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

And so to cap it, since we were unable to come to terms politically, after the British left us in 1947, we all resorted to war as a means to continue and impose our demands on one another. After more than six decades of warfare, we were reaching nowhere with the rising human and resources costs heaping down on us, as the war rages on until today. Like a blessing in disguise, in fact, we now have, at least, come to terms that "peace or normalcy" is needed, if we are to develop and progress, to be in par with the rest of the world. If this is so, why can't we strike a deal to make us win all?

We could now identify our common interest as wanting to achieve "peace, normalcy and development". And since the ongoing war is against our interest, we might as well stop it by advancing the proposition of "political accommodation".

So what exactly is that we have to accommodate each other. In a nut shell, the Burman and military elite are afraid to lose their "political monopoly and racial supremacy" aspirations, while the non-Burman ethnic nationalities are determined to regain back their fair share of "right to self-determination, equality and democracy".

There should be a way out from this deadlock position and one way to do is to concentrate on "interest" rather than "position" as Roger Fisher and William Ury suggest, in their "Getting to Yes; negotiating an agreement without giving in".

Maybe in trying to achieve the core common interest of "peace, normalcy and development", the contending parties should become partners, working side-by-side, in cooperation to reach the goal of common interest.

The recent report in SHAN, on 20 January wrote that the academic suggestion to use a neutral third party to conduct the single text procedure has run into deaf ears, according to Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) currently visiting Chiangmai.

“As far as the government is concerned it has already made substantial concessions,” an official of the MPC set up in 2012 by Naypyitaw, said. “There is therefore little or no need for a third party.”

Such a rigid position won't be helpful to attain the much lauded common interest, and if we are to achieve "peace, normalcy and development" as all desired, we would need to be more open to constructive approaches of any kind, not stone-walling them.

Last but not least, the powers that be would need to rethink if its steadfast position of "political monopoly" and "racial chauvinism" are worthwhile the price of sticking to the zero-sum game, which has devastated the country for so long.

The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor

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Burma not yet ready to employ third party for peace

Academic suggestion to use a neutral third party to conduct the single text procedure has run into deaf ears, according to Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) currently visiting Chiangmai.

“As far as the government is concerned it has already made substantial concessions,” an official of the MPC set up in 2012 by Naypyitaw, said. “There is therefore little or no need for a third party.”

The Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue, established August 2013 by independent researchers together with representatives from the armed opposition, had earlier recommended that for the single text procedure, being employed by the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the armed organizations’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) in their Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA) negotiations, to move forward more smoothly and rapidly, a mediating third party would be desirable.

One model that could be looked into is the 1978 Camp David summit, where US President Jimmy Carter had played the role of mediator between Egypt and Israel. According to Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement without giving in, it took him 13 days and some 23 drafts before Israel and Egypt agreed to sign it.

The one-text (single text) procedure, its authors say, “is almost essential for large multilateral negotiations. One hundred and fifty nations, for example, cannot constructively discuss a hundred and fifty different proposals.”

U Aung Min, the government’s principal negotiator, upon hearing it, commented, “As you know, successive governments of our country have an allergy to mediation by outsiders.”

PI then suggested there was the South African model where talented members of the country’s business community were chosen as facilitators to use the one-text process. “While the business community was hardly neutral, everyone understood that its overriding interest was to maintain stability and prosperity and avoid a civil war,” explains the book.

“Surely we have talented people from other communities, if not from the business community,” Khuensai Jaiyen, PI’s Managing Director said at the meeting with U Aung Min and the MPC on 1 December. “If we don’t have them, we’ll be facing the same problems in the upcoming Framework and Political Dialogue stages.”

One major problem of the current negotiations, according to academics, is that as the two sides are meeting each other face to face to work out on the single text, it is not easy to separate people from the problem and direct the discussions to interests and options, as required by the technique. Dale Carnegie once said: “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic but creatures of emotion.”

The NCCT is currently holding a meeting in Chiangmai in preparation for the next meeting with the UPWC.

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