Peace is not for sale

Writer: 
Nay Htun Naing

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Presidential office's minister Aung Min and officials from Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC) paid a visit to Japan on April 14.

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Presidential office's minister Aung Min and officials from Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC) paid a visit to Japan on April 14.

The delegation discussed with the Japanese government officials over Myanmar's peace process during their four-day trip. But it was more like convincing the Japanese officials to support them rather than holding a discussion.

Just a day before their trip, General N'Ban La, chairperson of United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), sent an open letter to President Thein Sein on April 13, calling for an end to armed conflict including the Kokang issue through negotiation.

There could have been self-interest behind the both Aung Min's Japanese trip and General N'Ban La's open letter.

Japan is supporting Myanmar's peace process on two fronts: the first is through the government-to-government means and the second is aiding ethnic armed groups directly from the Nippon Foundation.

The Nippon Foundation is the major donor of the UNFC.

Aung Min told the Japanese government that their peace process is successful with the draft of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) as a proof, and asked for further aid. They have convinced them successfully since the Japanese government agreed to provide US$ 83 million in development aid as it promised last year.

General N'Ban La's open letter pointed out the possible challenge to nationwide ceasefire although it appreciated the NCA draft as a positive result.

It seems as though General N'Ban La wanted to partake in ending armed clashes in the Kokang region through negotiation.

But due to the military's statement dated April 15, the desire of N'Ban La is unlikely to turn out.

The military's statement emphasised reoccupying the hills along the Laukkaing-Chinshwehal road with heavy force. By seeing this, it is clear that the military will not go easy on the Kokang conflict.

The NCA draft has been drawn, but the tension in the north-eastern Shan State, including the Kokang region, still continues.

Meanwhile, the military is engaging in another battle with the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine State. The first skirmish took place near Kyauktaw, northern Rakhine, and the battles were raging during Thingyan period.

This shows that the ceasefire process led by Aung Min and the MPC is not successful yet.

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An editorial of the Daily Eleven Newspaper issued in early April stated that the NCA draft is as fragile as the early agreements of educational law amendment.

Aung Min and some parliamentarians met with the leaders of the 88' Generation Peace and Open Society and student delegations from the Democratic Education Movement Leading Committee (DEMLC) at Nay Pyi Taw, on January 28, 2015.

Aung Min agreed to hold four-party talks – the government, Parliament, National Network for Education Reform (NNER) and DEMLC – as the students requested.

The four-party talks commenced at the Jubilee Hall of Yangon University on February 1. Aung Min showed up and MPC officials supported him. Student representatives, delegations from NNER and parliamentarians also attended the meeting.

Aung Min and the MPC officials used the way they did in the peace talks. There were some debates between him and the students.

The following negative results stemmed from that four party meeting.

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The Jubilee Hall meeting cannot be assumed successful.

However, Aung Min agreed perfunctorily on the 11-point demand of the students and nine other preconditions after seven of them were modified. The unsettled clauses were put off to discuss later.

Similarly, the unresolved clauses are put under 'to be continued' section in the NCA draft.

The February 1 discussion was held but the February 3 meeting scheduled in Nay Pyi Taw was not.     

The talk resumed on February 11 in Yangon Region Parliament in the absence of Aung Min and MPC delegates. Another presidential office's minister Hla Htun attended as a government's representative.

The two preconditions unsettled from February 1 were agreed there. The students' 11 primary demands were discussed and agreed on.

Then another round of talks were held on February 14 and the participants agreed to finish the draft to amend the education law the following day.

But an unexpected thing happened.

The student protest column demanding amendment to the education law in Letpadan was brutally dispersed on March 10.

Those who participated in the protest column and the members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) and the student representatives were all arrested and sent to Thayawaddy Prison.

This can be assumed that the government broke the agreement reached on February 11 giving a good reason.

Aung Min, MPC officials and student representatives discussed for the first time. Then the talk was held between Hla Htun and the students. Both talks agreed on a matter: Not to take action against the students and supporters of the protest column.

The government arrested the student leaders of the ABFSU, but not the members of the University Students' Union.

That shows discrimination within the DEMLC.

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Aung Min and MPC led the student talks. It is also them who have negotiated with ethnic armed groups for four years.

There is no doubt that their attitude towards their adversaries is fixed.

So, the approach of Aung Min and MPC to DEMLC and that to the UNFC are the same.

This is to say that they used the same method that can dissolve DEMLC and the same would be employed on the UNFC and other ethnic armed groups.

Aung Min and MPC have reportedly employed methods to disintegrate the UNFC since before 2014.

There were people who tried to divide the unity of the UNFC's member Kachin Independence Organisation/Army (KIO/KIA) and the Karen National Union (KNU).

Aung Min and MPC officials told the Japanese government to support them and also could urge it to review the aid given to the UNFC.  

