It is timely and appropriate that United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) comes up with a statement, on 29 January, to respond to President Thein Sein's good-will invitation of the Ethnic Armed Organizations' (EAOs) members on the occasion of the upcoming Union Day, on 12 February.
As Thein Sein has time and again made known in many of his statements and speeches, about building a federal form of government, the latest one being, in December last year, his monthly radio address to the people, emphasized that “an agreement for the establishment of a Federal Union has been achieved firmly.”
And it is quite natural that the EAOs want to have this particular commitment in form of writing, prior to any signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), to be politically on the safe side.
Immediately after the UNFC goes public with its five points statement, in response to the news of President's invitation of the EAOs to attend the Union Day celebration, VOA and DVB conducted interviews with the UNFC's spokesman, Khun Okker.
In an interview with DVB, Burmese Section, on 29 January, Khun Okker said: “ We have petitioned a preposition, if we could get some kind of federal union formation and understanding, either in form of an agreement or statement, on the Union Day. The President has already made his position known in his speech, but we want to request him to give us in official writing.”
He further said: “ Since time won't allow us to sign NCA on Union Day, it will be good to have a promised agreement of political guarantee for the formation of federal union, for this will make the signing of ceasefire easier.”
In the same vein, an interview conducted by VOA, on 30 January, Khun Okker, in response to the question of why the UNFC has made such an approach, he said that by obtaining a written document of the federal union formation, it could build more trust with one another, make the signing of NCA easier, erase the doubtfulness of the EAOs' members of not wanting to sign without having a concrete political guarantee, and above all, to prove and dispel the doubts that the EAOs are not for secession or total independence, but for the federalism form of government.
As of this writing, Thein Sein regime has still not responded to the UNFC overtures. But the upcoming UNFC press conference on 2 February, at The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok, will surely speculate or touch on the government's position and its real take on federal from of governance, it has in mind.
As for the UNFC position, the statement's paragraph number five makes it quite clear. It writes:
Accordingly, the UNFC has total desire for all to pledge and sign an “Agreement relating to the establishment a Federal Union” together with the government led by President U Thein Sein, on the occasion of 68th Anniversary of the Union Day, which falls on February 12, 2015, to uphold the establishment of a Federal Union based on democratic rights and national states, with full national equality and self-determination, as yearned for by the entire people. The UNFC issues this position statement that by signing this Agreement together, the President and ethnic nationality leaders will further strengthen mutual trust and recommit to concluding the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement without delay.
For now, the ball is in the government's court. The prospect of reaching an understanding on NCA and possible reconciliation, political settlement and peaceful co-habitation will now depend on the government and how it will respond or handle the UNFC's latest proposal.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor
NATIONWIDE CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT: Another hope for a breakthrough or replay of the 5th January meeting?
Once again, a new ad hoc meeting between the President and the Ethnic Armed Groups (EAOs), supposed to be held on Union Day, the 12th of February, is making headlines, leaving many to speculate, if this will produce the much needed trust and understanding, leading to the signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
According to the RFA report , on 26 January, Khun Okker, one of the leaders of a coalition of more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups, known as Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT), said on Monday that a “top-level” meeting with the government on the country’s Union Day next month could pave the way for a nationwide cease-fire agreement in March, though a peace deal would not be signed at the talks.
Khun Okker confirmed that he had received an invitation to attend a February 12 Union Day meeting from President Thein Sein and that “all ethnic leaders” were likely to attend.
Furthermore, RFA Myanmar Section reported that he is optimistic that the meeting of top level decision-makers from both sides could usher in a new working atmosphere, leading to the signing of the NCA in March, if a concrete promise to build a federal union is forthcoming.
“This is a top level meeting with decision-capable leaders and if there is something concrete at the top level, it’s much easier to work at the lower levels, so the signing could come faster,” the NCCT chairman said.
“The signing might come in March—that would be the earliest, but we hope to get a promise … to build a federal union.”
