Aung Zaw Tun
The road to peace, on which the current Myanmar government embarked in 2011, has been all but smooth. After four years of negotiations, seven meetings between the UPWC and NCCT, a signed national ceasefire agreement draft and four ethnic armed organisation summits to discuss ratifying that agreement, Myanmar remains in an official state of conflict.
The fourth Ethnic Armed Organisation Summit, held June 2-9 at the Karen National Union (KNU) headquarters in Law Khee Lar, Kayin State, failed to produce a consensus on the national ceasefire agreement. This has called into question the entire approach currently adopted by the government and ethnic groups, which requires any ceasefire deal to be unanimously approved by all ethnic armed organisations.
Nonetheless, the process continues along the same path, with the goal now being to reconcile 15 points of contention raised at the Law Khee Lar summit. The summit appointed a 15-person high-level coordination team, which has been given greater authorisation to negotiate with the government than the NCCT.
The fifteen-member coordination team is led by Naw Zipporah Sein, vice-chairperson of KNU, and Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) General Secretary Dr La Ja serves her deputy. On June 14, it was announced that the new negotiating team would meet with representatives of the Myanmar government.
Representatives of the government announced that they are trying to adopt the nationwide ceasefire agreement this month so that political talks can be held before the general election. But the current state of the peace process hardly feels conducive to such ambitions. Many ethnic armed organisations believe that the current draft of the national ceasefire agreement offers too few guarantees. Another obstacle is the demand by ethnic leaders that all rebel groups sign the agreement in order for it to come into effect, including the MNDAA (Kokang Army), which clashed with government troops over the last few months in Laukkaing.
Other obstacles include government demands for top-level leaders of ethnic armed groups to sign the agreement and the requirement for the UN, Asean, China, the US, the UK, Japan, Norway, India and Thailand to serve as observers to the agreement. Finally, ethnic groups demand the release of political prisoners, including their own detained members. These demands go beyond the agreements made between the UPWC and NCCT. Rather than serving the interests of the people, these controversial demands serve only to forestall a peace agreement.
Fresh, innovative approaches must be adopted to achieve peace in this country. Government and ethnic leaders must take note of the obstacles standing in the way of resolving Myanmar’s six-decade long conflict. If they fail to do this, they can be held responsible for perpetuating civil war and prolonging Myanmar’s lack of development.
Due to the civil war, over 100,000 people remain internally displaced in Kachin State, and another 100,000 refugees live in camps on the Myanmar-Thailand border. Thousands of others remain displaced around the country. The government has not implemented any plans for their rehabilitation and resettlement. If these problems are to be solved, leaders in the government and of ethnic armed groups must put aside their political ambitions and work pragmatically and exclusively for peace.