Aung San Suu Kyi initiated ray of hope could only instil cautious optimism

On 3 June, the Sub-Committee 2, of which is under the 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC) Preparatory Committee, headed by Dr Tin Myo Win met United Nationalities Federal Council's (UNFC) Delegation for Peace Negotiation (DPN) led by General Gun Maw in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to iron out the question of unresolved conditions to participate in the Aung San Suu Kyi initiated peace process, ear-marked to be held in a month or two.
Under the 21CPC Preparatory Committee, two Sub-Committees were formed; one is headed by General Yar Pyae to deal with the 8 signatory EAOs and the other, led by Tin Myo Win to iron out difficulties with the non-signatory EAOs.
The 21CPC and former regime's Union Peace Conference (UPC) are said to be the same and both names could be used, according to Aung San Suu Kyi.
Accordingly, it was envisioned that the non-signatory Ethnic Armed Organizations' (EAOs) members belonging to the UNFC were to participate in reviewing and amending the Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) together with the government, 8 signatory EAOs and the military (Tatmadaw), even without signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) yet. The former Thein Sein regime had only invited the non-signatory EAOs as observers with no rights to voice or amend the FPD. The now National League for Democracy (NLD)-led regime approach has been to create a feeling that the non-signatory EAOs are also co-owners of the framework together with the others.
After satisfactory review and amendment, the non-signatory EAOs could sign the NCA, followed by the participation in the 21CPC to resolve the conflict and achieve national reconciliation through political means.
Let us now look at whether this meeting of hearts between the Tin Myo Win's team and DPN has helped resolve the problems surrounding peace process as a whole.
Problematic issues
Although Tin Myo Win was said to be happy with the answer of agreement to cooperate so that the conference could be attended by the non-signatory EAOs, quite a lot of unanswered problematic issues remain to be solved.
The indefinite answers regarding the issues were pin pointed by General Gun Maw to the RFA on 3 June as follows:
  • Whether the conference (21CPC) could be attended only after signing the NCA;
  • How this conference would be linked to the NCA;
  • It is said to be UPC and also 21CPC, what is the government opinion on this;
  • Some groups were told that only after signing the NCA, they would be allowed to attend, while the others were told that there would be no need to sign; and
  • What is the government opinion on the hard to resolve issue of Kokang, Ta'ang and Arakan Army (AA).
Gun Maw stressed that they have to be satisfied only with the indefinite answer of Tin Myo Win's team, in which they said the matters would be brought to their concerned leaders' attention.
The 4 point press release of the UNFC's DPN only mentioned that meeting of 3 June with the 21CPC Preparatory Committee in Chiang Mai and that both parties agreed further meetings would be conducted to continue with the tasks ahead.
According to RFA 3 June report, the UNFC was said to request that the government and the Tatmadaw stopped the presently happening armed conflicts by declaring unilateral nationwide ceasefire, so that the 21CPC could be held successfully.
General Sai Htoo, a leader of DPN said: “We welcome their invitation. But we have also requested that in order the 21CPC to happen, so that political discussion could be held, nationwide ceasefire be implemented. They couldn't reply immediately and instead said would bring the matter to government's attention.”
According to Sai Htoo, Tin Myo Win promised to deliver the message to the government.
The military change of heart and Unlawful Associations Act
As Tin Myo Win's team was said to be working out to meet the so far excluded 3 EAOs – Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and AA, it looks like that the military is changing tack or becoming flexible and ready to accommodate their participation in the peace process, which it had previously demanded to surrender first in order to become a part of the process.
Earlier, the military had said that to save face and not using the word “surrender” for the said 3 EAOs, they could denounce their armed struggle in the first place, followed by locking up their armoury along the border withholding their own keys, before they could participate.
It is not known whether this proposal is still on or if this is going to be practically workable without neutral third party enforcer group to oversee such scheme.
Furthermore, Tin Myo Win's Sub-Committee has entrusted U Thein Zaw, who previously has been in contact with the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Mong La or National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), to talk to them very soon for their possible inclusion in the peace process.
Meanwhile harassing of Shan civilians in conflict zone by the Tatmadaw continues to occur as Tatmadaw, police and military security units arrested 8 villagers in Pang Zong-Koong Hsa village, Hsenwi Township, who they accused of been working for the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) and thus violated the 17/1 Section of the Unlawful Associations Act and charged accordingly.
They were accused of being hardcore supporters of the SSPP/SSA and planning to carry out taxation and recruitment for the said organization.
According to BBC report of 5 June, Daw Khin Htar Yee, the Shan MP for Hsenwi, said the civilians have to be afraid of all armed groups, including the Tatmadaw, and have to follow the wishes of every group. She said only a sheet of paper was found when the arrest was made. Accordingly, they were said to be treated good and were moved from police detention to the military facility for security reasons.
Underlining its sole protector role of the country, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, on 2 June told an audience during the ceremony of granting credentials to outstanding army personnel, he said that guarding the country's territories, public interest, lives and properties are duties of every citizen, which are ingrained since birth as national duty.
