The disagreement arose from the choice of words between the military and the three excluded EAOs, when the parties met a few weeks ago in Mongla or National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) capital, in Shan State's golden triangle, to iron out the phrase that the military wanted them to publicize and promised.
The military told the three EAOs that they should make their repentance which includes the line saying, “The total, complete desire to abandon and end the principle or way of armed (struggle)”.
But the three were only ready to write down,“The total, complete desire to abandon and end the armed conflict”, rejecting the military demanded abandonment of “the principle and way of armed struggle”.
It should be noted that the exact Burmese words for “Let Net Kaing Larn Zin/Nee Larn” could be translated to the “principle/way of (using) arms or weapons (to achieve a goal)” without attribute emphasizing “armed struggle, armed resistance or armed rebellion”, just to mention a few.
But for a Burmese or those well-versed in the language, it is quite clear that it has a negative connotation, with unmistakably tarred aggressiveness, which could mean more to be outlaws, bandits, insurgents and the likes and not in anyway been seen as a “freedom fighter” or “resistance fighter”, with lionising effect as in the West.
Such being the case, it is understandable that the three EAOs refused to yield to the military's demand, apart from the critical question on why they were asked to lay down arms or make repentance to give up armed struggle to enter the peace process, when all the others were not even asked to do so.
The natural answer from the military side is that the three are on armed engagement terms, while the others are not and thus, the need for laying down their arms or at the least, to repent that their armed struggle is completely wrong. The military also accused Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) of starting the fight first by attacking government positions, last year in February.
The Kokang conflict, in which the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA) fought along side with MNDAA, started as head of MNDAA Peng Jiasheng launched an offensive, in a bid to re-establish his authority in Kokang self-administrative zone, from where he was expelled by his competitors from within his own army. The then military government sided with his deputy Bai Xuoqian, Peng’s deputy, who is now the Naypyitaw’s point man there.
Thus from the military point of view, MNDAA is an aggressor, while Peng Jiasheng considered that he is only trying to right the wrong, to regain back its authority, robbed from him, which the military abetted and assisted it with vigour.
And for the three EAOs, as armed struggle is part of the resistance against political injustice and grievances, and to admit that their struggle is wrong, coupled with repentance would never come to their mind, much less accepting it.
Still a question arises, as to if this demand is the directive stemming from Aung San Suu Kyi, for it doesn't make sense for her to initiate all-inclusiveness without conditions, particularly where the participation of EAOs is concerned, and let her peace negotiators demand repentance first to become participants in the 21CPC or peace process.
In the BBC recent report, Deputy Director General of the President's Office Zaw Htay when asked whether if this handling of the three EAOs is Suu Kyi's desire, replied: “Under National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) there is Peace Commission (PC) and under State Counsellor's control, there is Preparatory Committee for 21CPC, which is made up of the government, military and parliament.”
He pointed out: “When the Preparatory Committee tabled policy matters, the State Counsellor has to make decision. Here the high ranking military officers are also included, where their policies and the State Counsellors' desired policies are adjusted. This policy decision is what State Counsellor has agreed upon is also the opinion of the military and the parliament.”
Zaw Htay further stressed and reasoned the side-lining of the three EAOs as: “Our words (position) said that those who are appropriate and ought-to-participate (could take part in the peace process).”
But this actually negate the posture of joint-ownership of the process that Suu Kyi and her government have been keen to promote. For the government should not be barking out orders and making decisions on who should participate and who not, as an ethnic representation has to be decided by the individual ethnic group that is directly concerned.
Still, in order not to look so rigid or uncompromising from the part of the government and military regarding the disagreement over the choice of words, Zaw Htay said: “While (we) wait for the result of this negotiation until the convention (starts), the door will be kept open (for the future).”
As it is, the 21CPC will not be all-inclusive participation and the war in Kachin and Shan States would go on, if the ongoing and recent heightened Tatmadaw's offensives could be taken an indication of its continued confrontation policy, parallel with the convention that would be held every six months.
No doubt the pressure of big neighbouring country across the border for all-inclusiveness and comprehensive peace negotiation, coupled with the United Nations and international push and endorsement, would have made an impact on how the military should behave. But despite its meeting with the three EAOs twice recently in Mongla to show the public that it is also for all-inclusiveness, its resistance to stand down from its military supremacy stance, laced with Bamar ethnocentrism, could not be underestimated. We have seen on what it could do to make Suu Kyi's all-inclusiveness policy looks like and so long as it refuses to obey orders from the civilian government, or keen to manipulate the government decision-making power, all would have to wait quite a while for a long-lasting solution and political settlement that encompass all the ethnic peoples of Burma, Bamar included.
The UNFC has announced that it will attend the upcoming Burma peace conference. I have previously presented reasons for boycotting the conference, but there is a good argument for going as well. If the ethnic armed organizations are bold, they can use their attendance to further their objectives, meaning for real peace, democracy and federalism.
The rationale for the boycott position is as follows. It is worth restating, since without changes by the Burma Army, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the country will never be at peace.
