Extra-judicial killings in Shan State: Military's rare guilt admission signalling a change of heart?

In a surprise move, Lt-Gen Mya Tun Oo, the serving chief of Burma’s military intelligence, confirmed on 20 July that government soldiers were indeed responsible for the murder of five men from Mong Yaw in Lashio Township, northern Shan State.

Many wondered if the steadfast Burma Army's denial mode for its nefarious behaviour is now starting to change, given the two highest profile gross human rights violations over the recent years remained unresolved and the culprits unpunished.

One is the October 2014 killing, while in military custody, of freelance journalist Ko Par Gyi, and the other, the deaths of two Kachin schoolteachers in northern Shan State in January last year that were widely alleged to have been perpetrated by Burma Army's (Tatmadaw) soldiers.

Let us look into what might seem to look like the change of heart from the part of Tatmadaw, and if this is a new start to become a standard army or genuine union army, taking orders from the civilian government, rather than positioning itself as “a state within a state”.

How it happened

Seven Mong Yaw villagers were reportedly killed by the Burma Army late last month. According to eyewitnesses, five were arrested by a unit of Burmese government forces on June 25, and later found buried in shallow graves near an army camp. The other two were shot dead that same day when they failed to stop their motorbike at an army checkpoint in the town.

While Mya Tun Oo said the Burmese soldiers were responsibly for the death of the five, the responsibility for the two others, who were shot down from their motorcycle were somewhat not clear and still need to investigate for clarity.

He would concede only the possibility that it was Tatmadaw bullets that killed the men, indicating an equal likelihood that an ethnic armed group could also be responsible.

During the press conference on 20 July, he said: “They drove their motorbike into the fighting zone,” asserting that the two had entered an area of active conflict between the Tatmadaw and an unspecified ethnic armed group.

“We don’t know whose bullets they were shot by. We found their dead bodies. And also found them [in possession] of drugs. We still don’t know who they are. We will certainly investigate.”

The Shan Human Rights Foundation, however, has already conducted its own investigation into the incidents, identifying the two victims on the motorbike as brothers Sai Naw Tint and Sai Hla, fathers of two and three children, respectively.

Their badly decomposed bodies were found in a ditch beside the road on which they were shot on June 29, four days after the incident, according to SHRF’s report, which cited testimony from the two men’s uncle.

The shooting occurred on June 25, the report said, when Tatmadaw Light Infantry Battalion 362 set up a blockade of the road linking Mong Yaw village to Lashio town. Based on testimonies from other motorists pulled over, the SHRF said Tatmadaw troops ordered the men to stop but they did not heed those calls, prompting gunfire from soldiers in the battalion first into the air and then at the men, killing them both.

“I heard the military tried to stop them, but they didn’t stop. There are witnesses that say the military shot them,” Nan Shwe Yone, said a resident of Mong Yaw, corroborating SHRF’s report.

“The court martial found that they [soldiers] violated the rules, and failed to follow certain procedures that led to the death of the victims during interrogation,” Lt-Gen Mya Tun Oo admitted at a public news conference in Rangoon.

He said a court martial was in progress, and that the verdict would be made open to the public. 

Public uproar after the killings

Following the tragic incident, on 4 July, five Shan Civil Society Organizations – Tai Youth Network, Tai Youth Organization, Kachin Youth Organization, Ta'ang Women Organization, Ta'ang Students and Youth Organization – issued a statement, condemning the killings, cautioned that it could derail the 21st Century Panglong Conference and demanded the speedy investigation, bringing justice to the case.

On 15 July,  Nang San San Aye, a Shan Nationalities League for Democracy MP representing  Hsipaw township, put forward the urgent proposal addressing both the Shan State and also the Union governments to stop all the wars as soon as possible, mediating as a go-between among warring parties and help mapped out to avoid future conflicts.
The tabled proposed motion, during the fourth session of the state legislature was submitted a day earlier, which the state border and security affairs minister Colonel Soe Moe Aung, on July 15, advised Shan State lawmakers to put the proposal on record, a less forceful parliamentary motion, but MPs anyhow voted on it.

