Behind battles, resources, economy, lack of peace…

Nay Htun Naing

The Union Peace Conference (UPC) will be held on January 12. A total of 700 representatives have been invited to it. The conference reminds me of the National Convention.

The National Convention was held on January 9, 1993. The UPC is on January 12.

The convention gathered 702 representatives, and the UPC, 700.

Eight groups of representatives attended the convention; five will show up at the UPC.

Altogether 107 elected candidates from the 1990 election were allowed to attend the convention. The UPC only allows 75 elected candidates which is lower than that in the convention.

In the convention, 49 representatives of the political parties, 107 elected candidates, 215 ethnic representatives, 93 farmer representatives, 48 labour representatives, 41 scholars, 92 civil servants, and 57 other distinguished individuals. Apart from 107 elected candidates, all the other attendees stood on the same ground.

Therefore the 1993 convention was just a window dressing and under influence of the dictators.

The convention ended in 2007 and produced the 2008 constitution.

The National Convention lasted 14 years. No one knows how long the UPC will last.

The Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC) primarily expected the UPC could take five years.

The framework for political dialogue’s sub-section 4-2-4 mentions the UPC will start in January 2016, and take place every four-month.

The convention was to draft the constitution. The constitution came out, but is highly customised by the dictators. The political conflicts still remain.

The UPC is aimed to achieve everlasting peace or to seal the union concord. Some call it political dialogue in spite of the lack of inclusiveness. This conference is not a political dialogue or the second Pinlon Conference.

Will it end without even a start?

The peace process, began in 2012, took over four years. The process was bombastic and expensive. The gunshots do not get silent and the battle grounds are still reek of gunpowder.

The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) was signed between the government and eight out of 21 ethnic armed groups.

The powerful armed groups: the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) did not sign the NCA.

It can be said that only 15 per cent of the overall ethnic armed groups signed the NCA. It will definitely be difficult to build the federal union on the foundation of peace conference with 15 per cent of ethnic groups.

The conference also invited the ethnic groups that did not sign the NCA, but almost every one of them will not attend.

The battles continue in the regions where the ethnic groups that did not sign the NCA exist. Some reckon there is military pressure. Another reason is that they think they are being discriminated against since they do not have the decision-making role in the conference.

This is the first cause that can undo the UPC even before it ever begins.

Another factor is the decision-making privilege of the attendees.

The UPC will see 75 government delegates, 75 members of parliament, 150 military representatives, and 150 representatives from the eight ethnic armed groups that signed the NCA, 150 from official political parties, 50 ethnic representatives and other 50 invited individuals.

Sub-section 6-2 of the framework for political dialogue which concerns the establishment of the federal union, political security, and security reconciliation and other important matters takes over 75 per cent votes in support from each delegation, and over 75 per cent support of the overall attendees.

It takes more than 50 per cent votes in support from each delegation, and over 65 per cent support of the overall attendees to make a decision over any matters apart from the sub-section 6-2 of the framework for political dialogue.

For sub-section 6-2, it takes more than 525 representatives. But since 150 military representatives count as a group, nothing will be done without the support of the defence services.

Even if 75 government delegates and 75 members of parliament share the same opinion after the National League for Democracy (NLD) took the office, the support of the military is still needed.

Moreover, it is hard to say that 150 from official political parties, 50 ethnic representatives and other 50 invited attendees share the same view with the NLD.

The matters apart from sub-section 6-2 take over 455 votes to be decided. Nothing can be done without the support of the military.

Even if the NLD government signed the NCA with all the armed ethnic groups and the all-inclusive UPC was to be held, the consent of the defence services would still be required to decide on any matters according to the current proportions.

Just as the 2008 constitution is difficult to reform. The second situation could end the UPC even before it ever begins.

The NLD’s view

Aung San Suu Kyi, the chair of the NLD, said she would not attend the UPC.

The NLD commented that it wanted the UPC session to end in short time.

The government primarily wanted to hold the UPC for 10 days – from January 12-22. But at the NLD’s comment, the government officials agreed to hold it for only five days – from January 12-16.

The NLD actually wanted the UPC to end in three days, according to some sources.

Hla Maung Shwe, the senior adviser of the MPC, wrote on his social network page on January 7 that the government had to shorten the meeting days at the request of other stakeholders.

