UPDATED at 5:44 P.M. EST on 2019-03-07
The 10 ethnic armed organizations that have signed Myanmar's nationwide cease-fire pact have agreed to meet with government peace negotiators after one of the groups voiced deep dissatisfaction with the progression of country’s peace process, those involved in the matter said Wednesday.
The Karen National Union (KNU) contends that the current implementation of the government's nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) signed by the 10 organizations has deviated from the goal of creating a federal democratic union that includes ethnic equality and rights of autonomy.
“The implementation of the NCA agreement in the current political climate is deviating from the course toward the formation of a union, based on democracy and federalism and assuring the equality of all ethnic groups and the right to self-determination that we all expected to achieve,“ said KNU chairman General Mutu Say Poe during a speech at a meeting attended by representatives from the signatory organization in northern Thailand on March 5-6.
“We need to review them rationally and make readjustments.”
In addition, ethnic group leaders have common goals for reaching a federal system, but their views on what kind of federal system they want differ from those of the ethnic armies implementing the terms of the NCA, Mutu Say Poe said.
But Colonel Khun Okka, chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization, said the peace process has not deviated from the NCA, but rather is stalled.
“If it has deviated, then we have to adjust it,” he said. “If it is blocked, we have to remove the barrier.”
Political analyst Than Soe Naing said the PPST groups should focus on political talks rather than their differences of opinion on the NCA and the peace process.
“They should be engaged in the political negotiation process instead of focusing on the differences,“ he said. “If they are genuine about forming a federal democracy, they should not give up and still be engaged in negotiations.”
The right direction
To get the process going in the right direction again, one leader from each of the 10 groups will meet informally on March 9 with Myanmar's peace commission led by secretary Khin Zaw Oo, according to an agreement reached during the gathering.
The MPC will also hold unofficial meetings with KNU leaders on the evening of March 8 and with the leaders of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), an NCA non-signatory group, on March 10, meeting participants said.
“The MPC has offered leaders from the 10 NCA signatory groups a chance to meet informally on March 9, and we accepted its offer,” said Khine Soe Naing Aung, vice chairman of the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP).
“We can create closer ties during an informal meeting, and we can openly say what we think,” he said.
“I believe that the Myanmar peace commission might ask us when the Peace Process Steering Team [PPST] will hold a peace conference,” he added, referring to a group formed in 2017 that comprises the 10 NCA signatories.
Lieutenant Colonel Sai Nyin, spokesman of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), said his ethnic armed organization has no special topic to discuss with peace commission representatives, so it will stick to topics brought up by the 10 NCA signatories as a whole.
“What I understand is that we'll be discussing issues that are obstacles to continuing the peace process, and future agendas,” he said.
RFA's Myanmar Service was unable to reach KNU and RCSS officials or the peace commission's military spokesman for comment.
Myanmar's civilian-led government under State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has made the peace process one of its top goals by holding periodic negotiations among the ethnic armies, political groups, and the national military to try to end decades of armed conflict that have prevented the formation of a democratic federal union.
The government has made the NCA a prerequisite for participating in the peace talks known as the 21st-Century Panglong Conference and Union Peace Conference, though nearly a dozen ethnic armies have not signed the truce. Only three such sessions have been convened since the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power in 2016.
Strengthening the PPST
The PPST is also considering leadership changes to strengthen the panel, Mutu Say Poe, who serves as head of the group, said Tuesday. The other top leader is from the RCSS.
“We, the KNU and RCSS, are trying to transform this PPST meeting into an effective venue for cooperation in areas in which we have common goals,” he said in a speech during the gathering’s opening.
“In order to achieve that, the KNU and RCSS are going to assign new delegates who are more relevant and qualified for that purpose,” he said.
But sources close to the ethnic group leaders said PPST general secretary Tar Do Mu would replace Mutu Say Poe, and that vice chief commander Brigadier General Baung Khae would step in for RCSS chairman Lieutenant General Yawd Serk.
They said the PPST would confirm the changes on the final day of the meeting, but it was unclear on Wednesday if the new leaders had been officially announced.
During the two-day meeting, the delegates also discussed continuing the peace negotiation process after 2020, the establishment of common goals for a federated union, and three items outlined in a letter the KNU and RCSS chairmen sent to Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in October 2018, said KNU general secretary Tar Do Mu.
The three issues concern updates on earlier assurances by Min Aung Hlaing to secure peace by 2020 and by Aung San Suu Kyi that three Union Peace Conference sessions would be held in 2019; a review and renegotiation of all NCA mechanisms to ensure they are fair for all parties; and the formation of a consensus among differing opinions on the degree of federalism under a future federal democratic union.
KNU officials told RFA in an interview that the government, Myanmar military, and ethnic armies have different views on federal democracy, so that the parties must renegotiate their approach to reaching the common goal of forming a federal democracy.
It is also important that both NCA signatories and non-signatories are required to participate in the peace process and that they all reach consensus to secure lasting nationwide peace, Tar Do Mu said.
Leaders and delegates from all 10 NCA signatories also agreed to step up negotiations among the ethnic armed groups involved in the peace process.
Reported by Aung Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.