The motion was approved with a wide margin approval of 76 votes to 57 rejection votes, which were military appointed MPs. The huge success was due to the fact that all Shan State citizens MPs, regardless of political affiliation, all voted for the anti-war urgent resolution, according to Nang San San Aye.

Simultaneously, on 16 July, more than 1,000 protesters held a rally in Lashio town demanding an end to the killing of innocent civilians.

According to Sai Pha Seng, who was present at the event, the demonstration started at 9am, and included participants from Lashio, Kutkhai, Hsenwi, Tangyan, Mongyai, Kyaukme and Hsipaw townships, The peaceful protest was conducted through the streets of Lashio city.

“Innocent civilians have been killed arbitrarily, but no group is taking responsibility,” he said. “The Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups must work together through the peace process and show respect for human rights.”

Earlier, the civil society organizations leading the rally had also demanded the National League for Democracy (NLD) regime to lead the investigation and bring the culprits to justice.

Dim prospects

This brings us back to the point if the Tatmadaw is becoming enlightened and is determined to strive for a standard or professional army, going back to the barracks where it really belongs to and taking orders from a democratically elected, civilian government.

But seen from the point of a well-known rights group, the government and the military might need to do more, if such incidents are to be avoided and handled in a proper way.

In a statement on July 20, Amnesty International urged the NLD-led government to take action against those who were involved in the incident.

“While it’s positive that the authorities are investigating this case, the reality is that all too often victims and their families are denied access to justice, truth and reparations, and have faced reprisals when reporting cases of military abuse. This has to stop and Myanmar’s [Burma’s] new government must make it clear that no one is above the law,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“This case is an important reminder of the need to reform the military and judicial systems in Myanmar,” he added. “Although it is important that steps are taken to ensure those responsible for serious human rights violations are held to account, military tribunals are not the solution. The authorities in Myanmar must take immediate action to ensure that human rights violators can be effectively tried before independent, civilian courts – anything less would only serve to perpetuate the cycle of impunity.”

Apart from this, the Burma Army’s indoctrination of its soldiers' mindset to hate and treated the ethnic population as enemies, as they are supporters of the ethnic armies, must be changed through detoxification program, leading to a more humane, standard army behaviour that is in line with a democratic state. Of course, this also has to be coupled with the promulgation of enforcement law and harsh punishment for perpetrators in committing such extra-judicial killings of innocent civilians.

Furthermore, the Tatmadaw would need to cater to "The Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols-Basic Rules" that emphasizes the “Basic rules of international humanitarian law in armed conflicts”, where those who do not take a direct part in hostilities are entitled to respect for their lives and their moral and physical integrity and they shall in all circumstances be protected and treated humanely without any adverse distinction; forbidden to kill or injure an enemy who surrenders or who is hors de combat; among others.

According to Wikipedia,  person is "hors de combat" if: (a) he is in the power of an adverse Party; (b) he clearly expresses an intention to surrender; or (c) he has been rendered unconscious or is otherwise incapacitated by wounds or sickness, and therefore is incapable of defending himself; provided that in any of these cases he abstains from any hostile act and does not attempt to escape.

And the poor innocent villagers were not even running away, but killed under interrogation and torture. Hundreds of such victims could be counted, if one cares to go through the human rights abuses documentation, gathered by reputed rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and United Nations Human Rights Council, during this decades-long and ongoing war of ethnic conflict.

The Shan State parliament restoring peace and anti-war resolution won't be able to do anything concrete on the ground, so long as the military is not onboard and political settlement still out of reach, as the rejection of the military MPs  have shown during the urgent proposal to stop the war voting on 15 July.

As such, it is quite clear that only the about turn policy of the military from war-like posture to peaceful settlement, coupled with the absence of war, doing away with the human rights abuses  and finally returning to the barracks, would be able to resolve this continuous and lingering crime against humanity, not before all these conditions are met or have taken place.  

