To Hopeland and Back: The 30th trip (15-18 May 2017)

Everyman is my superior in some way
In that I learn from him.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

The trip came about due to the Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) Yangon Office’s plan to launch its latest work,” English-Myanmar Glossary of Federalism Terms,” on 16 May.

It came in the wake of the 5 sets of proposals produced by the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) for the 5 dialogue topics (Politics, Security, Social, Economic, and Land and Natural resources Management) to be discussed at the Union Peace Conference (UPC)#3, otherwise Union Peace Conference 21st Century Panglong (UPC 21 CP) #2, scheduled for 24-28 May.

Naturally, I had taken the opportunity to visit the country in order to seek advice from my friends, both Shan and non-Shan.

The following journal details what I had found out from them. Obviously, I will be doing my best to follow the Chatham House rule.

Day One. Monday, 15 May 2017

In international experience since 1989, the likelihood of a military solution to conflict drops to 25% after one year, or 10% after three tears.

Can Myanmar’s peace process learn from international experience? Frontier, 24 May 2017

The Bangkok Airways lands at Mingladon at 12:10. Twenty minutes later, I arrive at the office of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), better known as the “Tiger Head” party. I’m there to ask for its stance on the 12 May propositions by the UPDJC, which were reported to the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST), the highest organ of the 8 signatory EAOs on the following day:

§  The propositions on politics are based on the EAOs’ 8 point guideline that was adopted in 2005, and acceded by the July 2016 Mai Jayang conference:

1.     Sovereign power (and its exercise)
2.     Equality
3.     Right of Self-Determination
4.     Structure and division of power
5.     Minority rights
6.     Democratic right, human rights, and gender equality
7.     Secular state
8.     Multiparty democratic system

§  At first, it was agreed that the UPC#3 will discuss only 6 points: sovereign power, exercise of sovereign power, equality, right of self-determination, structure and division of power, secular state, and multiparty democratic system, leaving the rest for UPC#4

§  However due to a press interview on 9 or 10 May by an ethnic politician that had reportedly offended the Tatmadaw, it returned with a new parcel of proposals on the next day, revoking everything it had agreed earlier. One of them was the Tatmadaw’s original stand on secularism which is enshrined in the 2008 constitution, where Buddhism, according to an EAO member, “is more equal than other religions.” In the ensuing negotiations, each side refused to budge, so the point was removed from the political sector for the upcoming session.

§  The military also insisted the clause No part of the territory constituted in the Union shall ever secede from the Union which comes directly from the 2008 constitution, be the cardinal point in the proposal

Members of the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST) 
meet, 13-14 May, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 
over the weekend to discuss the UPDJC proposals to be 
submitted to the Union Peace Conference, 24-28 
May. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)
The EAOs’ arguments against this includes, among others;

1.     We have already agreed to the Tatmadaw’s 3 main national causes: Non disintegration of the Union, Non disintegration of National solidarity, and Perpetuation of national sovereignty. There is therefore no need to insert this clause
2.     We should choose words that are positive, that promote a sense of unity, definitely not this one

The Burmese military bloc wouldn’t yield an inch on this issue, saying:

§  To fulfil your sense of spiritual security, we will agree to your call for equality, right of self-determination, and state constitutions
§  In return, we want you to fulfil ours too, by agreeing not to secede from the Union

In brief, the military was offering a tradeoff between “equality, right of self-determination, and state constitutions” and “non-secession”.

The State Counselor reportedly decided to jump into the fray by announcing she supported the military’s proposition.

The result: the EAO UPDJC agreed to accept the unwanted clause as a Hobson’s choice for the UPC#3 to make. As the PPST, being the signatory EAOs decision making body, key EAO UPDJC representatives had flown to Thailand on 12 May evening to report back to it on the following.

As to be expected, the PPST didn’t have a Yes or No answer for the question. Giving either one without consulting its own people, as one Karen participant said on 14 May, would amount to a “political suicide.”