Presidential office minister Aung Min, the leader of the MPC, and other senior members met with Aung San Suu Kyi on December 23.

There were no briefings about the meeting, but it was said they discussed over the peace process and the UPC.

The NLD once said it had no intention to disband the MPC. It was unknown if the current members will remain.

Aung San Suu Kyi said she would not attend the UPC after this.

There were reports that Hla Maung Shwe refused the offer to carry out the peace process under Win Htein, the NLD’s central executive committee member, and said he would continue the process only once all the MPC members are employed.

Another conflict is in the talks over the framework for the political dialogue.

The government wanted five-party (defence services, government, parliament, ethnic armed groups, and political parties).

The ethnic groups wanted three-party (defence services + government + parliament, ethnic armed groups, and political parties).

It was settled thanks to Myo Win, the deputy chairperson of the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF). It was agreed to go with five parties.

There were reports that the NLD was unhappy to hear the rumours that the disagreement settled due to the NLD’s central executive member Nyan Win.

In the planning of the UPC, there were also rumours stating that Nyan Win’s negotiation caused the conference to include 150 military representatives and that the ethnic groups were unhappy with it.

Some say these rumours were to cause dissension between the NLD and the ethnic groups.

Some say these events cause Aung San Suu Kyi not to attend the UPC, and she also decided to reform the political dialogue framework and the NCA conditions.

The UPC is the last attempt of President Thein Sein to achieve peace, and the MPC put all-out effort into it.

The ethnicity issue and peace also included in the NLD’s election manifesto.

MPC’s move and current situation

President Thein Sein’s peace dream did not come true, and the MPC is responsible. Myanmar’s civil wars are different from that of Colombia and Afghanistan.

The MPC has put the government, defence services and ethnic armed groups on the wrong political track.

The government failed to obtain peace. The military lost more money on battles and many soldiers. The ethnic armed groups also suffered from losses.

However Aung Min, the presidential office minister and leader of the MPC, said in 2014 that Thura Title and Thihathura Title do not belong to the brave servicemen since they are just battling with the ethnic brethren. He later apologised for it.

The armed conflicts in Laukkai and Kokang need further reviews, too.

The MPC supports the policy that makes China concerned by allying with the US. The consequence is Kokang battles, military expenses and inflation. The military was used for this cause.       

The MPC also tried to spread the notion that China is to blame for the failure to obtain the all-inclusive NCA.

Dr Min Zaw Oo, the director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation department at the MPC, was quoted saying that China intervened in signing of the NCA in one Reuters report in October 2015.

When facing with the condemnation from China, Min Zaw Oo denied he said these words.

The MPC has close connections with both the US diplomats and China. Nyo Ohn Myint and Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing were accused of bridging between China and the MPC.

Nyo Ohn Myint, one of the senior officials of the MPC, visited China recently. His trip was not briefed.

The ethnic armed groups that confront the government are connected with China in one way or another. Some tried to heighten the tensions by using these connections in past four years and now.

The dissension happened among ethnic armed groups and the unity is failing. The ethnic groups know how the MPC made it happens.

The Karen National Union (KNU) – who signed the NCA – was divided by two opposing views. There were reports the Democratic Karen Benevolence Army’s (DKBA) leadership separated in two.  

What is RCSS's next move?

After the signing of NCA, RCSS/SSA has taken steps to reach out the whole Shan State. And this had led to confrontation with SSPP/SSA and PSLF/TNLA and KIO/KIA.

Behind SSPP/SSA are UWSA and KIA. UWSA always stands by SSPP. It did render military aid several times. That's why it could have been meant to show aggressiveness towards SSPP so as to fan the flames of UWSA, which is the NCA non-signatory. Behind TNLA is also KIA. TNLA was only a 20-strong army in 2012. Now, it has nearly 4,000 troops. After 2012, MPC attempted to mobilise TNLA. But it didn't work and large battles occurred in TNLA-controlled areas.

The influence of RCSS within Shan State has accelerated later on. SSPP and TNLA got involved in clashes. Meanwhile, RCSS is not on friendly terms with UWSA.

As China supports KIA and UWSA, there are also reports that behind RCSS is Han Nyaung Wai-led EBO (the Euro-Burma Office) financed by EU, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Switzerland. Like KNU, RCSS is on friendly terms with MPC.

