Learning to share: Time for soul searching

  • Written by Sai Khuensai /S.H.A.N
  • Published in Op-ed

(30 May-2 July 2017)

 Everyman is my superior in some way

In that I learn from him.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Yes, I have been guilty of reporting almost nothing during the past two months, at least to my readers, if not to my listeners.

A lot of self-assessment sessions have been conducted during the time, which, still ongoing, is expected to be over by early August.

The following is a brief recap of what I have learned from different sources at different occasions during the period.

I have learned from them. And I hope you are going to, too, if you haven’t already have.

30 June 2017

National Accord signing ceremony on 29 June 2017
“National Accord” signing ceremony on 29
June 2017 (Photo:BBC)

Only two days after my return from Naypyitaw, where I had missed the “National Accord” signing ceremony on 29 June, which was yesterday, I’m already under a hailstorm of questions on the Union Peace Conference 21st Century Panglong (UPC21CP) which wound up on the same day.

The outcome is not that I’m just answering their questions as best as I can, but also hearing comments from my listeners. Here are some of them:

  • I have heard from a prominent businessman in Rangoon that the Tatmadaw today is just a Thingyan (water festival) cannon, a lot of noise but with no shells. That’s why the secession issue has been a recurring nightmare to the generals.
  • I would say that the “never to secede” clause can be accepted, if they can also accept a counter demand from us that is proportionate to it. For example, “never to stage a military coup.”
  • Naypyitaw may say it was following the Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) that was adopted by the Joint Implementation Coordinating Meeting (JICM), the top joint decision-making body, on 16 December 2015, Paragraph 12, when it came to signing the 37 points as “part of the Union Accord.” But it was clearly violating the approved FPD’s Paragraph 6, which calls for 75% ayes upward from each of the 7 agreed blocs of the UPC21CP for important matters (like security and federalism) and 50% ayes upward from each bloc plus 65% ayes together for other issues. Because the 700 UPC 21CP participants merely became spectators there, not even rubber stamps. Their right to have a say was blatantly denied there.

9 June 2017

Hkun Okker
Hkun Okker (Photo: limacharlienews.com)

Today I give a presentation to the students at the Political Science Department, Chiangmai University. Most of the questions are answered by Col Hkun Okker, Patron of PaO National Liberation Organization (PNLO), who had attended both the UPC21CP’s last two day sessions. Here is his summing-up:

  • On the positive side, there are 3 noteworthy points:
  1. This was the first time the participants were doing dialogue, instead of monologues―reading out papers nobody takes time to comment—as they had twice done last year
  2. The conference managed to turn out 37points of agreement
  3. As for other contentious points like “non-secession,” it was decided that they be put aside for future sessions, instead of opting for the termination of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) as some militant participants were hinting
  • On the negative side, there are also 3 points that are outstanding:
  1. For the military bloc, it is always a 100% ayes or nays for every issue. For other blocs, it is not easy even to get 50% ayes
  2. The “non secession” issue was packaged together with the Right to Self Determination, that includes the right to have state constitutions, which many consider unfair and unnecessary
  3. The Tatmadaw is against allowing the security issue to be discussed at local, state and regional level, equating security with defense. It insists the issue must be discussed only at the Union level.
  • As for China, it has been involved in the country’s peace process right from the beginning. It is against participation by the West. But so far, we have yet to hear it saying anything against Indian and Thai participation. On the other hand, Naypyitaw’s rejection of the EAOs’ demand to have foreign mediation has not made things easier.
  1. As far as I know, China has adopted a 3 point policy for its neighbors: good neighborliness, stability along shared borders, and economic development

In the evening, we have an informal dinner meeting with “partners” (according to Nelson Mandela, who said “When you are making peace with your enemy, your enemy becomes your partner”) coming from Rangoon. Here are some of the points made by them:

