Commentary on “Understanding the Tatmadaw's 'Standard Army' reforms”

The most important point in the whole article is a sentence, which stated: "Although the government has made structural adjustments to the civil-military coordination mechanism, there is no sign of it attempting to challenge the position granted to the Tatmadaw by the 2008 Constitution."

From this outgoing point, we could measure whether the Tatmadaw preferred "Standard Army" is in fact a real "Union Army".

The military top brass first priority is to keep the Tatmadaw Bamar-dominated one. In other words, its policy doctrinal formulation will be made by ethnic Bamar military leaders and the commanding leadership would also be Bamar, with some of the cannon fodder of lower ranks recruited from other non-Bamar ethnic groups, to be able to claim as being already a "Union Army". Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and other Bamar military leaders have taken this position as a main argument.

Thus, it is really a far cry from what the ethnic resistance armies have had in mind. The general basic aspiration of the ethnic armies is to be integrated into a "Federal Army", which takes order from a federal union government. An ideal solution to it would be the ethnic armies taking up the security of their own states, contributing appropriate quotas to the federal army for national defense. At least, this is a sort of stand that is being considered among the ethnic resistance armies, if not exactly and literally. Besides, security sector reform (SSR) also looms larger from the ethnic point of view, but less emphasizes in demobilization and reintegration (DDR).

To sum up, the Tatmadaw's intention is to reform for more military capability, with rapid deployment, in what is meant to become a "Standard Army" and not "Professional Army", in a sense which literally means to take order from the elected civilian government.

But the most crucial underlining belief is that the Tatmadaw leaders have been indoctrinated to believe that it is the sole responsible, organized self-appointed body to see through the country's democratic transition, without the dismemberment of the country, in one piece. And of course, this needs time, and which is why it is geared to stay on for sometimes as the protector of the country and in turn needed to be vested with leading role in government's policy decision-making. Although it is hard to imagine on what really the Tatmadaw leadership understands by the real democratization process and democratic principles, given that it has only lived through under the military dictatorship for the past decades.

Link to the story:

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Government's peace overture, China's involvement and the Pangkham alliance

As United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of 7 Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) is pulling through its bi-annual meeting in two phases, one from from June 20 to 26 for the UNFC's members and the other, from June 27 to 29 for all EAOs, to establish common ground like the one held in Mai Ja Yang, Kachin State in 2016, the other 7 EAOs under the banner of Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee (FPNCC) and the government's Peace Commission (PC) is geared to meet each other in China in the very near future.

The FPNCC members are United Wa State Army (UWSA), Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Mong La or National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA).

The initiative came from the government's  PC that has been entrusted by the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, under the leadership of Dr Tin Myo Win.

According to the TNLA vice chairman 
Tar Jode Jar, vice president Thein Zaw of PC has contacted the Chinese authorities and relayed the message to negotiate with the Pangkham alliance or FPNCC, on June 19.

In the recant BBC interview, the TNLA leader said that it is likely the negotiation and meeting with the government might take place after June 20, in one of the town along the border in China.

However, the overture from the government side didn't mention anything whether it would like to meet the FPNCC as a group, according to the TNLA leader, although he reiterated that any meeting between the alliance and the government has to be as a group and not separately.

But Zaw Htay
spokesperson of state's counsellor office told 7 Day Daily on June 15 that the meeting won't be meeting the FPNCC as a group but would be conducting it separately, in which one group would comprise of four, and the other three.

He said: “Regarding the Northern Alliance (another name for the FPNCC), we have opened negotiation channel. But we won't discuss with the committee that is formed with seven members. During the convention in Nay Pyi Taw, the meeting with the state counsellor was done separately one with four groups and another with three groups (in two sets of meeting).”

He continued to stress that if not, negotiation with the government separately as individual group could also be done.

Aung Soe, a member of the government’s PC and a lower house lawmaker also echoed Zaw Htay's position saying that the government “will meet three northern groups together [the TNLA, the  AA, and MNDAA] and the rest separately.”

Additional to this government's mode of separate meeting scheme, the KIO's initiative to meet the Tatmadaw or the Military separately regarding the ceasefire negotiation has also recently been in the pipeline.

Insider government sources close to a signatory ethnic armed organization said that recently, Khin Zaw Oo secretary of the government's  PC, on his way back from Nepal, met General N'Ban La leader of the KIO in Chiang Mai, where he was asked to convey message to the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing that the KIO wanted a direct negotiation channel to talk about the ceasefire. The Military side has signalled to agree to the proposal and negotiation now seems to be in progress, although no details were forthcoming, as of this writing.