Some military experts expect that RCSS aims to reach out to the Moegaung-Moehnyin plains held by KIA. Though we cannot say how correct these facts are, a rebel group called Shanni National Army (SNA), which has a strong aversion to KIA, has emerged.

SNA is said to be in active on border between Kachin State and Sagaing Region. But who lead SNA is unknown.

As some say RCSS and SNA share a common aim, the latter's ambition is to control the Shan areas held by KIA. This would be a confrontation between SNA and KIA.

In the meantime, there are divisions within KIA itself. KIA's vice chief of staff Maj-General Gwan Maw, who has been a known peace negotiator over the past four years, saw his assigned duties of military and foreign affairs reduced. KIA appointed two new vice chiefs of staff in the last week of December.

A skirmish broke out between RCSS and the government army on December 31. It was the first clash with an NCA signatory ethnic armed group.

On January 9, a Joint Monitoring Committee-Shan State(JMC-S) was formed between RCSS and PLNO, which is also a peace signatory. The committee formation is a way to avoid such clashes.

The Union Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC-U) was already formed on January 8. The committee said that it would cost US$21 million to implement its three-year project. So, discussion was held with outside donors. The expenses for JMC-U is being arranged by MPC and the military. Who calculated the amount of US$21 million?

Looking at this amount, we can also estimate how much they have spent on the country's peace process over the past four years. It would be a large sum of money. We have sent an e-mail to the EU, the main financial sponsor of MPC, asking for the amount of the spending. No reply is received yet. According to the EU's official website, it pledged Euro 25 million for Myanmar's peace process in 2013.

Over the past four years, it has been proved that money could not buy peace, regardless of how much international cash assistance we received.  

Political instability is one reason we have not achieved peace. Peace could not be achieved without having the 2008 constitution amended.

Natural resources, economy and peace

Without political stability, we cannot achieve peace. But the internal armed conflict is mainly related to resource sharing.

Equality and autonomy together with the establishment of a federal union is not related to political affairs only. It is also related to resource sharing and economic management. Unless we cannot consider this, solving the problems politically will be just a dream.

Reviewing the ongoing incidents, clashes occur based on resource sharing and economic projects.

The 17-year ceasefire agreement between the government army and KIA was broken following clashes stemming from Hsangan hydropower project on Tarpein River, Myintsone Dam project, agricultural projects in Tanaing Township, Chibwe dam project, timber extractions in Putao, Hpakant jade mines and gold deposits along the Ayeyawady River.

The clashes in Kayin State between the army and KNU also resulted from Wegyi Dam project, Darkwin Dam project and road construction issues. The military also clashed with DKBA in the aftermath of land issue in Myawady Special Economic Zone. Moreover, clashes between Karen nationals were related to the economic interest.

Ywathit Dam project, Lawpita Hydropower Station and Mawchi mining in Kayah State sparked provocation between the army and Karenni National Progressive Party.

Clashes with RCSS stemmed from Tarhsan Dam, Mongshu ruby mining and timber extractions. The confrontation Shan State Progressive Party resulted from Shweli Dam, Tarhsan Dam, Kyaukphyu-Kunming gas pipeline project and Mongshu ruby mining while the clashes with Ta'ang National Liberation Army were based on Shweli Dam and Kyaukphyu-Kunming gas pipeline project.

The clashes that occurred in those project areas are linked to the business interest, and they happened not only between the army and ethnic armed groups but also between the ethnic rebels. Indeed, the ordinary people bore the brunt of the conflict.

At the same time, there would be those who are profiting from making business while working on ceasefire efforts. Among those profiteers are some ethnic armed groups and their local crony businessmen, drugs lords and some crony businessmen of the government.

Making advantage of inequality in resource sharing and lack of discipline and rule of law, they exploited the country's natural resources on the pretext of war. Consequently, the forests were depleted and natural resources were lost through smuggling.

Those problems are accountable to the government, peace brokers, ethnic armed groups, drugs lords, small and large crony businessmen.

Inner circle

When it comes to Myanmar's natural resources, we must include natural gas, minerals including gold, platinum and silver, tin, zinc, bronze, lead, rare earth, industrial raw materials, jade, sapphire, ruby, hard wood and teak.

The local people in the regions concerned do not have a chance to benefit from those resources.