A similar meeting with some of the EAOs' member, excluding Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Chin National Front (CNF) and Ta-ang National Liberation Front (TNLA), on the heel's of Independence Day celebration, on 5 January, was held, without any positive outcome. Many view it as a public relation stunt of the President, without substance or political accommodation to end the conflict earnestly. Some said that it was just an exchange of views, where EAOs' members were given a few minutes time to air their grievances.
A translated article, written by Si Thu Aung Myint, a well known political analyst, in Myanmar Times, on 26 January, pinpointed the fact that President Thein Sein is not keen to amend the constitution, even though he might seem like one, given his repeated promise to build a federal union, in many of his speeches, according to the desire of the non-Burman ethnic peoples.
In a meeting, on 12 January, where 48-person meeting was conducted, the president in his opening speech said, “I always say that the constitution must be amended if the circumstances dictate it. I believe we have to amend the constitution to build a federal union that ethnic minorities have continuously demanded and continue the implementation of the democratic transition.”
“But [amending the constitution] should be done based on the outcome of political dialogue that will be held as part of the current peacemaking process, as well as in accord with legal procedures stated in the 2008 constitution,” he said.
“Trying to change the constitution without legal procedures tends to overwhelm the rule of law so we have to amend the constitution in accord with provisions in the constitution.”
The article concluded that the President has no desire to change the constitution before the 2015 elections and that he wants to conduct the elections under the unchanged 2008 constitution.
In clear text, Thein Sein demands of adherence to the 2008 Constitution, which in effect means to postpone for some times if not give up the constitutional amendment as envisioned by the ethnic and democratic camps, leading to genuine federalism way of governance. In other words, changing a little here and there according to the liking of USDP-Military regime, as a token, would be acceptable, but no drastic overhaul or rewriting, which will jeopardize the military hold on its power monopoly.
Thein Sein knows pretty well that changing the constitution according to the 2008 Constitutional procedure is almost impossible, given that the military has 25% votes, for without the military consent nothing can be amended.
No wonder, UN Special Rapporteur’s report, distributed or transmitted to the UN members, by the Secretary General, at UNGA sixty-nineth secession, on 23 September writes:
The current Constitution of Myanmar was adopted following a referendum in 2008. Its adoption was widely criticized for being fundamentally flawed, in terms of both substance and process. Current attempts at constitutional reform present opportunities to address some of these criticisms. It is notable that one of the key priorities reportedly identified from various consultation exercises on this issue was a change to the currently onerous procedure for amending the Constitution.
Article 436 provides for the manner in which proposed amendments to the Constitution are to be approved. One study has pointed out that no other constitution in the world has an amendment procedure that requires the approval of more than 75 per cent of the members of both parliamentary chambers or allows for the military to have veto power over constitutional amendments.
True, Thein Sein has opened the door of reform process and have done quite a number of positive things for the country; partial freedom of press, if not absolute press freedom, release of political prisoners, launching the peace process and so on, among others. But the main obstacle of overcoming the “constitutional crisis” remains and he seems not to be fully or wholeheartedly committed to the cause, if what he has been doing could be seen as indicators.
“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it,” said Benjamin Franklin, hundreds of years ago.
Thein Sein fits into this saying for all his reputation as a good-hearted reformer goes down the drain, when he demands for adherence of the very constitution, which people are demanding to change or rewrite it so that their aspirations will be met, despite empty promises to amend it according the people's desire.
As for Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, he has time and again made it clear that he will defend the constitution with his life and the latest interview he has given made it clear that the army will retain its 25% unelected seats within the parliament, for Burma still needs the army to guide the young democracy.
In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, on 20 January, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing said the military needs to be in Parliament because the country is still a young democracy.
The current Constitution mandates a 25 percent military representation in Parliament. Military officers occupy one quarter of the elected seats in Parliament. But under the Constitution, they are appointed and not elected by the people.