Apart from the problems regarding the mode of meeting between the PC and FPNCC, the latter's alteration or amendment demand of the present, government accepted Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), so that it could possibly sign it, could be also a hard nut to crack, as its proposal amounts to somewhat like agreeing to a Hong Kong-like status under the former British administration or confederation-like political system aspirations would not be that easy to compromise for the government.

Given such a backdrop, where China is so intensively involved in the peace process to at least make the Burma-China border free from armed engagement between the Northern Alliance and the Tatmadaw, so that its “One Belt One Road” economic scheme could be materialized, both contending parties – the Tatmadaw and the Northern Alliance – are forced to accommodate the wish of the giant, powerful neighbour.

As it is, in order to appease or sooth down the demanding powerful neighbour, who, by hook or by crook, is already deeply involved in the peace process game, the concerned stakeholders would have to come to terms by any means. And as such, it would be much better for all to compromise and find a middle ground that is acceptable to all parties, from agreeing to the mode of meeting to accommodating political aspirations that all could live with.

For too long, the contending parties only continue to be bogged down to gain political edge primarily on both sides of the political spectrum. This failure to recognise a common visionary concept on how the country should be moulded and ethnic aspirations accommodated, need to be corrected, if we are to end this vicious circle of violence, peace restored and eventual political settlement made possible.

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TWO ARMED ETHNIC UMBRELLA GROUPS HOLD SEPARATE MEETING: Ethnic Armed Organizations prepare to mobilize their bargaining positions

As the debate over the success or failure of the third Union Peace Conference (UPC), which is now renamed Union Peace Conference - 21st Century Panglong (UPC–21CP),  in relation to the last month, controversial approval of first part “Pyidaungsu Accord”, also known as “Union Accord”,   lingers on, the two Ethnic Armed Organizations' (EAOs) blocs of United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) are holding meetings, on how to map out their next move.

Equally, the government's Peace Commission (PC) is also not idle as it has been meeting with the UNFC and also trying to meet the FPNCC, through the good office of Sun Guoxiang, Special Envoy of Asian Affairs with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to the media.

UNFC's last ditch effort?

Different from the past, the UNFC, comprised of 7 EAOs, has invited all 21 EAOs to its bi-annual conference scheduled to be held from June 20 to 29.

“In the first section [of the conference], we will hold a meeting among the UNFC members.  The meeting with non‐UNFC members will be held in the second section. The first program  will take seven days. It will be held from June 20 to 26. The second program will be held  from June 27 to 29,” according to Tun  Zaw, joint general secretary of the UNFC.

The second program would discuss about common programs for all EAOs based on the decision made in KIO controlled area, Mai Ja Yang, during the ethnic leadership meeting in 2016.

Reportedly, at the conference, apart from mapping out policy matters and conducting new election, the UNFC is expected to make decisions regarding applications for new  members, or allowing other members to resign. Two of the current seven members, the  Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) and the Wa National Organization (WNA) have both submitted  resignation notices that will be discussed.

Earlier, two years ago, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)  and Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), both the UNFC members have also tendered resignation, due to the inability of the UNFC to help them out of armed engagements with the Burma Army or Tatmadaw, but no official approval was heard and just generally taken as being accepted.

Following the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signing of the 8 EAOs in October 2015, the Chin National Front (CNF) and the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) were also dismissed by the UNFC for not sticking to its majority decision not to sign the NCA.

But the Karen National Union (KNU) even before the NCA signing has suspended itself from the UNFC, due to the rivalry of leadership position with the KIO and as well, disagreement over the signing of the NCA.

The KNU played a leading role of the signatory 8 EAOs, in signing the NCA in October 2015.

The UNFC, which started out with 12 members now currently has 7 members, that includes the KIO, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Karenni National  Progressive Party (KNPP), the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), and the Arakan National  Council (ANC), the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) and the WNO.

The UNFC's bi-annual conference would likely seek to mobilize the EAOs' political common position so as to increase bargaining power and could also be a last ditch effort to breath fresh air in for the future survival of the umbrella organization.

Other than that, regarding the acceptance of new members into the UNFC, the government has been viewing it with skepticism, as while the KIO would leave the UNFC, its proxy Kachin National Organization (KNO) – an unarmed Kachin international setup -  would reenter the organization as a member. The KIO is now member of the Wa or Pangkham-led FPNCC.

Government's concern

The UNFC maneuvering – especially the rumor of KIO's branching out in two ethnic umbrella organizations - seems to irk the government's PC, as Zaw Htay  spokesperson of state's counselor office told the media that the government  could not accept such a development.

The KIO has already decided that it would resign from the UNFC, but leaves its proxy the KNO as a new member within the UNFC. At the earlier stage of UNFC formation,  the KNO was about to apply for its membership but somehow combined with the KIO and stands as one within the UNFC until today.

