To Hopeland and back (IV)

Day 2 (23 September 2013)

Today (7 October 2013) there are more serious matters concerning the peace process. But at the time of my arrival in Taunggyi, the hot story on the grapevine was the KNU and the RCSS, the two that had gone to present the all-in-one framework, were going to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with Naypyitaw, whether or not the rest of the resistance groups were ready to follow suit.

Since 17 armed groups were attending the forum, the matter was a crucial one. I therefore decided to stop being a Temi (the prince in one of the Buddhist Jatakas who refused to speak) and take the floor, on rather the stage, today.

Opening ceremony Shan-Kayah-Mon Trustbuilding for Peace in Taunggyi, on 23 September 2013 (Photo: SNLD)

One of the presentations that drew my attention came from the PaO National Organization (PNO), the group that had accepted a Burma Army run militia status and, as a result, is now an elected party as well. “The PaO (one of the major non-Shan ethnic groups in Shan State) have been granted a Self-Administered Zone (SAZ) by the 2008 constitution,” its representative said. “But we have yet to enjoy full self-rule.”

According to the constitution, each SAZ or SAD (Self Administered Division) is entitled to the following list of legislation: (P.191) Urban and rural projects, construction and maintenance of roads and bridges, public health, development affairs, prevention of fire hazard, maintenance of pasture, conservation and preservation of forest, preservation of national environment “in accord with law promulgated by the Union,” water and electricity matters in towns and villages and market matters.

I remember one of the fellow villagers on the Thai border, a former activist, commenting that even a Thai village tract seems to enjoy more powers. “Why, the Or Baw Taw (Tambon Administrative Organization) here can even decide on the teaching of Shan and approve on the budget including the teacher’s salary.” (Tambon is the equivalent of Burma’s village tract)

Any amendment to the list therefore would be welcomed not only by the PaO but also Palaung, Wa, Kokang, Danu and Naga, who also have been accorded the same status.

Then came Dr Min Zaw Oo from MPC, whose talk I have already reported. It was an excellent food for thought, I thought and I had liked it. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well with many of the participants’ ambitious mood.

Then came my turn. I related to them the events leading to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, the first draft of which was delivered to the KNU and RCSS on 12 September. According to my understanding, the two groups, whom I knew sufficiently well, are not going to sign it without some amendments and without consulting other groups. “It’s not only the KNU-RCSS problem, it is also one for the government’s negotiating team,” I told them. “While on the side of the resistance movement as a whole, the key is the KIO (Kachin Independence Organization) consent, on the government’s side, it will be the Tastmadaw (Military) consent.”

“Under these circumstances,” I asked them 3 rhetoric questions:

  • Are the KNU and RCSS going to sign alone by themselves?
  • Are the world leaders going to come to Naypyitaw as witnesses?
  • Is Naypyitaw going to hold a signing ceremony with just the two of them?

I don’t think you need to consult any fortuneteller to find out the answers.”
If I had any satisfaction out of it, it was the appreciation expressed by several delegates of the armed movements who met me during the break.
Today, things have moved further:

  • The draft has been revised in accordance with suggestions from KNU and RCSS
  • If reports were correct, the KIO has also seen it
  • It is going to be the one of the topics to be discussed at the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) meeting, 7-9 October, and at the meeting between KIO and the government, 8-10 October
  • The signs, according to insiders, so far are encouraging

“We might still be fighting after the signing,” commented Lt-Gen Yawdserk leader of the RCSS. “But the major difference is that the world will by then know who’s right and who’s wrong.”

So if things turn out as planned:

  • The terms are acceptable to both sides
  • The military chief is going to be among the signatories
  • The major world leaders are going to be present at the signing ceremony

we may be seeing the first major hurdle cleared in the coming month. Let us all hope I’m not wrong.


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