Citizens are calling for that clause, known as section 436, to be amended. The military chief however is reluctant to do so at this stage of Myanmar's transition.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said: "It's been only about four years. We are still a young democracy. When we are moving towards a multi-party democratic system it needs to be a strong system. The military representatives in Parliament only give advice in the legislative process. They can never make decisions."
For now, the ongoing running battles with the KIA in Kachin and Shan states, the Burma Army's refusal to tackle, or even talk about, the bombardment of Laiza Cadet training school, where 23 of the resistance armies cadets met their death, including more than 20 wounded; and the recent rape and killing of the two female Kachin teachers in Shan State by the Burma Army, which are met with national uproar, are in no way conducive to help achieve the much wanted NCA.
Such being the case, one wonders what really could Thein Sein achieve, inviting EAOs to the party on Union Day, given his reluctant attitude to amend the constitution and outright opposition of the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing to alter it in anyway. If there is to be a breakthrough, the August 2014 draft Single Text Agreement would have to be revitalized; even better, if a concrete commitment of building a federal union is emphasized to make it clear that the people's desire will be heeded, without any reservation.
It is high time now that the President makes a bold move to end the decades old ethnic conflict and bring back peace and harmony to the country, once and for all.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor
Gen N.Ban La, Chairman of the 12 armed organization alliance, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), said on Sunday, 25 January, a proposal has been presented to President Thein Sein to host a ceremony for the signing of an agreement on federalism.
“If it is agreed then I’m ready to sign it as the chairman of the UNFC,” he said.
He explained that his proposition was made in reference to the President’s monthly radio address on 2 December when he reported: “A firm political agreement on forming a federal union, which is vital to the peace process, has been reached.”
The proposal followed media reports saying the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA) that has been negotiated since 2013 between the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the armed organizations’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), would not be signed on 12 February, the 68th anniversary of the historic Panglong Agreement as expected earlier.
“The UNFC represents not only the 12 member organizations that are members in the NCCT but also the other 4 that are its confederates,” he added. “The RCSS/SSA (Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army) is the only non-confederate.”
He warned that failure to achieve progress could place the peace process at risk. “I fear we may be forced to reconsider the role of the NCCT if our proposal fails to receive consideration from the government,” he said.
Details of the proposal were not disclosed.
The UNFC leader made a visit to RCSS/SSA headquarters on 19 January when he made the proposal to hold a summit of all leaders in the near future. The RCSS/SSA leader Sao Yawdserk had heartily agreed to that, according to him.
This year’s Union Day is significant, not only because leaders of all non-Burman states including armed movements that have been fighting against successive governments for so long, would be invited to join the ceremony in Naypyitaw, but also it coincides with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta (“Great Charter”) which falls on 15 June.
Whereas the Magna Carta, which was signed by King John (1167-1216), has been hailed as Democracy’s first victory and as the first declaration of human rights in reference to clauses such as:
• War tax would be levied only with the general consent of the realm
• That no freeman shall be seized or imprisoned
the Panglong Agreement contains firm pledges such as :
• Appointment of the representative from Frontier Areas (now known as Border Areas) as minister responsible for the affairs of these areas
• “rights and privileges which are regarded as fundamental in democratic countries”
• “financial autonomy” (which means self-supporting)
Another similarity is also striking: its sacnosanctity. Statutes and laws conflicting with it are considered (“ruled” in British case) invalid. As in Burma, when the king reneged on the charter, there was rebellion. Only when it was reaffirmed after his death, the rebellion ended, because the rebels no longer possessed a cause to fight for.
This lesson from the British history may be a harsh one but vital especially for those trumpeting the three “sacred” causes: Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Solidarity and Perpetuation of National Sovereignty. Because nothing can be clearer than the precedent in British history.
Any Burmese leader, present or future, who has vowed to bring peace to this war-torn country must therefore realize that he/she cannot achieve it just by paying lip service to the Panglong Agreement but only by fulfilling the solemn pledges contained in it. Any other way invites only conflict and war.