He stressed that the Tatmadaw, that is made up of all union citizens, was taking the responsibility, upholding the Three National Causes (Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Solidarity, and the Perpetuation of National Sovereignty) and any act or any organization endangering them would be decisively destroyed.
Panglong Agreement, Promises and Spirit
During the 6th  Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) meeting last month, Aung San Suu Kyi has recently said that she held more importance to the Panglong Spirit than the Agreement itself, signed in 1947 by her late father, together with the other ethnic leaders.
She said that Panglong Spirit is meant to be the unity and cooperation of all ethnic nationalities, with which the independence have been achieved, and in the same vein, people's aspirations of peace, tranquillity and development goals could be smoothly, speedily, and rightfully achieved.
Contrary to what Suu Kyi has said, Hkun Htun Oo, Chairman of the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU), made up of two Shan armies, Shan political parties and Community Based Organizations (CBO), said in his speech on 1 June that Panglong Agreement is key to national reconciliation.
He said: “When conducting 21CPC it is paramount to be transparent. In order to be so, all need to cooperate and participate.  The ethnic nationalities needs are Panglong-based facts of equality and rights of self-determination. To achieve peace, Panglong Promises must be built with Panglong Spirit.”
While Panglong Agreement is full autonomy in internal affairs and full financial autonomy for Federated Shan States, Kachin and Chin Hills, Panglong Promises are explained by Khuensai Jaiyen, Director of Pyidaungsu Institute, as follows:
  • The right to secede if and when we choose
  • Equal status
  • Joint responsibility for common subjects such as foreign affairs, defence and coinage and currency
  • Gen Aung San reportedly had accepted all in principle but requested that they be included in the Union Constitution to be a drafted by the upcoming Constituent Assembly instead. His solemn word of honour thus became known as the promises of Panglong.
As for the Panglong Spirit:
  • The NCA, both in the text and its attachment, which contains 36 resolutions passed in the 9 formal meetings, doesn’t have anything to say about what the word means.
  • However, judging by what the Burmese leaders have repeatedly said, the much-vaunted Three National Causes (Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Solidarity, and the Perpetuation of National Sovereignty) appears to be their interpretation. To the non-Burmans, this summing-up means they have to live under Burmese domination as second class citizens whether they like it or not.
  • Their own interpretation: Equal status, sense of joint ownership and sense of joint responsibility, has not been sought out, let alone agreed.
  • As long as this ambiguity continues, it is doubtful a genuine union will be realized. It will therefore be the job of the Union Peace Conference which began on 12-16 January and is being planned three times a year for at least 3-5 years to clear up the enigma, if the Union is meant to be everlasting.
(Source: Panglong Agreement, Panglong Promises and the Panglong Spirit – SHAN - Feb 12, 2016)
Looking at the recent political development, the non-signatory EAOs desired all-inclusiveness doesn't seem to be materializing, although the Tin Myo Win headed Sub-Committee, which also have the mandate of the military, was said to be approaching and scheduled to meet the 3 excluded EAOs soon, to work out their possible participation in the peace process.
Insider sources said that the change of heart from the military could be that it is determined to block the UWSA's formation of a northern military alliance. Even then, its demand that the excluded 3 EAOs first denounce their armed struggle, followed by the locking up of their armoury, keeping their own keys along the border, is easily said than done.
Firstly, it is hardly an acceptable offer for the said 3 EAOs and secondly, the Tatmadaw might not also agree to a neutral third party enforcer with teeth that could limit its troops' movement within the operational areas of the 3 EAOs.
Another ongoing problem is the military is committed to its self-employed guardian of the country's sovereignty and has been going about to attack the EAOs according to its whim, stating either they have strayed away from their designated areas or involving in illegal activities, one way or the other, from its point of view.
The recent arrest of the 8 Shan villagers, for abetting the SSPP/SSA through Unlawful Association Act is the case in point. When in fact the military knew quite well that the ethnic armies have to rely on the people and taxation is seen as being a revolutionary tax, from their point of reasoning. The military should actually refrain from rocking the boat, if it is really keen to achieve peace through negotiation. For the uniform rule of law countrywide, during the time of conflict, could not be established like in the peace time and the military's sole ownership of the sovereignty is being contested. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been  armed resistance movements in the first place.
On political front, Suu Kyi's position of putting more importance on Panglong Spirit than Panglong Promises won't go down well with the ethnic nationalities in general. Suu Kyi needs to clarify if she really honours the Panglong Agreement, which is the cornerstone of genuine federal union anchored in equality, rights of self-determination, human rights and democracy.
For by voicing the Panglong Spirit as paramount and downplaying the Panglong Promises amount to saying that she is only ready to agree on a sort of power devolution based on unitary system, the idea which the military also preferred, and not fully fledged federalism that the EAOs and ethnic nationalities as a whole is striving for.
All in all, the ray of hope initiated by Suu Kyi's 21CPC could only instil cautious optimism for the ethnic population, which is still a long way from pragmatic national unity and political settlement aspirations, at least for now.


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