A report on Economics of Peace and Conflict in Myanmar issued by Myanmar Peace Monitor and Burma News International in 2013 revealed the monopoly of the country's economy by the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corporation and 17 cronies. The cronies are Tay Za, Tun Myint Naing, Zaw Zaw, Pyi Aung and Nay Aung, Aung Thet Mann, Michel Moe Myint, Nay Win Tun, Khin Shwe, Htay Myint, Aik Tun, Chit Khaing, Aung Ko Win, Serge Pun, Kyaw Win, Win Aung, Aung Myat and Tin Win.

The report also disclosed the firms and businesses run by ethnic armed groups. Chin National Front runs Khonumhtung Company and other businesses in the areas of construction, timber extraction, communications, trade and tourism. Democratic Karen Benevolent Army does not own a company but it engages in rubber and sandal wood cultivation, mineral exploration and teak production. The Border Guard Force in Kayin State also runs businesses of mining, agriculture and trade and consumer products though it has not registered for a company.  KIO registered as Buga in 1994. It engaged in distribution of electricity to Myitkyina, Mining (jade), trading, agribusiness (all activities except electricity distribution have stopped after the ceasefire broke down in 2011).

KNPP has Kayah Htarnay Co and Tamaw Hta. Kayah Htarnay Co engages in 'lead' exploration in Kayah state. Tamaw Hta will run as an import and export company focusing on timber (teak wood), according to the report.

KNU owns MOE KO SAN Travel & Tours Co. Ltd, Trading Company Ltd. It has unregistered businesses such as logging, mining, agribusiness, tourism and transportation. KNU/KNLA Peace Council KPC is also unregistered but it engages in rubber plantation, transportation and border trade and demanded exploration and trade licences for timber and mineral extraction and tourism in 2013.

NDAA has Shwe Lin Star Tourism registered in 1989. It runs businesses of mining, agribusiness, logging, trading, tourism, hotel and casino.

NMSP has Ramanya International (1995) and Hansawati Company and runs businesses Construction, agribusiness and trading (1995. Ramanya United was registered in 2012.

PNLO in 2013 was permitted to conduct logging, mining and minerals, trading, cement, construction, as well as run hotels and warehouses.

Shan Taungdan Cherry (2012) is owned by RCSS. It is permitted mining, road construction, logging, agriculture, power distribution, tourism, trading, transportation and agribusiness. It has proposed to establish industrial zone in southern Shan state.

SSPP has no registered company. Its leaders are known to have ruby mine and trading concessions following the 1989 ceasefire.

UWSA has Thawda Win registered in 2012. It was changed the name from Hong Pang Group (1988). It also runs Tet Kham Co. Ltd, Myanmar Dagaung Co. Ltd and Mong Mau Co. Ltd. It has multiple businesses: construction, agriculture, gems and minerals, logging, petroleum, electronics, telecommunications, factories, bank, distilleries, department stores, airline, hotels and brewery.

This information is officially released. Even under the State Law and Order Restoration Council government, a lot of businesses emerged owned by the armed groups which exchanged arms for peace and militia groups.

Business Peace brokers also played a role in this context.

Particularly, the involvement of Dawei Princess Co. Ltd in brokering and providing logistical and financial contributions during the early stages of KNU- Government peace talks demonstrates the role of businesses in bridging NSAGs with the government. The role of Kachin entrepreneurs belonging to the Peace Creation Group and Myanmar Egress members Hla Maung Shwe and Tin Maung Than belonging to MPC and their benefits are also called into question. They all say they are peace brokers not seeking self-interest.

Anyhow, they are enjoying benefits but the local people in the concerned regions still have to suffer.

Over the past five years, the central government only has controlled natural resources and economic management in ethnic areas under the constitutional provisions.

Self seekers profited from natural resources in the name of civil war. Coupled with losses of natural resources, the people living in the country had to suffer from oppression, injustice and dire poverty.

There was an attempt as well to buy peace for money. This achieved no success and the people had to suffer more. With the passage of time, peace was not seen and the country was plunged into poverty.

Now that we hold the Union Peace Conference in the form of the previous National Convention without any effort to address the root of the problem, it would be just window dressing with political and economic instabilities thereby contributing to wars again.

It is important for the NLD not to follow the wrong political way of President Thein Sein and MPC if it wants to see the tangible result of internal peace and ethnic issues as declared in its election manifesto.