Exactly 2 months after 23 cadets training at the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) camp near its Laiza base were blown up to death by the Burma Army’s 105 mm howitzer shell, another incident, which was even ghastlier, took place in northern Shan State, where two young Kachin teachers were raped and beaten to death.
SHAN had already reported in 2013 about Burmese authorities in Nam Kham trying to turn back Kachin villagers fleeing from fighting between the KIA and the BA to seek temporary sanctuary there. The reason cited by them was that the villagers were Kachin.
Which raises the question: Do the Burmese government servants and armymen consider the war between the KIA and the BA as the war between the Burmese (Burman/Myanmar/Bama) and Kachins?
Because while the Laiza shelling could be more easily dismissed as accidental, not even a six-year old child is not going to say the rape-cum-murder in Kutkhai was a chance occurrence.
Unless the perpetuators are apprehended soon and punished, the future of the ongoing peace process, already facing thorny problems which include the Laiza incident, could be at stake. (So far, Naypyitaw is still “looking into the case”, according to Washington.)
Moreover, these incidents that have been taking place also mean that peace talks at the top level, which was something of a novelty when it began in 2011, is no longer sufficient.
It’s high time authorities on both sides, especially the government-army side, educate its subordinates the new culture of making peace, that rapes and killings don’t make good ingredients for the future Union of Myanmar/Burma.
Gen N.Ban La, Vice President of the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) and also Chairman of the 12 armed organization alliance United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), was received by Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) Lt-Gen Yawd Serk at his Loi Taileng base on Monday, 19 January, according to SSA sources.
“We found many points in agreement,” said a source close to the RCSS/SSA leader without offering elaboration.
N. Ban La left on the same day to Chiangmai where the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) that is negotiating with the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) for the much-awaited Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA), was holding a two-day consultation, 19-20 January, before meeting with the UPWC’s technical team, the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) on the following day.
A week earlier, Yawd Serk had told SHAN that since he had already signed both the state level and union level ceasefire agreements, the NCA was just another formality.
“All the same, we will need to deliberate on the final draft if it includes too many clauses on political issues,” he said. “But if it doesn’t dwell too much on political matters apart from fully guaranteeing that political dialogues will take place forthwith, we have no problems signing it.”
SHAN has not been able to interview Gen N.Ban La.
Former rebel and former chief minister of India’s Mizoram, who is on a visit to Thailand has urged peacemakers on both government and rebel camps in Burma to exercise infinite patience.
“You sometimes will find it necessary to outpatient your counterparts,” he told his hosts at the Chiangmai based Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue on Tuesday, 20 January.
Zoramthanga, 71, who was chief minister of India’s 23rd state, 1998-2008, said the peace process with New Delhi had lasted 15 years, 1971-1986, 5 of which were spent in clandestine negotiations. “Which also included 9 months in Indian jail,” he smilingly added.
One major factor that had expedited the process was the fact that India was already a federal democracy, if not in name. “We didn’t need to demand that it became one,” he said.
Mizoram, formerly part of Assam, became a full-fledged state by virtue of a constitutional amendment in 1986 following successful negotiations between New Delhi and the Mizo National Front (MNF), of which Zoramthanga has been a leading member.
Another significant fact is that India’s armed resistance movements in the 7 states of its northeast have never formed grand alliances like those in Burma, that have boasted the National Democratic Front (NDF) in 1976, Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) in 2001 and currently the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) since 2011.
Zoramthanga was accompanied by two assistants and No Than Kap, Chin affairs minister for Sagaing. Chins and Mizos are ethnic cousins.
Chin State is bigger than Mizoram, 36,000 sq.km to 21,000 sq.km, but less than half the population of the latter, 1million.
Regarding Mizoram relations with Chin National Front (CNF), he said. “I have made quite clear to them (I hope) that we are with them in peace but not in war.”
He added that, on the other hand, 7 Kuki groups in Manipur had also asked for assistance. “I had advised them if they are trying to negotiate with the Indian government separately, there is nothing it (Indian government) can do for you. They have to form a single negotiation body to speak for all.”