To Hopeland and Back: The 31st trip (23-29 May 2017)

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

This time, as readers who keep track of the country will know, I was there for the Union Peace Conference #3, according to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, or the Union Peace Conference 21st Century Panglong (UPC 21CP) #2, according to the government in office.

This UPC#3 is a marked improvement from the previous two in that while the two were spent in reading papers from each participant, this time the participants, for the first time, were doing serious negotiations in order to push their counterparts into acceptance.

Naturally, lots of complaints have been made on how the conference was convened by both sides meaning the government-military bloc and the Ethnic Armed Organization (EAOs).

Reading through the few pages here, I’m sure readers will find there’s plenty of room for improvement during the coming months, so that the peace process doesn’t end up on a garbage heap after UPC # 4 or, for those who prefer, UPC 21 CP#3.

Day One, Tuesday, 23 May 2017.

The inclusion of women in roles that enable them to have influence increases by 35% the likelihood that peace agreements will last at least 15 years. The inclusion of civil society organizations, again as genuine participants and not just bystanders, can reduce the risk of a return to armed conflict by as much as 64%

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

Today, with my son as my assistant, I fly from Chiangmai to Mingladon, and from Mingladon to Naypyitaw. I have to wait for 4 hours before the transit, but there's a booklet putting together several research papers produced by the Tai Society for Historical Studies to keep me company. Later two friends arrive who are to be my flight mates to Naypyitaw.

We are given a room, #419, at the Thingaha, together with a separate minibus and driver throughout our attendance. Actually, accommodations at the hotel are also reserved for all top leaders of each EAO. However, leaders of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), I learned, have chosen to remain with their 20 + members of the delegation at the SEA game village, where water and power are said to be unending problems for hundreds of delegates.

In the evening, we have a call from U Soe Thane, an old friend from U Thein Sein’s days. A lot of things are said. But only one remains after he takes his leave:

Intimacy is very important. It brings trust which in turn brings forth good results in the negotiations.

I later meet a friend working for the government’s peace team, who urges EAOs “to do something for her. She has been working hard for over a year, but hasn’t made the first sale of the day yet.”

Day Two. Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Less than half of the country’s ethnic armed organizations are currently included in the NCA, which represents approximately only 20% of their combined troop numbers, without the non-signatories, the potential of the country’s political dialogue process to achieve a Union Accord will remain limited.

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

Today at the opening ceremony of the UPC 21CP, the stars are of course those from the FPNCC, more commonly known as the Wa Alliance, who leave after the speeches. (We hear later that they hold separate meetings with the government.)

We are subject to one and a half hour long series of speeches, of which the following are what I can remember:

State Counselor

There shall be no pressure or coercion to force acceptance (of our demands).

Commander in Chief

·        NCA does not force one to yield its arms. Please consult Chapter 1 of the NCA.
·        The Tatmadaw will follow the NCA path based on its 6 principles

(1. Genuine desire to make lasting peace
 2. Commitment to peace agreements
 3. Abstaining from taking unfair advantages from peace agreements
 4. Not to place burden on the local population
 5. Strict adherence to existing laws
 6. Cooperation in democratic reform process based on the 2008 constitution, our main   three causes and the essence of democracy

Note:  Principles # 5 and # 6 are not accepted by the EAOs)

Gen Mutu Saypoe

·        The peace process must be as the Burmese saying goes: The squirrel must be able to pace and the bee must be able to settle. We should not leave the non-signatories behind. For those who cannot participate, we will need to create space for them
·        Ethnic-based, local-based and topic based national political dialogues (NDs) should be encouraged to hold throughout the country. Hasty undertakings will not solve problems.

The morning session ends with group photo takings, followed by lunch.

The afternoon session is held without the State Counselor and the Commander in Chief. It is presided over by Dr Tin Myo Win who enigmatically quotes Einstein:

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Prepared proposals on each dialogue topic are then read out:

·        Political Sector                                            Lt-Gen (Ret) Khin Zaw Oo
·        Economics                                                    U Hla Maung Shwe
·        Social Sector                                                            U Naing Ngan Lin
·        Land and Natural Resources Management     Khun Myint Tun
·        Security Sector                                           Maj Gen Soe Naing Oo
·        Conference rules                                        Ta Hla Pe

Follows the daily briefing among the signatory EAOs. Here are some of the excerpts:

·        According to the rules, all proposals from stakeholders must be submitted to the Working Committees (WCs). But we have heard that some proposals were directly presented to the UPDJC (which is above WCs).
·        According to the Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD), we are required to sign the agreements reached at each conference as part of the Union Accord. But if we do that, then it’ll be without the participation of non-signatories
·        In addition, RCSS and ALP have yet to hold NDs. (Only Karen, Chin and PaO have held ethnic level NDs. Other major ethnic peoples include Shan, Arakan/Rakhine, Kachin, Karenni/Kayah, and Mon. None of them were able to hold NDs before the conference.)
·        Some seem to be holding the false impression that we are out for secession. Let us show them we are not that hare-brained.