Aung Min and MPC have the idea that the UNFC will not be able to survive for long without its major donor Nippon Foundation.

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The UNFC – a coalition of 11 ethnic armed groups – has existed since February 2011 under the leadership of KIO.

The KIO's vice-chairperson N' Ban La has taken the UNFC's chairperson role.

The KNU had also become a member of the UNFC but suspended its membership.    

The UNFC was a powerful ethnic opposition to the government, Aung Min and the MPC till 2013. The government managed to put some ethnic groups in its favour but not the entire UNFC.

The UNFC is now serving as a big hurdle to Aung Min and the MPC.

Since 2013, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) has become more distinctive for its role in ceasefire negotiations with the government.

But after the NCA draft was drawn, the stances of UNFC and the other leaders of ethnic armed groups became more important than that of NCCT.  

The open letter of N' Ban La was given to the President Thein Sein among such situations.

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On the other hand, the UNFC has tried to influence not only the northern part but also the north-eastern part of the country.

The UNFC had had a secret plan for Phone Kyar Shin to make him retake the Kokang region since 2011.

That is why the UNFC included Phone Kyar Shin's Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) as a member.

Phone Kyar Shin fled from Kokang in 2009 and reentered the country after getting aid from Wa, Mongla and China in 2015.

Although the methods misfired, Kokang battles waged by Phone Kyar Shin are in line with the UNFC's primary plan.

That is why the UNFC called for an end to the battles in Kokang and to find a solution through political means.

Now, Phone Kyar Shin and the Kokang issue pose a barrier to the signing of the NCA. Armed conflict has also spread from northern Kachin State to northeastern Kokang. Clashes renewed since 2013 and 2014 resulting from the issue of Kyaukphyu-Kunming oil pipelines have been concentrated around the Kokang region and its surrounding areas in 2015.

TNLA allied with KIA and AA under the UNFC are aiding and abetting Phone Kyar Shin’s Kokang group. During Kachin conflict, KIA received help covertly from the Kokang group while Wa and Mongla groups rendered indirect assistance to Kokang troops.

Aung Min and MPC officials will find it difficult to sign the NCA despite their efforts to mobilize the international community by holding the draft NCA.

During their trip to Japan, they succeeded in gaining continued financial support. Even if the UNFC collapsed as they could try to get the Nippon Foundation, which is directly supporting the ethnic armed groups including the UNFC, to cut its assistance, it would not be that easy to address the Kokang issue.

This problem will not be solved either just by issuing car import permits.

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If KIO is not behind the Kokang group backed by China, the UNFC is behind it. Plus, Wa or UWSA and Mongla group are aiding Phone Kyar Shin. Wa and Mongla also backed by China.

Myanmar’s military has already said that it will not totally accept the Kokang group led by Phone Kyar Shin. Looking at the strengthened number of military forces in the Kokang region, it seems that the military wants to wipe out the Kokang rebels. This concerns the dignity of the military.

Another point is that the Myanmar people including former military officers view the Kokang issue separately. Some see the Kokang issue as an issue of encroaching upon national sovereignty.

However, the UNFC, Wa and Mongla have pushed for Phone Kyar Shin’s involvement in signing the NCA.

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The ethnic armed groups will hold of a summit of their leaders in Pangsan, where UWSA is headquartered, from May 1 to 3 to approve the NCA draft. But the issue is confusing.

The first point is that reports have erupted that UWSA offered to hold the summit in the Wa region at a request by China.

Secondly, only 12 ethnic armed groups, not all, have been invited to attend the summit. Every NCCT member who participated in the ceasefire draft discussion with the government was not invited. According to earlier reports, KNU will not attend the summit but it has changed its mind.

It is not possible to find common ground at such a summit that does not allow the leaders of all ethnic armed groups which the government itself has recognised.   

The third point is that UWSA has invited Phone Kyar Shin-led MNDAA and AA to attend the summit though the government does not welcome them. Regarding that matter, a government delegation led by Thein Zaw planned to visit Pangsan on April 9 but they failed. But they may visit there during these days.

UWSA admitted to government pressure on this matter but had reiterated that they will be invited.

UWSA spokesperson Aung Myint said the NCA signing would be difficult without the Kokang group.

Plans are underway to establish a separate body to resolve the Kokang conflict. But there is little hope of a solution.

Under current circumstances, the ethnic summit scheduled in Pangsan is unlikely to yield good results. Only the Kokang issue will be focused on without any solution to the draft NCA.

If complete agreement is not reached, the signing of the NCA as desired by President Thein Sein, Aung Min and MPC will be a long way away.

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The NCA signing is the dignity of Thein Sein and the aspirations of Aung Min and MPC. They will know the best whether or not their aspirations concern their interests.  

