Unilateral ceasefire and fulfilling Panglong Agreement key to reconciliation success

By Sai Wansai
Wednesday, 02 October 2013
Sai Wansai

The optimistic gesture, stemming from the ambitious nationwide ceasefire signing ceremony, feverishly lobbied by U Aung Min, President Thein Sein’s top peace negotiator, couldn’t be louder, now that former President Jimmy Carter has openly urged the Kachin Independence Organization/ Army (KIO/KIA) to agree to ink the much talked about, signing of agreement, this coming November. Originally, the signing ceremony was earmarked to take place in October.

According to Kachinland News of 28 September, the two Kachin activists, Khon Ja and Hkawn Htoi (also known as May Sabe Phyu), from Kachin Peace Network (KPN) met the Elders led by former US president Jimmy Carter, former Finland president Martti Ahtisaari and former Norway prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland for about an hour, where Jimmy Carter reportedly asked KIO and Kachin to participate in upcoming ceasefire agreement between Burmese government and ethnic armed groups.

During the meeting, Jimmy Carter urged KIO and Kachin not to miss the historic opportunity and government’s offer for a nationwide ceasefire as UN, International Governments and Security Council will witness the event, said Khon Ja of Kachin Peace Network.

She said, “We had some difficulty explaining our perspective to the Elders as they met President Thein Sein, Commander in Chief and officials from Myanmar Peace Centre just before us. It was a big challenge telling our concerns.” She said the Elders were too optimistic about change in Burma and preoccupied with words they had heard from Burmese government officials. “Jimmy Carter kept telling us KIO should sign ceasefire agreement even though we are not KIO’s representatives and hardly gave us a chance to express our view”, said Khon Ja.

For the most part, the pro-ceasefire diplomatic offensives are initiated by the lobby groups like Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), the government establishment, and the Euro Burma Office (EBO); the Brussels based organization, which also have a branch office in Rangoon, Burma.

Intentionally or unintentionally, the pro-ceasefire lobbyist camp has painted the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), particularly the KIO/KIA, as uncompromising hardliner, resisting the government’s good will overtures, to participate in the government initiated, signing of nationwide ceasefire agreement.

Let us take a deeper look, if this assumption is valid.

First, despite initial ceasefire agreements with the Thein Sein government, responding to its peace and reconciliation calls shortly after he came to power in the early 2011, armed clashes still continue to these days unabated. To date, more than a hundred fire fights have been registered and the count is increasing with the ongoing armed clashes in Shan State, since the signing of ceasefire agreements between the government and both, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) and Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) two years ago, and even not to mention the continued armed engagement with KIO/KIA in northern Shan State and Kachin State, despite an agreement signed a few months earlier to deescalate the armed conflict with the Burma Army.

According to the recent SHAN report, on 30 September, Sao Yawdserk, leader of the  RCSS/SSA, said that during the 10 days period, between 13 to 24 September, Burma Army suffered, at least, 80 death and wounded, in its armed engagements with the RCSS/SSA and SSPP/SSA. He is reportedly said to be writing a letter to Vice Senior General Soe Win to settle the ongoing problem of conflict between the two sides in a peaceful way. Since the signing of ceasefire, the two have already fought 133 clashes, including 8 between 13-24 September.

The second reason for such continued armed engagements is due to Burma Army's military occupation of the ethnic homelands and the treatment of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities as its colonial possessions, employing almost all of its available armed forces.

Finally, it’s so-called "area clearance and control" policy of continued military operations, under the pretext of safe guarding national unity, to subjugate the non-Burman ethnic nationalities, pushed the Ethnic Armed Groups (EAGs) to militarily engage the Burma Army in self defence.

From the EAGs point of view, the government initiated, ad hoc, nationwide ceasefire signing ceremony is meaningless, so long as the Burma Army (BA) troops are occupying the ethnic homelands and aggressively conducting offensives, by giving one or the other reason to continue doing so. It is not a surprise that the EAGs see the government’s move sceptically as deliberately trying to advance its superior position militarily and diplomatically, by its continued military occupation and pressuring the EAGs to yield to its desire of signing the nationwide ceasefire.

The Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC), headed by U Aung Min and United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) met for the second time, on September 8, in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. Regarding government desired and proposed ceasefire signing ceremony again in October; the UNFC released a five points position paper.

  • The first point questions why it is essential to sign another ceasefire agreement, when all 13 Ethnic Armed Groups (EAGs) have already signed state and union levels ceasefire with the government.
  • The second pin points the fact that the government should implement a nationwide ceasefire, so as not to make war with some groups, while having ceasefire with the others.
  • The third points out the continued armed clashes with some EAGs even though ceasefire agreements have been reached erode trustworthiness, while creating misunderstanding between the Burma Army (BA) and the government. Thus, if the ceasefire is agreed, it should be solid and literally implemented.
  • The fourth states in order to avoid armed clashes repositioning of troops, agreement on demarcation areas and code of conduct for the troops should be solidly drawn up. Otherwise, ceasefire agreement will be meaningless.
  • The final point insists upon political dialogue must be the key to resolve armed conflict and not to use ceasefire condition to gain advantage militarily. (Source: UNFC position paper on repeated signing of  ceasefire agreement proposed by the government)

Most  EAGs have already signed ceasefire agreements with the government and the main question asked by the UNFC was, "Why repeatedly signing the ceasefire agreement, when armed clashes continues unabated, even after signing it?"

The answer from the government, or rather the BA, is due to the EAGs breaching of its six moral principles, which was made known only after the signing of ceasefire agreements and not before. They were not to kill, not to force recruit members, not to levy taxes, not to expand armed garrison, not to participate in armed confrontation with the government troops on the side of ethnic armed groups’ military alliance, not to interfere with the government administration, and not to attack government control militia groups. This is, of course, the official statement or point of view of the government and the BA. But the hidden real agenda, under the pretext of safe-guarding national sovereignty, is to subjugate and occupy the ethnic homelands and maintain Burman supremacy stance against all ethnic states.

It should also be noted that U Aung Min has, indeed, made a commitment to start a political dialogue, once the nationwide ceasefire is signed by all the EAGs. But it is just like selling a cat in the sack, for one wouldn’t know how it will look like. The EAGs, including the ethnic political parties, would first like the government and the military to guarantee the rebuilding of a genuine federal union, as has been agreed in 1947, and not just a liberalisation of the presidential unitary system or some kind of “Burmese way to federalism”, which will still uphold Burman ethnocentrism and political monopoly.

But, if the present regime, and for that matter the Burmese military, is really interested to turn a new leaf and embrace genuine power-sharing and decentralization, leading to the much talked about federal form of government, it should take some confidence-building measures and crucial steps like, unilateral declaration of nationwide ceasefire, redeploying its frontline troops to a relatively safe distance from the positions of EAGs, call off all offensives against the EAGs, and above all, a simple few words of official commitment that it is ready to go back to the original, agreed promise of Panglong Agreement to rebuild a genuine federal union. Only then, the earmarked, November nationwide ceasefire, will become a reality, paving ways for genuine reconciliation and political settlement.

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


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