Day Three. Thursday, 25 May 2017

Mr Miroslav Jenca
(Photo: UN)
International and Myanmar’s own experience suggests that military pressure is counterproductive to bring non-signatories in to a peace process. The question then is what new strategies and priorities might?

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

The second day of the conference starts with a one-hour meeting, 07:30-08:30, 8 EAO top leaders with Mr Miroslav Jenca of Slovakia, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs.

The following is a summary of what are discussed there:

·        We have made progress, but we need more time and effort. Many more EAOs not on board.
·        Pressure to agree without going through proper process will not promote the cause of peace
·        UN has been involved in Burma’s peace process before it even started: Calling for a tripartite dialogue in 1994. Witness to the NCA signing in 2015. Setting up UN special envoy office in the country to observe and assist in peace process.
·        The country, being in a key geopolitical location, UN’s presence is needed. China, as a rule, objects to western nations’ involvement in the country’s peace process. But it is okay to UN involvement.
·        The presence of UN special envoy came about through request by the EAOs and concurrence by the government. The decision to discontinue its presence should be made only after consulting the EAOs.

The room for political dialogue at the MICC II is arranged this way:
a.     Sitting plan

b.     Speakers are given 5 minutes each to comment on the 21 point proposal in the political sector in the following order: Government –parliament, Tatmadaw, EAOs, and political parties

U Kyaw Tint Swe, who is the principal chair for the first day, and Gen Khin Zaw Oo, who serves as one of the three facilitators, do their job well to keep the proceedings in order. (Some participants, after hearing them admonishing the military representatives, however, scoff them off as ‘acts’ to impress innocent observers like the author.)

Here are some of the extracts:

·        We don’t consider secession as an option. But the word is offensive and should be rephrased
·        We don’t want secession. We neither want non-secession. The Three Main causes should be more than sufficient
·        The word “never to secede” may be unintentionally damaging to the Three Main National Causes. It goes against Panglong. It goes against what Gen Aung San had agreed.
·        The word “never to secede” poses as obstruction to national unity.

The day at the conference ends with 12 rounds of discussions. But it continues further into the PPST daily briefing, 19:00-21:30.

Here is one extract from the briefing:

·        In principle, we can accept non-secession. But these words are unacceptable.

The meeting puts off decision to the next evening.

Sai Ai Pao, chairperson for today, 
gives opening remarks. (Photo:PI)
Day Four. Friday, 26 May 2017.

From global experience, higher rates of pace agreement implementation is highly beneficial. On average, if comprehensive peace agreements are negotiated and implemented at a rate of 75%, on average 80% of non-signatories join the process within a year.

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

Today’s morning session is a continuation of yesterday’s dialogue. Only one incident is of note: after the SNLD representative again protests against the use of ‘non-secession’, a military representative stands up and said, “Then, I request that all the 5 paragraphs under Right of Self Determination be removed from the proposal.”

The session decides to defer the decision to the UPDJC which meets in the afternoon today and all day tomorrow, before the closing ceremony the day after.

The PPST then hold an extended meeting, 13:30-22:00. After going through all the 5 papers, it is found that the key question is still how the EAOs can deal with the ‘non secession clause’ which says:

No part of the territory constituted in the Union shall ever secede from the Union

The decision is to allow the EAOs’ UPDJC members, led by Dr Lian Hmung Sakhong, to negotiate for a clause which in essence may carry the same meaning, but in different words that will elicit positive responses from all EAOs.

Day Five. Saturday, 27 May 2017

Faltering implementation cannot simply be blamed on a lack of political will. International experience highlights that vagaries in text often cause confusion or otherwise problematize the implementation phase.

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

Today is supposed to be my day of rest, as the UPDJC is supposed to meet and negotiate for the outcome which is to be announced tomorrow at the closing ceremony.

All morning I’m out at the Buddha Gaya replica outside the city, to see if I could be persuaded to visit the real one in India. However, at the end of it, I remain undecided about it.

On my way back to the hotel, after a delicious Shan lunch at Mao Kham Noom restaurant, I’m told to accompany the PPST leaders for a hitherto unplanned meeting with the State Counselor.

The EAOs meeting, following the surprise meeting 
with the State Counselor, 27 May 2017. (Photo: PI)
The meeting takes place at the MICC II, around 14:30-15:30. Which goes something like this:

SC:      So, what have you gentlemen got to tell me?