Now there are those who are clapping for the successful completion of the draft NCA. But we have to judge whether their clapping is for themselves or for the sake of the Myanmar people.

The US, the EU, Norwegian and Swiss embassies and INGOs like UNICEF promptly released statements to welcome the draft ceasefire agreement.

It is clear that behind such welcome are some monetary issues rather than dishonest and insincerity.    

International donors have provided millions of dollars and promised more for Myanmar’s peace process. Financial support will be cut or halted unless any success is achieved within four years. The NCA draft became a tool to receive continued support.

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International aid plays a key role in Myanmar’s peace process. Much of financial support comes through the government, Aung Min and MPC.

The EU gives financial support mainly to MPC. The EU aid started in November 2012 with mainly for expenses of the MPC office and staff.

According to figures available last year, the EU initially provided US$ 900,000 to MPC. For 2012-13, the EU also provided 16 million euros for peace building efforts. Twenty million more euros are also provided in humanitarian aid. Information about how much has been provided in three years and how much will be further provided is not available yet.

Peace Donor Support Group (PDSG), established by the Norwegian government at President Thein Sein’s request, and Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI) have also provided financial aid in Myanmar’s peace issues.

In March 2013, MPC adviser Tin Maung Than said PDSG pledged to provide US$ 30 million after collecting US$ 500,000 each from donor groups and countries.  

For MPSI, it promised to provide US$ 70 million for the country’s peace process. But how much has been spent is unknown. Between 2012 and 2013, MPSI implemented 17 projects worth US$ 2 million in Myanmar.  

PDSG was formed in 2012 with representatives from Norway, Australia, Britain, the EU, the UN and the World Bank. In 2013, the US, Japan and Switzerland joined the group. This is why those countries promptly released their statements welcoming the draft nationwide ceasefire agreement.

They exaggerated the completion of the draft NCA amid criticisms of financial support for Myanmar’s peace process.

They have been dubbed ‘peace dealers’. There are two reasons why such criticisms have erupted. The first reason is that they are working in favour of the government and MPC because of their close ties.

The second reason is that they spent donors’ money quickly on projects that yielded few benefits for the public at a time when there is no guarantee for peace.

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 In addition to donor groups, there are also individual countries providing financial support for Myanmar’s peace process.

Japan uses two ways—providing financial aid directly for the government and through the Nippon Foundation.

The UNFC and the Nippon Foundation inked a memorandum of understanding in 2012. Japan provided US$ 3 million’s worth of humanitarian aid.  

Later, the Japanese government awarded Myanmar a US$ 12-million grant and MPC received US$ 1.2 million.

In early 2014, Japan also announced an aid of US$ 96 million to be spent in five years for the war-torn regions.

Australia’s aid focused on Myanmar’s effort for peace and good governance. It spent US$ 64.2 million in 2012-13 and US$ 78.8 million in 2013-14. The money was spent on humanitarian work in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states and rehabilitation of war refugees in Kayin State.

Switzerland provided Swiss Franc 35 million to be spent in five years for regional development and peace efforts. The provision is effective until 2017.

Last year, Britain promised 13.5 million pounds for war victims and humanitarian work in Kachin State.

The amount of international financial support and further pledges is unknown. Moreover, the government asked for Ks 7 billion for peace issue expenses in the previous fiscal year.

What we are sure is that monetary issues are behind the country’s peace process. Both donors and receivers have their own interests behind peace process.

The peace process has not achieved as much success as expected. When doubts were cast, the draft NCA was completed. They have a chance to show a certain result, but not the end result or it should not be a tool.

Much has to be done to silence the sound of gunfire and achieve peace.

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We still have much difficulty signing the NCA. This is why I wrote a news article titled “Stop the sound of gunfire first” in the April 6 issue of Weekly Eleven journal, saying that it is important to ensure that the draft NCA endures.  

Recognising Phone Kyar Shin-led Kokang group that both the military and people do not accept and pushing for signing the NCA and holding political dialogues during the term of Thein Sein’s government will confuse the situation. Then genuine political dialogue will not happen.

This is not the issue that could be addressed in a short time. It takes much time. There must be sincerity for every action.

If the process is carried out promptly without honesty and sincerity, our country will get into trouble because of Aung Min and MPC.

Their sincerity plays a major role in the peace process. They should not spread propaganda that peace is achieved just because the draft NCA has been signed. They will not be able to solve the problem by mobilising the international community while showing off their draft ceasefire agreement.

Not only the ethnic minorities but also everyone wants peace. They want to see that armed conflict between the ethnic groups comes to an end. But any agreement must endure.

Peace will be far away as long as those involved in the country’s peace process seek their self interest and have no sincerity. Particularly, peace is not for sale.

[Note: Some facts included in this article are referred to the peace guide (2014) issued by Myanmar Peace Monitor.]