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Villager and daughter injured by landmine in Hsipaw

A man and his eight-year-old daughter were seriously injured by a landmine explosion on Monday when they went into a forest to cut firewood in northern Shan State, a local member of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) has reported.

 According to SNLD’s Sai Sai, the incident happened around 3pm when Sai Teng Aung and his daughter Nang Mo Leng stepped on a landmine between the villages of Kungao and Pang Nyaung in Hsipaw Township.

“They were going to cut firewood,” said Sai Sai. “The eight-year-old girl has wounds all over her body, including her hands and legs.”

He said the pair were taken to Hsipaw Hospital at 5pm, but due to the severity of the injuries both were transferred to a hospital in Lashio Township two hours later.

This is by no means the first incidence of landmine injuries in and around Hsipaw, where several armed groups are active, including the Tatmadaw (Burmese armed forces), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), and the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA). However, there is no evidence linking the laying the mines in this area to any particular group.

On April 28, Myanmar Times reported that two German tourists were injured by a landmine blast while hiking in the area.

On July 12, Shan Herald reported that more than 300 villagers in Hsipaw Township had fled their homes because of fighting between TNLA troops and the RCSS/SSA.

According to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, an organisation that documented global landmine use, Burma was ranked third most dangerous country in the world in 2014, after Colombia and Afghanistan.

 BY: Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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Burma’s MI admits soldiers killed Lashio villagers

Lt-Gen Mya Tun Oo, the serving chief of Burmas military intelligence, confirmed yesterday that government soldiers were indeed responsible for the murder of five men from Mong Yaw in Lashio Township, northern Shan State.

Seven Mong Yaw villagers were killed late last month. According to eyewitnesses, five were arrested by a unit of Burmese government forces on June 25, and later found buried in shallow graves near an army camp. The other two were shot dead that same day when they failed to stop their motorbike at an army checkpoint in the town.

"The court martial found that they [soldiers] violated the rules, and failed to follow certain procedures that led to the death of the victims during interrogation," Lt-Gen Mya Tun Oo admitted at a public news conference in Rangoon.

He said a court martial was in progress, and that the verdict would be made open to the public.

Reached for comment, Sai Wan Leng Kham, an Upper House MP from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), said he was relieved that the military had finally admitted its role in the crime, and had promised to bring the culprits to justice.

“The military has never admitted to their crimes in the past,” he said. “The reason they did is because the people of Mong Yaw have fought fearlessly for justice.”

The MP expressed sympathy for the families of the victims, noting that they had lost the breadwinners of their individual households.

“Will the military pay them compensation?” Sai Wan Leng Kham questioned. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

According to Lt-Gen Mya Tun Oo, the military will now assume the role of caring for and supporting the victims' families. However, he gave no further details.

On July 18, Shan Herald reported that the Tai Youth Organization, Kachin Youth Organization, Ta’ang Women’s Organization, and Ta’ang Students and Youth Union led over 1,000 protestors in a rally in Lashio, demanding justice for the murder victims.

In a statement on July 20, Amnesty International urged the National League for Democracy-led government to take action against those who were involved in the incident.

“While it’s positive that the authorities are investigating this case, the reality is that all too often victims and their families are denied access to justice, truth and reparations, and have faced reprisals when reporting cases of military abuse. This has to stop and Myanmar’s [Burmas] new government must make it clear that no one is above the law,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“This case is an important reminder of the need to reform the military and judicial systems in Myanmar,” he added. “Although it is important that steps are taken to ensure those responsible for serious human rights violations are held to account, military tribunals are not the solution. The authorities in Myanmar must take immediate action to ensure that human rights violators can be effectively tried before independent, civilian courts – anything less would only serve to perpetuate the cycle of impunity.”

BY: Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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Rule of law within the context of military-drafted constitution

Aung San Suu Kyi on a lot of occasions said that the rule of law within the context of military-drafted, 2008 constitution should be adhered in striving to achieve a federal form of government.

She said this when meeting with the 8 Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) that have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), on 28 June, and again when she met the non-signatory EAOs of United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), on 17 July.