Zaw Htay told the media that in the wake of the UNFC's reorganization, he had sent Min Zaw Oo, member of the PC's think-tank, to relay the basic government's position that it only recognized the original 21 EAOs that are involved in the peace process from the beginning and would only negotiate with them.

He stressed: “If there will be more new members incorporated, that are not involved in the NCA, in the UNFC, we won't be able to talk to it any more. UNFC is scheduled to start on 20th June and we are relaying our message for them to consider ahead of the meeting,” according to the 7 Day Daily report of June 17.

Latest insider reports said that the on and off meeting between the UNFC's DPN and the government's PC  doesn't seem to progress much from the “agreed in principle” posture, vague outcome. It was said that the next meeting for the sixth time, on the UNFC's 9-point proposal on the alteration of the NCA, would be in Yangon.

The UNFC's proposal of first signing a Deed of Commitment (DoC) and continue spending time to negotiate on Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD), before finally signing the NCA, was rejected by the PC. The government's position is for the UNFC to sign the NCA after reaching agreement on its 9-point proposal being included as an appendix in the NCA.

Escalation of war in Kachin State

In the aftermath of the third UPC, the war in Kachin State escalated as the Burma Army launched offensive in the Tanai, amber mining region. The KIA has been expecting the Burma Army's offensive in the mining region, including Hpakant Township, directly to the south, the epicenter of the country's lucrative jade industry.

Following the June 5 dropping of leaflets ordering the civilians' evacuation from the region or else be considered being party to the KIO, the Burma Army closed off all routes to Tanai town, as the June 15 deadline came into effect. It was said that hundreds have taken refuge at churches and monasteries in Tanai town ever since.

Meanwhile, insider sources said that recently, Khin Zaw Oo of PC, on his way back from Nepal, met General N'Ban La of KIO in Chaing Mai, where he was asked to convey message to the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing that the KIO wanted a direct negotiation channel to talk about the ceasefire. The government side has signaled to agree to the proposal and negotiation on it seems to be in progress, although no details were forthcoming, as of this writing.


The FPNCC met from June 15 to 19 in Panghsang, but no news from the meeting has come out in the open yet. It was believed that the alliance might map out on how to deal with the government and as well to find ways to satisfy the Chinese demand to be more accommodating to the government's peace process initiative, which the alliance couldn't agree without altering the present NCA.

For the moment the government position is to stick on its NCA guidelines and negotiate accordingly, with the tendency to hold talks with the FPNCC members separately, which the latter insisted to only negotiate as a group together. To date, the government's deliberation seems to be stagnant and not making any headway.

Recently, Aung Soe, a member of the government’s Peace Commission and a lower house lawmaker told the media that the government “will meet three northern groups together [the TNLA, the AA, and the  MNDAA] and the rest separately.”
However, Tar Jode Jar, vice chairman of alliance member the TNLA confirmed to the BBC on June 19 that the PC has asked the Chinese to arrange for a meeting with the FPNCC and likely to take place after June 20, in one of the town along the border in China. However, the meeting protocol is still not clear, as the PC is insisting to meet the FPNCC separately as before. And this might become a barrier even for the meeting to take place.


As the PC shuttling to and fro to woo the UNFC's remaining members intensified, the government's intention to get more EAOs sign up continues to be unpredictable. As of now, the PC's offer that the UNFC's 9-point proposal to alter the NCA was said to be stuck at the stage of agreeing to only include in the NCA's appendix, in return for its members signing the NCA.

The UNFC headed by the Khu Oo Reh was said to favor the signing of DoC first and take time to iron out the FPD, before inking the NCA. The PC, however, was not so enthusiastic on the UNFC's proposal and said to disagree to it.

The latest development was that instead of signing the DoC, a joint-statement between the DPN and PC would be in order, if the UNFC agrees to the solution of adding its 9-point proposal to the NCA as appendix. This would become clearer if they meet again in July for the sixth time in Yangon. Furthermore, whether the UNFC would remain a formidable organization, after the resignation of KIO and the unclear posture of SSPP that is member of both the UNFC and also FPNCC, is an open question that only time will be able to answer.

As for the interaction between the FPNCC and the PC, both the alteration proposal of the NCA and the mode of meeting between the two parties are still problematic, as the former would only like to meet as a group, while the latter is keen to meet the FPNCC members separately.

In view of the recent Amnesty International negative report, titled “All The Civilians Suffer: Conflict, Displacement, and Abuse in Northern Myanmar“, on human rights violations in Kachin and Shan States by the government's troops; the on and off armed engagement in Shan State between Burma Army and the Northern Alliance – Burma (NA-B); and the escalating war in Kachin State, indicated that the situation on the ground is still not favorable and conducive for the ongoing peace process.