PPST:             (Speechless, because they think it is The Lady who has called this meeting)

U Zaw Htay: Explains about the impasse between the EAOs and the government over the non-secession clause

SC:      Okay, then. What have you got to say?

PPST:             First, the word ‘not to secede’ is very uncivil. Technically, it’s not different from ‘to live together forever’, but politically, it will create more problems.
Imagine a man and a woman getting married. They will say to each other: I will take care of you for the rest of my life, and such. They will never say “You shall never divorce me,” because once it’s said, it will amount to the end of their marriage, before it has even properly started.

Secondly, if there is continued disagreement whether or not to use it, to give us time to consult among each group, among the 8 EAOs and the people.

SC-      I thought that you had already promised my predecessor not to secede. You will also remember the Roman Catholic Christian oath saying, “What God has joined together, no one shall put it asunder.”

PPST- At President Thein Sein’s time, the policy was “apart from secession (and non-secession) everything is on the table”. The issue ‘not to secede’ came up only this month.

Government-          As the Right of Self Determination comes together with the agreement ‘not to secede’ in a package, refusing it will be amount to the removal of the Right of Self Determination

PPST- We have made progress this time under the State Counselor’s leadership. Couldn’t we keep it as a ‘collection of opinions’ to be discussed again later?

The impasse continues. Then a new proposition is then offered for consideration:

Since the government and Tatmadaw want the promise ‘not to secede’ in exchange for the Right of Self Determination, could we put it this way. “As long as the principles of Equality, Right of Self Determination, Democracy and Federalism are honored, there shall be no secession”?

To this, the government and the military representatives think it is something to think about and the meeting is adjourned. It is also announced that the conference has another day extension, to be wound up on 29 May instead of 28 May.

The Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC)
 meeting of the second session of the Union
 Peace Conference - 21st century Panglong in Nay Pyi Taw on
 28 May 2017. (Photo: Mizzima) 
Day Six. Saturday, 28 May 2017

Of the 31 comprehensive peace agreements negotiated globally since 1989, every additional 1 percent of implementation corresponded to a 6% increase in peace duration. To use more tangible numbers, a peace agreement that was implemented at 40% might last for 10 years. The same agreement, if implemented at 80%, would on average prevent a return to armed conflict for 25 years.

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

We wait anxiously for the outcome of yesterday’s negotiation all morning. At 14:30, it comes:

·        Both the government and the Tatmadaw have stuck to their guns on the question of non-secession: There shall be no change of words
·        Both sides then agreed to defer it to the next UPC.

The PPST, or what is left of it, because Gen Mutu and Gen Moshay had left in the morning, then consider the question: whether the points agreed should be signed as ‘part of the Union Accord’ or as a ‘collection of opinions.’ The consensus is to sign it as a “collection,” in order to consult afterward with all EAO stakeholders, both NCA signatories and non-signatories.

I return to the old capital in the evening, as my return ticket to Chiangmai has been fixed for tomorrow. In so doing, I miss all the fun that follows.

Day Seven. Sunday, 29 May 2017

One average, when comprehensive peace agreements are fully implemented, a country’s foreign investment doubles over a decade, while gross domestic product increases by 5%. This translates to more employment opportunities and improved livelihoods for people.

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

My check-in time is 11:30. So I visit a few friends. There are a few things that I glean out of their discussions:

·        The NCA, as well as the Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD), must be reviewed, to remove all the confusion and different interpretations.
·        As the government and the Tatmadaw have joined hands, at least on the question of non-Burmans, if not on the question of democracy, negotiations may be tougher from now on
·        The EAOs should be better prepared for the next UPC

On arrival in Chiangmai, I’m told by my young friend who comes to pick me up that the State Counselor, during her closing speech this morning, had cordially invited “all those organizations and individuals that are not yet participating in this conference to join us in this historic endeavor” (Global New Light of Myanmar)

It is just as well, I agree. Because I know some of my friends who have been involved in the peace process since 2011 are facing trouble renewing their visas.

As I’m going through the news of the day in the evening, I get a call from a friend in Burma, eager to discuss the results of the UPC 21 CP#2. I tell him I have yet to read the signed document. To this he says, “There’s nothing special in it, only commonly accepted maxims, equivalent to ‘The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.’”

Maybe he’s right. But I also remember the advice from another friend who used to be active in the peace process during U Thein Sein’s time:

Take everything the other side is ready to give. Value it. Make use of it. And continue to negotiate for those that are yet to be agreed.

He also makes sense, doesn’t he?

Note: The journal gives incomplete information, due to the fact that the author was not present at the following sub-events:

·        Dialogues in security, social, economic, and land and natural resources sectors which were held in separate rooms
·        The UPDJC meeting, 26-28 May 2017
·        The closing ceremony of the UPC 21 CP#2


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