On 28 June meeting with the 8 signatory EAOs, Suu Kyi said: “Some could ask, why we go along with this (constitutional) law even we don't like it. It is because the future of a country, vested with equality, cannot be stable without the rule of law. Laws will be amended and made through the given legal channel and want our ethnic brothers and sisters to think the same.”

Let us ponder on this argument if it makes sense, particularly from the point of the peace process and national reconciliation.

According to Khu Oo Reh, spokesperson of the UNFC, “The rule of law is not only concern with the armed organizations, but tranquillity, termination of armed conflicts, protests, blood-letting are all included. In a country there are a host of problems and (having) the rule of law is only real if such (mentioned) issues are absent (resolved). And the peace we want is the one that happens under such conditions”.

But we cannot just jump on to the rule of law issue without clarifying or agreeing on the ownership of the country's  sovereignty. The ruling Bamar-dominated, National League for Democracy (NLD) government, including the military, considers itself to be the sole ownership of the sovereignty, while the ethnic nationalities staunchly believed that it is a shared-ownership, which has been robbed by the majority Bamar that let them to the political and armed resistance, in the first place.

The non-Bamar ethnic nationalities said that the independence from the British in 1948 is a co-independence, which in turn, gave them the entitlement as the co-owner of the country, leading to the notion of “shared-sovereignty”.

If the regime in power considers itself  to be the sole ownership, issues like taxation and usage and extraction of the natural resources by any other party would mean breaching the given laws and thus must be punished.

But on the other hand, if the outgoing point is from those of the shared-sovereignty position, the EAOs have every right, within their inherited territories from their ancestors, to make use of the taxation of the population under their control, as revolutionary tax to defend their turfs, which the government is keen to dub as protection money or "Set Kye" in Burmese. The same goes for   making use of the natural resources such as mineral extraction and logging for examples.

Thus we could see that even during the transition period of peace negotiations this kind of problems popped up frequently, as the military launched attacks and conduct offensives in the name of upholding sovereignty and protecting the population.

Seen from this perspective, this seemingly unrelated question of sovereignty becomes a core crucial issue that is connected to the drawing of a federal constitution.

This, in turn, pushes us further to consider if what Suu Kyi has been advocating to achieve constitutional amendment through adherence of the rule of law that is anchored in the military-drafted constitution could be tangible, which is neither federal nor equitable form of governance that the ethnic nationalities have been striving for.

It is important not to forget that the EAOs' armed resistance is due to the fact that they were unable to push for the realization of their political aspirations through legal channel and that was why they have to resort to such actions.

And if it is the government's wish to resolve the ethnic conflict through peaceful settlement with give-and-take negotiations, implementation of this rule of law literally with rigid principles would only contribute to more failure than success.

But this is not to say that lawlessness must be glorified and tolerated, but only to work out a transitional period solution, to be as tolerable as possible for all parties concerned, while casting an eye on the constitutional amendment that all could live with.

In sum, rule of law must prevail but exceptional cases like the sustainment of the EAOs and their  dependants for the transitional period have to be worked out, before political settlement is reached. Otherwise, the government will have to act against the EAOs each time they make a move to survive as fighting forces and the progress made at the negotiation table will go down the drain and have to restart it all over again.

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Research Project: Understanding “Buddhist nationalism” in Myanmar

The Department of Politics and International Relations (DPIR) at the University of Oxford is looking for an academic consultant providing research support to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded project “Understanding ‘Buddhist nationalism’ in Myanmar: Religion, Gender, Identity and Conflict in a Political Transition.” The project is directed by Dr Matthew J Walton and the Oxford-based research team includes Dr Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi. The consultant will be expected to support the research team’s activities in Myanmar in various ways.

The work will be undertaken outside the UK and will consist of collecting, organizing and sharing data with the research team (including books, journals, DVDs, and other media); completing transcriptions and rough translations of collected data; supporting the research team in planning and organizing field research; occasionally conducting interviews for the project; leading in organizing regular consultation and dissemination meetings; occasionally contributing to the research team’s scholarly and media outputs; and submitting quarterly progress reports to the Director.