  • One problem with the UPC21CP’s last session was: Former negotiators became facilitators and new negotiators were acting as though they were debaters, instead of being negotiators.
  • Another problem is we have only formal meetings. Rarely informal ones where both sides can join hands together to find out how we can overcome the official positions each side is holding. (One government “partner” retorts that we don’t have sufficient funds to engage in informal meetings like during the days of the previous government)
  • Concerning the informal meeting which is scheduled for tomorrow with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)’s Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), a “partner” maintains that the Peace Commission (PC) stands by the “agreement in principle” reached in Rangoon on 3 March, not the text revised by the UNFC/DPN and presented on 28 April

10 June 2017

PC and DPN meet in Chiangmai10 June 2017
PC and DPN meet in Chiangmai,10 June
2017. (Photo:Irrawaddy)

Today, as the DPN-PC delegated meet downtown, we are having a pre-meeting for the UPC21CP review meeting to be held at the KNU HQ at Lewa/Lawkhila, opposite Thailand’s Tha Song Yang district. As I have done in the past, no names of the participants will be mentioned here, except myself.

  • The EAOs and ethnic parties were bullied and bulldozed to accept the 37 points
  • The government did not follow agreed procedure. And you (EAO representatives) agreed to it. You should be reminded that Yemen, after signing the peace accord, went back to war because agreed procedures were allowed to be violated. You may get away this time. But if you keep on pooh-poohing them, blood will be on your hands.
  • Under U Thein Sein, the peace process was a political issue. Now the Tatmadaw says it’s a security issue, and the government is following its lead
  • Yes, it was meant to be a joint process. But the whole thing at present appears to be out of joint
  • The UPDJC seems to have taken precedence over the JICM. What was JICM doing during the impasse (over ‘non-secession’ clause)?
  • Who gave Padoh Kwe Htoo Win (KNU vice chairman and leader of the Peace Process Working Team) mandate to sign the 37 point “Union accord”?
  • Many of our frontline negotiators appear to be suffering from both physical and mental exhaustion. They are just going through the motions like automatons. We should not blame them too much. We should instead find replacements or reinforcements for them.
  • I have looked into the NCA text again and have not found any paragraph saying the non-signatories are excluded from the political dialogue process
  • The proposed points on the 5 dialogue topics should have been distributed long before hand, not on the day of the opening
  • We EAOs are not without blame: we didn’t have any plan on who will say what during the “dialogue” days on 25-26 May. Moreover, we had changed our negotiators only a few weeks before the UPC21CP. They were not used to negotiating with their enemies. And there was disconnection between the predecessors and their successors.

11 June 2017

Suwannsam Jataka
Suwannsam Jataka (Photo:vachalenxeon.deviantart.com)

“How do we do it so that there is a ‘seeing my son carrying a bowl full of gold’ situation?”

That is a question posed by a “partner” as he is driven to the airport this morning to return to Rangoon.

For outsiders, who are unaware of the Suwannsam Jataka, Burmese version, the story goes like this.

Suwannasami aka Suwannasam is looking after his blind parents. Everyday he goes into the jungle to find fruits and vegetables to feed them. One day, the king who comes hunting sees him, mistakes him for game, and shoots him with his arrow. As he lies dying, a god appears and offers 3 choices: either their son is cured, their blindness gone, or they receive a bowl full of gold from him. Their answer is that they want to see their son coming home carrying a bowl full of gold. Delighted by their wit, their three-fold wish is granted by the god.

This “partner” seems to be a hopeless hopeful like me. No matter how big the obstacles, he doesn’t give up. Indeed he is a person after my own heart.

We have another pre-meeting afterward. And here are the selected comments:

  • We EAOs are at a disadvantage when we go to negotiate at Naypyitaw, the government’s homeground. Especially when they are resorting to intimidation instead to the culture of negotiations. I’m wondering whether we should propose holding our formal talks outside the country, like others have been doing.
  • The government should be more broadminded. If they can’t even treat us signatories right, how can they hope to persuade the non-signatories?
  • We didn’t have any problem with the secession issue during U Thein Sein’s days. The reason the Tatmadaw wanted to propose it might be because it knows right from the start the EAOs wouldn’t agree. And, in the end, the loser would be the State Counselor herself, who has yet to win any EAOs over to sign the NCA.
  • The fact that the ethnic parties won less than adequate seats during the last general elections also doesn’t work in favor of the federal cause. If we can’t do better in 2020, things may become tougher (which doesn’t mean that they should aim for majority seats which is next to impossible anyway, but for swing seats for which the dominant parties must negotiate with them)

14 June 2017

Federal Political Negotiation
Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative
Committee (FPNCC) members arriving in
Naypyitaw (Peace Commission)
(Photo:monnews.org)

Today I’m on my way to Lawkhila/Lewa to attend the UPC21CP review meeting there.