If it is a difficult issue for the Karen National Union, that had conducted both ethnic and local level national political dialogue (NDs), it is the more difficult for EAOs like ALP and RCSS that have yet to do NDs. Moreover, this question, they believe, must be answered not just by the NCA signatories but also the non-signatories.

Gen Yawd Serk, President of the RCSS, put it this way:

“I’m not agreeing or disagreeing to it. I think I understand the military’s concern very well. But the military should also try to understand our difficulties.”

Note: On 21 May, the RCSS issued a statement saying it would “attend the UPC 21CP Second Session only as one of the NCA signatories, but will not present any propositions. In addition, if there is going to be a preliminary agreement as part of the planned Union Accord, it will not be a participant or a signatory.”

My question during the briefing was why the proposals weren’t publicized ahead of the UPC. No answer came forth.

The SNLD, known as a party for “principles,” is forthright:

·        This demand (of the military) contradicts the Panglong Agreement of 1947. We will not accept it.
·        If anyone or any party is thinking of accepting it, please remember one is not giving up what belongs to one, but what belongs to all of us.

In the evening, I’m at the home of Sai Ai Pao, leader of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), popularly known as “White Tiger” party to meet its leaders.

True to its “in the interests of the nation” principle, its response is different from the SNLD’s “stick to your principles” principle. “There should be lots of better words than ‘not to secede,’ which is very negative. We are ready to accept the deal, provided the wording is changed.”

I’m back at the hotel by 21:00.

Day Two. Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The failure to honor the Panglong Agreement had led to strife and war. It is clear that to bring peace, there is no way other than to honor Panglong.

Swiss ambassador Mr Paul Seger
(Photo: Embassy of Switzerland in Myanmar Facebook)
Khaing Soe Naing Aung, Vice Chairman, Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), speaking at PPST ad hoc meeting, 13 May 2017

Today, we hold a launch for the PI booklet, which is blessed by the Swiss ambassador Mr Paul Seger by his charming presence and opening remarks.

The following are extracts from my brief statement:

How many types of federalism are out there? The booklet here says not less than 12. We have here:

·        Administrative federalism
·        Ethno federalism
·        Executive federalism
·        Fiscal federalism
·        Three layer federalism

And when we run in to “asymmetric federalism,” we will want to know what ‘symmetric federalism” is. The same goes for “non-territorial federalism.” We will be asking how it is different from “territorial federalism.” Fortunately for us, all 4 types will be found in the booklet.

Apart from those already mentioned, there are also intriguing types like “coercive federalism,” “competitive federalism,” “cooperative federalism”, “double federalism,” and, to further confuse us, even “dual federalism,”

And coming to this, the question arises: What type of federalism will fit our country? Is it going to be “coercive federalism” or “cooperative federalism”? Some are saying one thing, and others the other. We will soon find out at the upcoming Union Peace Conference, also dubbed as 21st Century Panglong.

The rest of the day is spent in meeting friends to find out what they think about the proposals from the UPDJC.

Here are what two of them have to say.

Friend #1

·        The UPDJC should not be the ultimate arbiter.
Note: For some time, we’ve been hearing from both sides of the fence that the UPC 21 CP is only a “rubber stamp” to what the UPDJC decides. *
·        The proposed non-secession clause is technically not a problem. But politically it can hendanger the whole process.
·        The people must be consulted. But if one part of them okays to the clause, while the others say No, what do we do?

Friend #2 (who is a trained lawyer)

·        The military, apart from “secession” is worried about calling the federal units “states” instead of “regions and states”. Because if all become states,” then some will be rekindling an “8 state” arrangement.
·        I disagree with both the 1947 constitution which allows states to secede “without any reason,” and the 2008 which forbids states to secede “for whatever reasons.” Both are extremes, and being extremes are hotbeds for rebellions
·        My suggestion is rewording: How about “The Union, established on the principles of equality, right of self-determination and federalism, is one and indivisible”?
(I ask him what it means, and here is his reply: As long as equality, right of self-determination and federalism are practiced, there should be no secession, and vice versa, It is a mutually binding clause, providing each party what is wants.)**
·        As for the 9 point Panglong Agreement, he says Clause 5 (Full autonomy) and clause 7 (rights and privileges which are fundamental in democratic countries) are still valid.