The successful candidate will have professional competency in both English and Burmese (written and spoken) and be able to complete rough translations of material from Burmese to English.  S/he will have experience supporting research projects and ideally some experience in conducting research. The candidate will be organized and responsive, with a high level of attention to detail and an ability to engage delicately with sensitive topics. S/he must be comfortable interacting with government officials and high-ranking religious figures.

The works will be undertaken outside the UK and, ideally the consultant will be based in Yangon (Myanmar), although candidates based in other major cities in Myanmar will be considered. The successful applicant will be required to provide the University with a copy of an adequate professional indemnity insurance policy on request.

This contract will be full time commencing as soon as possible and ending on 31 July 2018.

Further duties and skills required are described below.
Principal Duties and Responsibilities

  1. To collect data (including books, journals, DVDs, and other media) as required for the project, organizing it and sharing with the research team
  2. To complete transcriptions or rough translations of collected materials
  3. To conduct preliminary analysis of collected materials
  4. To support the research team in planning and organizing field work
  5. To occasionally undertake research which might include preparing, setting up, conducting and recording interviews or other field work
  6. To lead in organizing the research team’s regular consultation/dissemination meetings
  7. To prepare quarterly progress reports for the project director
  8. To contribute to the research team’s scholarly and media writings, as appropriate
  9. To contribute to the planning process of the research team as appropriate
  10. To comply with University policies relating to health and safety, ethics, equality of opportunity and data management

Any other duties as maybe assigned from time to time commensurate with the project.

Selection Criteria

• Professional competency in English and Burmese (written and spoken);
• Experience supporting research projects, including planning interviews and consultation meetings, managing small budgets, and writing reports;
• Experience collecting, organizing, and analysing data;
• Ability to engage delicately and effectively with sensitive topics;
• Excellent administrative skills and capability, including problem solving, and the ability to work both independently and as part of a team;
• Comfortable working with people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

• Experience in transcription and translation;
• Familiarity with media in Myanmar, including social media;
• Experience in event organisation;
• Experience in independently managing a discrete area of a research project;
• Experience working in areas related to religion, politics, gender, or conflict;
• Experience conducting research, including conducting interviews.

To apply for this assignment, please send a cover letter and CV (including references) to: matthew.walton@sant.ox.ac.uk.

 Closing date for applications is Monday noon (UK time) 8th August 2016. Applications received after the closing date cannot be considered.

Download PDF file:Consultant ADVERT_ESRC

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Khu Oo Reh's response on Suu Kyi's urging of “give” more than “take”

Khu Oo Reh, spokesperson for the United Nationalities Federal Council's (UNFC) Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), press conference on 18 July, at Chatrium Hotel in Rangoon, pin-pointed the much publicized Aung San Suu Kyi's, time and again, urging of all political stakeholders to think more about “give” than “take”.

The phrase actually comes from John F Kennedy's famous “Inaugural Address” in Washington, D.C., on 20 January 1961. In his speech President Kennedy urges American citizens to participate in public service and "ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

Suu Kyi was said to have told the UNFC delegation during the meeting on 17 July that it would be hard to implement the demand of the ethnic nationalities one hundred percent; and that they should also think what they could give from their side.

In response to Suu Kyi's urging, Khu Oo Reh said: “Go and look at the non-Bamar ethnic states. Mountains have turned flattened, flat lands (plains) become desert, river, stream and ponds dried. Our villages were being destroyed and our population have fled to jungles and mountains. Our mineral resources have been depleted and no trees and bamboos (forest) exist any more. Now, what do you want more from us? What should we give more?”

He added: “We understood that we achieved this country's independence together hand-in-hand. That is why we are co-owner of this country. This is the kind of equality we are talking about. Because of this we don't need to ask (anyone) and also don't need to give.”

The most important thing he stressed was that on how peaceful, harmonious co-existence with development could be achieved. “Everyone has the duty (to do this),” he said.