In sum, the overall political and military situation have not changed in the aftermath of the third UPC and could even be said as tilting towards more to the pessimistic side. The contending parties also continue to be bogged down in micromanagement of indulging in gaining political edge primarily on both sides of the political spectrum, without coming to the stage of adjusting the common visionary concept on how the country should be molded and bring forward the nation-building process that hasn't even started in earnest, after nearly seven decades of independence from the British.

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Commentary on “The challenge of forging a new Tatmadaw”

The core value and central thinking is simple enough. A federal union must have a federal army. And with it, comes ethnic equality from fixing quotas to level playing-field of equal opportunity.

But the most important part is that no dominant ethnic group must be able to have special privilege to lord over the others, much less on the whole country, as is now the case.

In a federal democratic country, the military must take orders from the civilian government and not the other way around. And until the present military establishment is ready to yield to the said core value of forming a federal union with body and soul, there is not much the people could do. It is as simple as that.

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Commentary on “Let's discuss Panglong and secession issue”

The central theoretical underpinning of the right to self-determination is that it is a God-given birthright to a group of people, whether they are tagged as ethnic or nation or non-state nation, and are entitled to self decision-making for their own community, ethnic group, nation or non-state nation. And also not to forget the sub-ethnic groups or minorities to a dominant ethnic group that wields political power of a country.

Just look at the Scottish and Catalan after hundreds of years living together with the British and Spanish respectively they are still demanding session.

But the way they handle the right of self-determination is civil and democratic.

Take the Scottish demand on secession issue for example and we could see that it was handled through referendum. And as we could see the pro-union camp won, the secessionist group lost out, and the question on rights of self-determination was settled in a civilized way.

Thus, dictating the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities to agree to "non-secession" clause by the NLD-Tatmadaw regime beforehand is neither appropriate nor necessary.

Other than that, even if all the ethnic nationalities yield to the NLD-Tatmadaw demand, the value of the individual ethnic group could change in the future according to the prevailing space and time.

In other words, even if an ethnic group might have agreed not to secede now, ten or twenty years from now, it's electorate might opt for secession. And if this is the wish of the people concerned, it is democratic and there is nothing a treaty signed earlier could do to stop it, theoretically speaking.

So, why so concerned of having the ethnic nationalities to yield to the non-secession clause. Isn't it a waste of time, energy, apart from portraying itself as a modern day colonizer than a partner in building a federal union?

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Harn Yawnghwe blacklisted by NLD Govt

Harn Yawnghwe, a son of Burma’s first president Sao Shwe Thaike, has been blacklisted by the National League for Democracy (NLD) government led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Unable to extent his visa, on June 9 he was forced to leave the country.

“Over the past few years, it was never difficult for him [Harn Yawnghwe] to get a one-year visa. He would be issued one within a week. He has been applying [for a visa] since April but still didn’t get it,” said Khuensai Jaiyen, the managing director of Pyidaungsu Institute for Peace and Dialogue (PI). “When he contacted the Burmese embassy in Canada, they said they didn’t know anything about it.”

Khuensai added: “Any visa ban is ordered by the Burmese Ministry for Foreign Affairs.”

There is a rumor that the reason Harn Yawnghwe was blacklisted is because he has been increasingly seen as an influential person in the ethnic political arena. He is often accused by critics of masterminding the peace process single-handedly. Harn Yawnghwe and his Euro Burma Office (EBO) organization has been one of the main funders of civil society groups and ethnic armed organizations involved in Burma’s peace process.

The EBO was established in 1997 with an agenda to promote democracy and human rights. It was allowed to set up a branch office in Burma a few weeks after Harn Yawnghwe met Naypyidaw’s chief negotiator Aung Min in Bangkok in September 2011.

Khuensai Jaiyen said that Harn Yawnghwe has been a key player in Burma’s peace process dating back to President Thein Sein’s initiative in 2011, frequently helping to facilitate talks between the Burmese government and ethnic armed groups.

“In my opinion, this marks a failure for the State Counselor’s peace process,” said Khuensai Jaiyen. “If he is not allowed to enter the country, the peace process that the State Counselor is leading will face problems. They should not ban him on the basis of these suspicions. They should have talked with him face to face.”

Apart from Harn Yawnghwe, two other staff from EBO are also on the blacklist.
Currently, EBO is helping to support the eight nationwide ceasefire agreement signatory groups to set up liaison offices inside the country.

Han Yawnghwe is the youngest son of Sao Shwe Thaike, the prince of Yawnghwe who was the first president of Burma from 1948-52. One of his brothers was shot dead when Gen. Ne Win staged a coup d’état in 1962. He and his mother, Sao Nang Hearn Kham, the founder of the Shan State Army, immediately fled the country. He was allowed to return to Burma in 2011 during the early days of the military-backed Thein Sein government.

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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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