What has happened on March 30 when State counselor Aung San Suu Kyi hurriedly issued a statement on the heels of her televised speech assessment of the first year, anniversary of National League for Democracy (NLD) coming to power, is a desperate move to show or take credit that her administration is achieving positive result after all.
Suu Kyi’s supplementary statement that was delivered by phone, shortly after the anniversary speech said: “Today, (I) just heard the news that the United Nationalities Federal Council’s (UNFC) five members, Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), New Mon State Party (NMSP), Arakan National Council (ANC), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) and Wa National Organization (WNO) have said they would sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). Coincidentally, on the first anniversary of the government (coming to power) the news publicized today is the most splendid gift, pleasing news for the people and the country. Because of the five UNFC members’ decision to sign the NCA, rays of hope for peace has become more brighter.”
She went on to convey her gratitude by saying: “We want to specially say thanks to the five UNFC members for the decision to sign the NCA, believing in our government and our peace process.”
But this enthusiastic and upbeat statement is being abruptly cut short and contested as Nai Hong Sar NMSP leader, who is also the Vice-Chairman of the UNFC, said that there has been no concrete decision made as yet to sign the NCA as Suu Kyi has confidently depicted to be the case.
Nai Hong Sar said that before signing the NCA, the UNFC nine-point proposal, which the government side has said earlier that it is principally in agreement, has still to be discussed, ironed out and agreed upon officially first, to underline his point of argument and refuted Suu Kyi’s conclusion that the five members from UNFC would sign the NCA, without reservation.
Other UNFC members, such as KNPP and WNO also said that they were at a lost why Suu Kyi said something like that without consultation with them and perhaps, she might be misinformed by her own people.
However, Suu Kyi’ spokesman Zaw Htay said there is no reason to revoke Suu Kyi’s statement, as it is just a premature wishful expectation positioning because of the unofficial news from several sources that he didn’t wanted to name, including the NMSP’s spokesman Nai Win Hla.
Specifications have been rife that the UNFC’s five members are also desperate, if the two strongest ethnic armies, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), would really opt for Panghsang-led new peace process approach not to sign the NCA and tread a new path, in dealing with the government and its NCA-based peace process, their political survival will be in jeopardy and thus have to jump ship before it is too late to act.
The UNFC’s political position for refusing to sign the NCA has been all along because there is no all-inclusiveness of all EAOs in the peace process. But this agreement among its members is now called into question, as the KIO and SSPP have signed the Panghsang-initiated approach of not to sign the NCA and opted for a new negotiation mode with the government.
The government has insisted that the NCA has to be signed first, in order to be able to participate in the UPC – 21CP.
Suu Kyi might have either taken the opportunity to push the situation for her advantage or just act out of desperation to portray that her administration is at long last achieving positive result where the peace process is fraud with stagnation, and especially on the eve of April 1 by-election for her party to be in good stead. Because many see that although the Suu Kyi-led, NLD government is keen to conduct the Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong (UPC – 21CP) to be in an all-inclusive manner, the Military or Tatmadaw is totally against it and openly demonstrated with sidelining the the three Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) – Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), from the peace process and waging offensive wars in Kachin and Shan States to drive its message home that it is the party calling the shots, instead of toeing the NLD government’s policy lead in ending the armed conflict through political negotiation.
The further complication is that, since Suu Kyi is powerless to rein in the Military and instead even has to dance to its prescribed script role, at times blaming the EAOs for the armed conflict in the north for collateral damage of civilian lives and targets, but saying virtually nothing to the Military.
The government and the Military is clinging to the NCA-based peace process as a sole way out and until recently all the NCA-non-signatory EAOs, except for the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Mongla or National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), all are fixed on amending the NCA to be more agreeable, in order they could signed it and participate in the peace process.
But the UWSA-led Panghsang alliance of seven EAOs came up with a new initiative to disregard the NCA and seek to sign a new ceasefire pact, after which they would negotiate with the government on how to achieve political settlement and peace.
Thus, the government is faced with the same old dilemma of having to conduct the UPC – 21CP with just the signatory eight EAOs and the rest non-signatory thirteen EAOs not participating in it. Of course, the so-called “open-door policy” of wooing the non-signatories, to sign the NCA document at the convenience of individual group’s choice would continue to be the approach, which the NLD regime’s predecessor has also used it as a way out, for not being able to create an atmosphere of all-inclusiveness.
Leaving aside the newly initiated new game plan pushed by the Panghsang alliance in February, the government would do well just to be practical by agreeing to the UNFC’s nine-point proposal, which would loosen up a lot of problems and even soften backers of the new initiative approach or Panghsang-led ethnic alliance of seven EAOs to come into the fold.
In a nutshell, after agreeing that the UNFC would participate, review and decide on the Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD), its nine-point proposal includes: nationwide ceasefire declaration within 24 hours, followed by the UNFC troops doing likewise within 48 hours; formation of an equal, genuine federal union based on Panglong spirit; tripartite dialogue composition – government, Military, parliament; EAOs; and political parties – in all levels of the peace process; drawing up a constitution according to the outcome of 21st Century Panglong Conference; allowing international parties’ participation to be able to jointly monitor and enforce ceasefire agreement; and concerning big scale development plans to adhere to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), in cooperation with the concerned public and the EAOs.
It is understandable that Suu Kyi is in such a haste and desperation to show the people that her administration is achieving positive result. But it is an illusion, given the war in the north of the country is still raging on and even bringing on board of the five UNFC non-signatory EAOs, which only two has small fighting forces and the rest with just token or no resistance fighters so to speak, it wouldn’t do much to end the physical fighting on the ground, much less the peace process as a whole.
Just to have a rough idea, the EAOs confronting the Tatmadaw in Kachin and Shan States are made up of some two-third of the estimated 100,000 ethnic armed troopers.
The point is in term of military conflict, the seven EAOs that have signed up to Panghsang’s initiative of new peace process approach, not based on the NCA signing as desired by the government, are far more important to be on board, as they are the bulk of the ethnic resistance troops delivering running battles in the north of the country with the government’s troops.
The simple logic to the whole conflict nature is, as often advocated and solicited, the end of internal armed conflict and participation of all EAOs in the peace process. Anything less wouldn’t be able to achieve a holistic political settlement and national reconciliation.
As the situation stands now, it is highly likely that the NCA-based peace conference would go on, with the participation of eight EAOs that have already signed the NCA in October 2015; and perhaps, with the inclusion of the small five UNFC members that are poised to sign so that they would not to be left out of the equation. But whether they will be able to secure affirmation to the UNFC’s nine-point proposal in the course of negotiation with the government is still an open question.
At the same time, the government-military establishment would continue to hold on to the “open-door policy”, trying to woo the non-signatory EAOs, one by one. But against this ploy, the Panghsang-led ethnic coalition is poised to bargain hard politically and militarily in all settlement approach, where ethnic equality in all aspect of political decision-making and resources sharing would have to be ironed out.
In such a situation, piecemeal solution, such as minor achievement of wining some more small ethnic parties, desperate urging and ad hoc for short term political gain, without accommodation to create a level playing field, it is not going to do much to help propel the achievement of real peace and reconciliation in a true sense.
Given the now more convoluted peace process, with at least now two game plans tossed into the political arena, the UNFC’s nine-point proposal is still the best comprehensive option and approach to jump-start the stalled process and pull out the country out from this prevailing deadlock and inaction.