Ceasefire and political settlement two sides of the same coin

By: Sai Wansai
Tuesday, 23 July 2013

President Thein Sein during his recent, UK visit said that by the year’s end there would be no prisoner’s of conscience or political prisoner left for all will be released. At the same time, he said that a nation-wide ceasefire agreement will be signed between the government and all non-Burman ethnic armed groups, most possibly within a few weeks time.

Sai Wansai
While the release of all political prisoners could be easier to fulfil single-handedly by the government, the signing of a nation-wide ceasefire agreement, which would take at least two to happen, is somewhat problematic, for the ethnic armed groups, particularly the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), made up of eleven non-Burman ethnic armed groups, could not agree to the government’s roadmap and framework, which is quite far apart from its own.

On 13 July, the Technical Teams of Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) headed by Hla Maung Shwe and UNFC led by Padoe Mahn Mahn met in Chiangmai, Thailand, to talk about how to go about with the reconciliation process.

According to The Irrawaddy 15 July report, “Mahn Mahn also called on the government to agree to a concrete political framework and asked the government not to settle merely for ceasefire agreements nationwide. He said government peace representatives wanted to push first for achieving ceasefires nationwide before establishing a framework for discussion of political issues, a timeline at odds with the UNFC technical team’s demand for simultaneous negotiating tracks.”

What Padoe Mahn Mahn said was that durable ceasefire agreement could only be sustainable, if the national political agenda is first agreed upon. In other words, the UNFC position is that political settlement framework has to be included, before agreeing to sign a nation-wide ceasefire earmarked to pull it through by Thein Sein government within a few weeks time.

According to SHAN Editorial of 19 July, the Working Group for Ethnic Coordination (WGEC), formed by the armed groups in February 2012, which was made up of both UNFC and non-UNFC armed organizations - Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), as well as representatives from civil society organizations (youth, women and issue-based) – fell out in June this year, due to different principles and personalities. But despite their unwillingness to reconcile with each other, both, the UNFC and non-UNFC members have taken the same position (without consulting each other) against the government’s proposal that a ceremony signing the 5 point nationwide ceasefire agreement be held in Naypyitaw. The 5 points, as stated by the President on 1 March 2012, which exclude the framework for political negotiations, are:

  • To stop all hostilities
  • To stay only in the agreed areas
  • Not to hold any arms in places except from those agreed areas
  • To open liaison offices in the mutually agreed places
  • To fix the venue, time and date for Union level dialogue

Not surprisingly, both the UNFC and the truncated WGEC, had rejected it saying a framework for political negotiations must be included in the text of the said nationwide ceasefire agreement, or else no group would turn up for the signing.

In addition to the fact that the ball is now in Thein Sein’s court, the UNFC and non-UNFC members need to earnestly ask on how and when will the Burma Army stop its military occupation of all non-Burman ethnic areas, under the guise or pretext of “area cleansing and control” operations all throughout non-Burman nationalities’ territories. This is the most crucial obstacle, which must be overcome, if meaningful ceasefire agreement is to be implemented. It wouldn’t do just to downplay the armed clashes as usual happening, occurring now for more than hundred times with both the Shan State Army/ Shan State Progress Party (SSA/SSPP) and Shan State Army/ Restoration Council of Shan State (SSA/RCSS), which have signed ceasefire agreement for the last two years. The ongoing armed clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Shan State and elsewhere, even though the de-escalation of armed conflict agreement was signed, a few weeks ago; and the recent Burma Army’s attack on the New Mon State Party (NMSP), which has also signed ceasefire agreement with the government, on 16 July, in Mon State are not conducive to the implementation of ceasefire agreement.

The Burma Army and as well, the regime, are down playing the armed confrontations as usual happening, partly to show that the peace process is still going on for international consumption, while all along it is sticking to its “area cleansing and control” policy to subjugate and occupy ethnic nationalities’ areas as much as possible, so that when the area demarcation of contending troops take place it will be at advantage. And even if the negotiation breaks down, leading to total war again, it will still have a military edge over the ethnic armies.

To sum up, Thein Sein regime is moving ahead with its agenda, presuming that the ethnic armed groups are coming along with its demand of first signing the ceasefire agreement, give up armed struggle, enter political arena by forming political parties, participate in elections, and finally amend the constitution from within the parliament, accepting the existence of a single army within the country.

Another unspoken problem is that although the UNFC is addressing its adversary as “The Government”, in reality, it is only acknowledging it as a military dominated entity and not even as a quasi-civilian government. On the other hand, the Thein Sein regime sees itself, rightly or wrongly, as a legitimate elected government of the whole country, including the non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

The reason for such an unspoken assumption from the part of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities is that the present Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), plus military, dominated regime comes to power through a series of orchestrated manipulation; from self-drawn, military-favoured, 2008 Constitution, rigged constitutional referendum to flawed 2010 general elections. In short, Thein Sein regime is taken as a de facto and not de jure government by the non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

That has been exactly the reason why the UNFC is demanding a tripartite dialogue, involving the USPD, plus the military, the democratic opposition groups and the non-Burman ethnic nationalities, which would lead to the 1947, Panglong Agreement-like understanding, paving way for a genuine federal structure.

Meanwhile, Eleven Media reported, on 22 July, the government chief negotiator, U Aung Min said that nation-wide ceasefire could not be materialized yet and that only four or five groups have agreed to the government’s overture of signing the nation-wide ceasefire agreement.

And so it seems, the much desired nation-wide ceasefire signing ceremony wouldn’t come about anytime soon, even though this could bring a huge political boost for Thein Sein’s reform process, heightened international recognition as a true reformer and solicit more foreign investment.

Finally, it will do us all good, if we all could accept the fact that “political settlement” and “ceasefire agreement” are two sides of the same coin and that it would have to be tackled simultaneously and not one after another.

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


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