By 21:00, I’m back in my hotel room. It has been a very instructive day, so I say to myself.

Day Three. Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Splinter factions emerge when security arrangements don’t satisfy the political goals of all members.

Can Myanmar’s peace process learn from international experience? Frontier, 24 May 2017

Today’s another day for duck hunting. But I only find one.

He’s a veteran peacemaker, but out of touch with the day-to-day affairs of the process. When I tell him what’s been reported to the PPST on 13-14 May, he says:
“Is that what really happened?” he asks. “And I have saying ‘Sadhu’ (Amen) every time I hear the government announcing that significant achievements like constitutions for the states have been reached.”

“I know how the military feels about this secession issue,” he says. “It’s an obsession
Drug Elimination Museum.
with the generals, past and present. But during my days, I had always tried to encourage words that carried the same meanings but put together differently so both sides could agree. Please try to do the same. Always use inoffensive words. And also value everything you manage to reach agreement.”

The rest of the day is spent visiting the Drug Elimination Museum on the corner of Kyundaw Road and Hanthawady Road in Kamayut Township.

I find that, unlike its counterpart in Chiang Saen at the Golden Triangle, it has been suffering from neglect.

To be expected, there are no photos of General Khin Nyunt who fell from grace in 2004. And as to be expected, those of the late Gen Soe Win, who replaced him, were there.

Almost all the campaigns waged against the armed resistance naturally came under the heading of anti-narcotics, including those against the Kuomintang forces in the 50’s. For example:

From 8-16 April 1983, the Mo Hein Campaign #7 was launched against the Shan United Revolutionary Army (SURA), of which I was a member.

A panel there informs us: 19.6 kg of raw opium and 74.5 kg of grey (cooked) opium were seized. A friend who was among the attacking Burmese force later told me that several villagers were recruited to carry the drugs and cooking utensils from all the way to Sanklang, opposite Mae Hong Son’s Pai district.

I wouldn’t say the Shan resistance was an innocent bystander when it came to drugs. Only that a few days under attack gave ample time for the drug entrepreneurs to make their getaway. What’s remarkable was the fact that the Burma Army was ready and prepared for that eventuality.

I have another meeting in the evening. But nothing to report without rocking boats.
At 21:00, I’m back in my room again.

Day Four. Thursday, 18 May 2017

Between 1989-2012, 80% of security focused agreements globally have broken down, if non-security issues were not also addressed. In contrast, more than 80% of comprehensive peace agreements between 1989-2012 — that is, agreements that include a wide range of social, economic, political and security issues— have successfully guarded against a return to violence when they are fully implemented.

Can Myanmar’s peace process learn from international experience? Frontier, 24 May 2017

At 08:00 in the morning, I’m with friends from the other side of the fence.
Their advice:

Negotiation is basically not about who’s right and who’s wrong. But how we are going to overcome the deadlock together.

Which seems to go in line with what the great Indian teacher, the Buddha, said:
Speak only when it’s true and beneficial, whether it’s pleasant or not.

He seemed to be telling us that being “principled” is not enough. And neither is being “in the interests of the nation.” But the two must come together.

At 13:00 the Bangkok Airways takes off to Chiangmai, a little over one hour flight away.


*After 29 May 2017, when the 37 points of agreement were signed, some have accused that the UPC 21CP isn’t even a “rubber stamp” but just a spectator.

**His suggestion here was taken up for consideration during the UPC 21 CP, but was later turned down. “You might think its your Trump card,” one later commented. “But in the end it turns out to be a Hillary card.”


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