Before leaving I make a phone call to our “partner” in Rangoon to inquire the government’s stand on the negotiations with UNFC/DPN and the Federal Political Negotiations and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), the latter led by the Wa. His reply:

The government doesn’t have any plans to amend the NCA. If ‘ the UNFC/DPN wants further clarifications and we reach agreement on them, we can add them to the attached decisions. (According to the NCA’s Paragraph 30, decisions taken during negotiations shall be taken into account during the implementation.)

He thinks the same principle will be applied in its negotiations with the FPNCC. So far there has been no indication that Naypyitaw is planning to deal with the 7 northern armed movements that make up the FPNCC collectively.

Today, we put up in Mae Sot. Tomorrow we continue our way to the KNU HQ.

15 June 2017

Lawkhila meeting hall room
Lawkhila meeting hall room. (Photo:KNU)

Until the military is brought under civilian control, and it soldiers held to account, the circle of violence will continue and the civilians will bear the brunt.

Amnesty International, 14 June 2017

Lewa meeting hall is full of KNU officers when we arrive. There are many who I’ve known since 1983 when I first make contact with the KNU as a delegate from the Shan United Revolutionary Army (SURA), like Thamein Tun, Soe Soe, etc.

Here are the extracts from the presentations:

  • The UPC21CP can be called the meeting point of three movements:
  1. The NLD, whose main objective is democratization
  2. The EAOs, whose main objective is federalization, and
  3. The Tatmadaw, whose main objective is protection of the 2008 constitution
  •  We now have a new agreement whether we all agree with it or not. What do we do with it? How do we make it into a law?
  • We have all made mistakes. Fortunately, we can survive this one. But we and the people we work for will be in big trouble, if we repeat it.

Remember, the old saying:

Fool me once, shame on you

Fool me twice, shame on me

  • The Secretariat must be neutral, professional, follow rules and protect the process. Our mistake was that its members are also UPDJC members. So they follow their interests instead of rules
  • Meeting of 700 people is not the place for dialogue, only for votes and statements

This evening we put up at the River House in Mae Sariang, some 80 km from Mae Salit Luang, opposite Lewa.

16 July 2017

Ms Zipporah Sein
Ms Zipporah Sein (Photo:DVB)

Ms Zipporah Sein, former vice president of the KNU, drops in at our hotel in the morning. As her views are already on the internet, I won’t add anything here. The only thing I’m really interested is the unity of the KNU. To my question, which she must have heard several times, she is ready with an answer:

“This should not be of worry for all our well wishers, because the KNU wnity is based on firm principles (not on factions).”

At 16:00, I’m back in my office in Chiangmai.

18 June 2017

This morning I receive the most extraordinary letter from a young friend. It was a declassified memo written by a former British ambassador to Burma to White Hall, dated 11 March 1975.

The letter discusses the U Thant funeral affair that took place in Rangoon in December 1974, 3 months earlier.

What intrigues me is the postscript, in which he describes talking to an illustrious lady from Burma who was then living abroad. “She takes a characteristic Burmese anti-Shan line that these demonstrations were contrived by Shan influences…(she) was not prepared to concede that there might have been something spontaneous about the whole thing,” he wrote.

U Thant
U Thant (1909-1974)

Until now, I have never heard of “a characteristic Burmese anti-Shan line.” And I, like most people inside and outside Burma, thought that the whole event was basically a knee-jerk action, probably exploited by “2848” activists affiliated to the Communist Party of Burma (CPB). That anyone would suspect Shans as the mastermind was a thought that never occurred to me.