The conflict is still ongoing - specifically, the Burma Army has launched offensives in both Kachin and Northern Shan States. It is difficult to understand why there would even be a peace conference now, when one side is so dedicated to war. For example, peace talks are presently underway for the Philippines, following the announcement last week of an on the ground ceasefire by both sides. Also, a peace agreement has just been signed in Columbia, again after the first step of halting fighting on the ground. Until Burma's military dictatorship follows the lead of these two countries, and becomes a sincere and willing partner, there is plainly no hope of peace.
Secondly, the peace process negotiation is biased, remarkably, in favor of the dictatorship. Suu Kyi, who should be an independent arbiter, has sided with the generals. Indeed, one of her key spokespersons on the issue of peace, Khin Zaw Oo, is a Burma Army general and, according to a 2014 Harvard Law School study, an indictable war criminal. Irrawaddy quoted him last week, saying: "The Burma Army and the government share the same view."
Thirdly, the dictatorship still has not budged on the issue of inclusion, meaning the TNLA, MNDAA and AA will not be able to attend (despite their publicized willingness to do so.) Suu Kyi backs the dictatorship and accepts their exclusion. Again, a peace process that excludes important parties to the conflict cannot succeed.
Finally, the peace conference has no overt objective. The participants will share their views, but there will be no serious negotiations or target outcome (such as declaring a true nationwide on the ground ceasefire), and the entire exercise will be held again in six months.
Why, then, has the UNFC decided to go? The answer, to me at least, is simple. There is, both in Burma and internationally, a blackout on the country's civil conflict. Even though there is an actual air war, with Burma Army jets and helicopters repeatedly attacking EAO positions and ethnic nationality villages, this gets almost no attention. Even in Burma itself, there are no combat journalists, who stay at the front lines and report on the crisis firsthand. Instead, the war is only covered by local media outlets when the EAOs themselves publish information about the latest battles.
This all links back to Suu Kyi. She refuses to even acknowledge the fighting, certainly in specific terms, since were she to do so she would be forced to criticize its instigator, the military dictatorship. Diplomats and the media in turn follow her lead, meaning that the Burma Civil War, which is a major conflict, outside of the Middle East possibly the largest war now in progress, gets no recognition or coverage.
The peace conference therefore is a chance for the EAOs to explain what is really happening. Suu Kyi doesn't want to have a formal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (like in South Africa). Fine. The ethnic nationalities can use this meeting to get the truth out.
Many EAO representatives will speak, and I would suggest that they all dispense with self-censorship and diplomatic niceties. They should openly, and using concrete examples, describe the regimes's decades of tyranny, and its current actions at the front lines. While the format might not permit them to introduce individual victims as witnesses, such as people who have had family members slaughtered or who have been raped, they should nonetheless document, one speaker after another, the regime's invasion of their homelands and its crimes against humanity. It is time for the truth in Burma to be told! Suu Kyi's demand for censorship must be rejected!
This is a good reason to attend. Let's clear up the manufactured confusion - that the Burma Army and the EAOs are somehow "equivalent" - once and for all. The criminal dictatorship aggressor needs to be publicly outed and shamed, and then pressured to end its hostility and atrocities. This is the only way the country will ever know peace.
Burma Peace: Let the truth be told!
While not directly involved in 21CPC, the naming of former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan to head the newly formed Arakan State Advisory Commission of fact-finding and suggestions to the “Rohingya” issue could be seen as a well-timed move to show the government's change of approach, from the consideration policy of purely domestic to international concern, complimenting its peace process as a whole.
And perhaps to make a last minute plea to all warring parties, EAOs and as well the Tatmadaw, Suu Kyi when meeting the signatory eight EAOs on 24 August urged them that to seriously consider because it would not be known, for how long the country would have to wait (for peace) further and to what extend it could be hurt, if the peace convention is not successful.
The ethnic nationalities uphold the decades-long United Nations endorsed tripartite dialogue which includes, the government-parliament-military, the EAOs and all the registered political parties, while the military would like to hold on to the seven party arrangement, as was agreed in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), signed late last year with the eight EAOs, out of twenty-one.
Given such situation, even if the military faction reluctantly gives in to the all inclusiveness political position of Suu Kyi, a host of questions on core issues still remains to be resolved. But all would boil down to the fact if national equality, ethnic rights of self determination and democratization could be worked out satisfactorily among all the ethnic groups, Bamar included, as this would determine whether or not the lasting peace and political settlement could be achieved.
Shan civic groups held a press conference in Bangkok today, claiming that the Burmese government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, is working secretly in support of dam construction on the Salween River, despite knowing that the mega-project will greatly affect many people.
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) in the Thai capital, Sai Khur Hseng of the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization and spokesperson for this morning’s joint-statement, said that the new Burmese government has tried to implement the hydropower projects without caring about the suffering of ordinary people.
As Aung San Suu Kyi's first visit, outside of the ASEAN countries, her
call on China is an important undertaking in shaping, reiterating and
confirming Burma's – also known as Myanmar - neutral stance, while reflecting
and weighing the pro and contra of a pending and some gearing-up, future
economic projects together with China and at the same time, soliciting China's
help in resolving the ethnic armed conflict along the two countries' border.
The exiled leader of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Peng Jiasheng, released a statement last Monday, saying that the Kokang militia supported the new round of peace talks that are due to begin next week, negotiations which have been dubbed the “21st Century Panglong Conference.”