Khu Oo Reh's frustration regarding Suu Kyi's urging is understandable, for the militarization and oppression, coupled with economic exploitation, of the Burmese military have left a permanent scar physically and physiologically on the non-Bamar ethnic population. But this plea of Suu Kyi to consider more on “giving” to the ethnic nationalities is being interpreted as “to kowtow or give in to the Bamar domination without question”, which the ethnic nationalities fervently have been resisting all these years. In other words, the ethnic nationalities should be happy with some handout in form of minimum power devolution, anchored in Bamar-dominated unitary form of governance.

Suu Kyi should now think hard, if she wants to be in the same ideological boat with the military, which openly cater to ethnocentrism or Bamar racial supremacy thinking over all non-Bamar ethnic nationalities.

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State Counselor’s words: Lost in transmission?

The speech of the Buddha was without defect:

1.    True, beneficial, and pleasing to others. This speech the Buddha used on many occasions.

2.    True, beneficial, but not pleasing to others. This speech the Buddha used whenever it was necessary to correct those who were deviating from the path.

“How good is his English?”

“It varies. Depends on whether he wants misunderstandings or not”
Venus with Pistol, Gavin Lyall( 1932-2003) .

On 28 June 2016, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met leaders of the 8 signatory ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in Naypyitaw.

Bitter controversies have been aroused both among those who were there and those who were not, depending on how they interpret what she had said.

I have gone through the transcript several times in order to make sense of her words, most of which were clear and left no room for second interpretation. But the rest, especially when she was speaking about Panglong and the right of secession, were spoken as though her proficiency in Burmese had suddenly taken a plunge and she was groping frantically for the right words.

The following shoddily translated excerpts, I hope, may prove my points.

Here are those that are deemed non-debatable, and indeed praiseworthy :

·       Worry comes from lack of faith. No worry is possible, if there is faith in success.
·       When we are not on good terms, there is no peace. Peace is the natural outcome, when we are on good terms.
·       Father said: if the ethnic peoples cannot be convinced in ten years not to want to secede, it’s because the government’s hopeless. (The right quote appears to be: If the ethnic peoples cannot be convinced in ten years not to want to secede, it’s because we Burmans are hopeless.)
·       Federalism protects a country from separatism. It does not propel a country to separation.
·       When there is sufficient guarantee of citizen’s rights, no one wants to secede.
·       Whosoever wants to forge peace must avoid words displeasing to others as best possible.
·       All have ownership to the Peace Conference, whether or not they have signed( the Nationwide  Ceasefire Agreement )

And here are those that have been drawing arguments. I have not tried to do a word- for- word translation, only to paraphrase them. I hope I’m forgiven for taking such liberty.
·       People ask what I mean by using the word “Panglong” for the Union Peace Conference? Does it mean it should be based on its original spirit, agreement and promises? What I would like to say is it’s not going to be based on the Panglong Agreement, which was concluded in order to achieve independence. On the contrary, I believe it must be based on the spirit of Panglong, which upholds Unity in Diversity.
·       Secession was part of the promise given at Panglong, Some people are worried and have asked whether I would allow secession. My answer is when the decision is made to establish a union, it must be with the determination that we would make it an enduring one.
Please take a look at world history. Some countries that are granted the right continue to hold on together, while others that are not given it are breaking away from each other. Summing up, it all rests on whether there is genuine unity or not.

I hope I have not lost in translation the intended meaning of her words, unless she was deliberately trying to confuse us.

Granted I haven’t, the reader should now be able to make up her/his mind whether the peace process will go further under her leadership. At least that’s what I hope.

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THINKING OUT OF THE BOX: The aftermath of Suu Kyi and UNFC meeting

In nearly 70 years of civil war and several peace talks have been conducted, two nationwide major negotiations during the rule of General Ne Win and a couple of on and off ceasefire arrangements with various ethnic armed groups.  The latest ongoing one, initiated by the former president Thein Sein that started in 2011, is still being bogged down in talks about talks, without clear and radical concept on how to break out of the traditional way of doing things.