I later talk to Shan politicians in Rangoon who, no less surprised than me, said they had advised all Shan students within their reach not to get themselves involved, as this was just an “intra-Burman affair,” nothing to do with Shans. “However, not all of them were within reach,” one says. “And some of them wouldn’t listen to our advice anyway.”

I know. One of my friends went to jail for it, and another was expelled from school. Fortunately or unfortunately, I wasn’t among them hotheads. As I was already a full-fledged armed resistance member since 1969.

After reading the letter again and again to make sense of it, I begin to wonder if there were still other ladies―and gentlemen―like her who are still firmly taking the “characteristic Burmese anti-Shan line” 43 years after, who are ready to believe that if something bad happens, Shans must be behind it. And if they were at the helm of power in Naypyitaw today, what is going to happen to the peace process.

Not that we Shans don’t have our own ladies and gentlemen like her. Among us, one will find no dearth of those who are fond of saying the 19th century American equivalent of “A good Indian is a dead Indian.”

Happily, we also have not a few of those who say, “In my experience, no human race is meaner than the Burmese. And paradoxically, no human race is nobler than the Burmese either.”

For the sake of all the people living in this land, I hope we find more of the latter these days.

28 June-2 July 2017

ppst
PPST meeting in Chiangmai on 28 Jun-2 July 2017,
Than Khe is the speaker on the extreme right.
(Photo: moi.gov.mm)

For 5 days , the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST) and the Peace Process Working Team (PPWT) embark on a meeting on what areas the signatories should focus in its upcoming “review and reform” workshop.

I have taken some 30 pages of notes. But I find only two excerpts to report, both given by Yebaw Than Khe, Chairman of the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), whose cheerful attitude, despite all the problems he’s facing, brightens the participants throughout the meeting:

  • In the village of, say EAO, the headman has 3 people he can rely upon, when he needs to talk to representatives from a neighboring village. They are Buthi, Chet Kyi, and Bike Hsu. The problem is he can’t do anything without them and he can’t do anything if he keeps relying only on them.

Because Buthi, he’s a henpecked husband. He can’t go anywhere without making sure that the day’s main meal is cooked and ready.

As for Chet Kyi, he can’t be asked to do anything once he’s drunk, which is quite often.

With Bike Hsu, the problem is he likes cockfights. So whenever there is a match outside the village, he can’t be found.

At the other end, the headman from another village has a big bunch of representatives to deal with problems. For money matters, he can send one. For water issue, another one, and so on, while the village of EAO has only 3 to deal with whatever bilateral problems that come up.

  • The NCA is like a ship. Our people are the passengers. Among them, we also see prominent persons like some of those coming from Naypyitaw riding on top deck who know little or nothing about the ship. We (I think he means not only the EAOs but also the Tatmadaw) are the rowers. And we have a problem here. Some of us want to row it forward, white others want it to go backward. The result is clear: the ship won’t move.

So what do we do? If we keep doing it the way we have been, we won’t be going anywhere. And if we get angry and burst it, it will sink with us and our people in it. We need to find a way to reach agreement with the other rowers.

The meeting ends with a resolution to hold a workshop on 20-27 July at Lawkhila to discuss on topics which include:

  • NCA implementation review
  • Framework on Political Dialogue (FPD) Terms of Reference (TOR) review
  • Structure of National Dialogues
  • Sequencing of topics
  • Timeline

The results are expected to be submitted to the PPST by the end of the month, and decisions early in August. After which the PPST/PPWT will discuss with the NRPC/PC for agreement.

No plain sailing there for sure. A lot of meetings, both formal and especially informal, will be needed before both sides can agree to go ahead with the next UPC21CP. And all the negotiators on both sides have my sympathy and encouragement.

But I also remember what my teacher once said:

There can be only two mistakes one can make on the road to the truth: not starting it, and not going all the way.

It’ll be nice to know what “truth” is waiting for us at the end of the road though.

Last modified onWednesday, 26 July 2017 15:41