Conflict resolution in Burma: Will EU-funded MPC become third party mediation team?

By: Sai Wansai
Tuesday, 06 November 2012
Quite a lot have happened lately in Burma, or should we say Myanmar according to the SPDC military regime, forerunner of quasi- civilian Thein Sein government had termed.

Sai Wansai
Norway and Denmark have opened embassy, World Bank approves an accelerating poverty reduction plan and cleared a US $80 million financial grant for the country, EU represented by the visiting European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and the Minister of the Office of the President of Myanmar Aung Min on Saturday signed a Joint Declaration for the establishment of the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), funds the MPC's start-up with EUR 700,000, to be followed by a total of EUR30 million to Burma's ethnic peace process and development.

According to European Commission’s statement the government of Burma and the European Union share the view of the historic opportunity for securing lasting peace in Burma and for bringing prosperity to ethnic areas after decades of conflict have come to an end. The MPC will work towards this goal and shall build confidence and it shall advance the respect for political and human rights.

But the point here is the ethnic conflict is far from over in Burma, and at the most the signing of ceasefire with 13 or so ethnic armed groups could be taken as  “preliminary” and still has to go along way until sustainable peace is achieved. From the non-Burman ethnic groups point of view, it should be “Nothing is agreed and implemented, until everything is agreed and implemented”, which is a holistic approach, termed “security transitional processes” (STP). The state-centric position, in relation to internal armed conflict, is first “disarmament and demobilisation” approach, according to Berghof Foundation, a think-tank in conflict resolution and peace study.

According to the recent report by RTT News, on 04 November, U Aung Min said that a new chapter in Burma is opening up and that to satisfy political aspirations and address grievances of ethnic communities in Burma, a non-partisan platform for comprehensive dialogue is needed.

Thein Sein government has recently institutionalized its peace process by forming the Union Peace-making Central Committee and the Union Peace-making Work Committee. Accordingly, the Myanmar Peace Center will serve as the Secretariat to these committees and will also serve as the focal point for international partners and civil society organizations on issues related to the peace process.

Again, in an interview with VOA, U Aung Min said that the peace center will be made up of people from the regime, ethnic groups, and supporting/donor groups like Australia, Norway, UK, World Bank and UN. He also told BBC that all stakeholders will be taken on board, even the unborn child in the mother’s womb will not be left out, in its all-inclusive approach.

But the problem arise, whether the Myanmar Peace Center will genuinely be neutral, for U Aung Min said that it will serve as a Secretariat for the government’s own negotiating bodies, the Union Peace-making Central Committee and the Union Peace-making Work Committee. In other words, it is doubtful, if MPC will become a neutral third party, which could present both warring parties; that is the government controlled Burma army and ethnic resistance armies.

Meanwhile, the fighting continues within Shan State, on and off between Burma army and Shan State Army North and South, reaching some 70 armed clashes despite initial ceasefire agreement signed for nearly a year ago. As for the war between the Burma army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has still not signed ceasefire agreement, the armed clash count has escalated to nearly 2000 times within one and a half year, with huge human casualties on both warring parties.

On 04 November, the Kachin News Group reported as follows:

The talks which took place at the Chinese border town of Ruili (Shweli) on October 30 also ended earlier than expected, reportedly because no senior leaders from the KIO including Brig Gen Gun Maw attended.

During the talks Naypyidaw's chief negotiator, former railway minister Aung Min, reiterated the Thein Sein government's desire that further political talks take place in parliament under the framework of the 2008 military backed constitution.

Since the fighting began in June 2011 the KIO has repeatedly stated that it wants to negotiate with the government using the Panglong Agreement as a reference, something that the government has so far rejected.

And so it seems, with all the talks of all-inclusiveness, power-sharing and lately, even federalism, the quasi-civilian regime of Thein Sein is still reluctant to honour the Panglong Agreement, much less Panglong spirit in a true, sincere sense.

The first place to start is the acknowledgement and acceptance of the said Panglong Agreement and follow up with building a real, neutral third party mediation team to address the ethnic conflict in Burma as a whole. It wouldn’t do to just give lip-service, dictate its game plan or roadmap one-sidedly on the ethnic groups, without accommodation and compromise, if the regime really has the political will to resolve the six decades old ethnic conflict.

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


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