Let us ponder on the point, if thinking out of the box will help us accelerate the peace process and enable us a break-through by using “lateral thinking” in solving the problems through an indirect and creative approach,  rather than through reasoning that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.

In this respect, it would be helpful for us to start with what a well-known political commentator has to say.

·       NRPC Old wine in the new bottle?

Dr Yan Myo Thein, a well-known political commentator made known his disappointment in the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) formation, which in his opinion is populated with the people from the former president Thein Sein clique of Union Solidarity and Development Party's (USDP).

He said the NRPC is made up of 6 members from the government, 2 from the parliament, 2 from the military (Tatmadaw),  1 from 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC) preparatory committee, with 11 members altogether.

Of the 6 representatives from the government sector, 1 active-duty and 2 retired military officers are included. Further, from the 2 parliamentary representatives, 1 is from the National league for Democracy (NLD), while the other is from the ethnic party closed to the former ruling party, the USPD.

As the NRPC has 3 Lt. Generals from the sum of 11, Thus the military is made up more than 25% of the organization.

The ethnic participation could also be seen as ineffective, as the NRPC member Daw Shela Nan Tong (NLD) of Kachin State being a retired professor could be out of touch with the politics and peace process. U Khun Maung Thaung of Shan State, Pin Laung Township is also closely linked to the USDP.

Apart from that the organization's think-tank is made up of old people from the Myanmar Peace Center, now defunct, such as Hla Maung Shwe and Min Zaw Oo, further reinforced by the retired General Aung Kyi, who had worked for the military and the former USDP regimes. As such, Yan Myo Thein stressed that new inputs and innovative new approaches won't come by and could be taken as still unforeseeable.

He further added that the key for the formation of NRPC should be the achievement of federal democracy through innovative, new pattern based on all-inclusiveness of all Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), equality and justification. Besides, the NLD should not forget that the people have given the party the mandate to lead, which is met with disappointment from many of the other policy implementations.

However, even as pessimistic view of Yan Myo Thein could be seen as quite a logical assessment, the contemporary political landscape continues to change remarkably at a speed that could be said as “incredible”.

·       Current development

Following the meeting between the 8 EAOs that signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and the state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, a series of meeting between the NRPC and the non-signatory EAOs, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), United Wa State Army (UWSA), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) were followed, although the much talked about excluded 3 EAOs – Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA) – planned meeting could not still be materialized, reportedly due to the difficulties in choosing the meeting venue, according to the rebel and governmental sources.

Nevertheless, after numerous interactions between the NRPC and UNFC in various locations like Chiang Mai and Rangoon, the much awaited face-to-face meeting between Suu Kyi and the UNFC finally happened on 17 July.

On the government side, Suu Kyi was accompanied by Dr Tin Myo Win, Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Union Peace Conference — 21st Century Panglong, Union Minister for the State Counsellor's Office Kyaw Tint Swe and Moe Zaw Oo of the State Counsellor's Office, while the UNFC’s delegation were represented by General N'Ban La of Kachin Independnece Organization (KIO), Naing Htaw Mon of New Mon State Party (NMSP),  Able Tweed of Karenni People progressive Party (KNPP), Sao Hsur Hten of Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) and Khu Oo Reh, the leader of the UNFC’s Delegation for Political negotiation and also Vice-Chairman of the KNPP.

The one hour and forty-five minutes meeting was described as cordial, family-like and fruitful, even though core issues like all-inclusiveness and how the participation of UNFC in fine-tuning the Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD), 21CPC or Union Peace Conference (UPC) decision-making rights would be considered, if it were to refuse to sign the NCA.

Suu Kyi has resolved that within her all-inclusiveness notion, all EAOs could participate on all levels of the peace process, even though it is not at all clear regarding the decision-making rights, as the NCA said that in order to have that voting right, individual members of EAOs must first sign the NCA. Suu Kyi has not taken position on this crucial point, but the NRPC functionaries on a lot of occasions have pointed out this necessity.

The UNFC, following the meeting issued a statement the same day emphasizing the following:

·       Pragmatic and practical approaches to be all-inclusive, with follow up meetings
·       Urging the government to help end military offensives in the northern part of the country (Kachin and Shan States)
·       Hopes that the nationwide ceasefire declaration could be made together all at once
·       Acknowledges the state counsellor's reiterated commitment to federalism; peace and federal constitution to be materialized through the rule of law
·       To continue the materialization of the peace process through continued negotiations

However, the seemingly easy to answer and resolve issues become hindrances as all parties are bogged down in preconceived ideas and dogmatism that are hard to bridge.

·       Different conceptualization

Coming back to the notion of “thinking out of the box”, the best place to start falls back, as time and again argued in many of my opinion pieces, on the conceptualization of the making or the emergence of the country, we now come to know as Burma or Myanmar. The reason we have to begin with this is due to the fact that “common national identity, sharing of political decision-making power or question of self-determination rights, sharing of natural resources, equality, democracy and human rights” among others, are all intertwined with the issues mentioned. And to have a grip on all these, thinking out of the box is the only way to do.

From the outgoing point that we have never being able to agree upon the making of the country, which the Bamar political class, including the Tatmadaw, believed to belong to them since the immemorial reign of the Bamar ancient kings, the ethnic nationalities are convinced the newly formed political entity came into being only after the British left in 1948, through the Panglong Agreement, voluntarily signed by both the Bamar and 3 ethnic nationalities – the Chin, Kachin and Shan - in 1947.

Now let us take the “common national identity” question, for instance, to ponder as to why it is still unresolved, after nearly seven decades of independence from the British. The short answer to it is that the nation-building has shattered and common national identity formation has never taken of the ground, due to the lack of political settlement, which has its roots in constitutional crisis.

Inevitably, the debate on “secession” has also to do with the conceptual differences in the making of the country.

·       Is there a way out?

Obviously there isn't much idea left to ponder on, given that the conflict has been raging for nearly 7 decades, with no tangibly solution in sight, constantly reinforced by dogmatism from both adversary camps. Such being the case, why don't we give a try by thinking aloud or out of the box?

And where exactly should we start or what catchphrase should we make use of?

The answer is to rethink our dogmatic views from a different light. For example let us examine the very concept regarding the emergence of the country, Burma or Myanmar.

Can't we forget about the immemorial ownership of  the country by the Bamar political class, while the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities could also take it that it is just a multi-ethnic state and they are being part of the union, without invoking their historical rights of secession anchored in Panglong Agreement of 1947?

Suu Kyi during her meeting with the 8 signatory EAOs said regarding the secession and federalism issues that some federal system of governance have secession rights and some not. But there were secession in countries that didn’t have secession rights included in their constitution, while there were countries with secession rights that didn’t see secession being made use of.

In other words, secession could be made use of even if an ethnic group signed to remain in a union a hundred times, depending on its population's desire and value, which could be constantly changing according to the space and time of the day. Thus, there is no point in arguing about it at the present.

Why can't both parties agree on the shared-sovereignty and work out a common national identity that all could live with?

Why can't we work out a trade off, by agreeing that the ethnic nationalities would abandon their rights of secession, while the Bamar would fully guarantee the equitable, genuine, federalism that it would also become a part on equal basis?

Besides, the Bamar political class and the military don't need to be afraid that its supremacy over the other ethnic nationalities would be in jeopardy, if they are really for equitable, fair federal union set up that they have all along been saying to be their real commitment.

If this kind of critical approach that leads to the out of the box thinking could be instilled, all the other seemingly hard to crack nuts like genuinely, implementable nationwide ceasefire; unilateral nationwide ceasefire of the government; a concerted bilateral ceasefire nationwide; levelling the political playing field;  and all-inclusiveness issues could easily be overcome in no time.

Of course, it needs tremendous courage, unyielding resistance to just adhering to the dogmatic, preconceived, traditional way of doing things and above all, the often repeated political will to tread the path of thinking out of the box, so that we all will be able to avoid this vicious circle and unending, fruitless negotiation process, as has been the order of the day for the last five years. 

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