The signing of a nationwide ceasefire (NCA) in Burma (Myanmar) seems as distant as ever following the release of a 12 point statement issued by the participants of the ethnic armed organisations (EAO) leaders meeting.
The meeting, involving the senior leaders of 12 ethnic groups, was organised by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and held at their headquarters in Pangsang, Eastern Shan State from May 1-6.
The Burmese military and government will have no problems with some of the points made in the statement.
These include: a promise from the ethnic groups that they will not secede from the union; a call for all inclusive political dialogue to include the government, parliament, the army, political parties, ethnic groups and civil society organisations (CSOs); and a call for all parties involved in the peace process to have mutual respect for each other because there is a need to build unity between Burmese and non-Burmese.
Other points are similar to clauses in ceasefire agreements made between individual ethnic groups and the government that the army have had no qualms about breaking.
These include: a call to reject the use of force to solve political problems and instead to use political, and the stopping of human rights violations in ethnic areas.
There are other points in the statement that the government and army will be be far less likely to accept. This could cause long delays to the ratification of the draft NCA that was signed on March 31 between the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) representing the government and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) representing ethnic groups.
Two points call for much the same thing; one calls for an end to the fighting in Northern Shan State and Kachin State, while the other statement calls for an end to fighting in Northern Burma. These areas include the Kokang area in Northern Shan State that has seen a lot of heavy fighting recently between the Burma Army and the Myanmar Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) or Kokang Group, and to a lesser extent the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA).
The Burma Army has a record of agreeing to such demands before signing a ceasefire before later breaking them with impunity. What makes it less likely that they will agree to these points this time is the call by the ethnic groupss for the ceasefire in Northern Burma to be monitored by U.N. and Chinese peacekeepers.
Another point that the government is likely to find unacceptable is that the constitution will have to be changed to guarantee ethnic rights, self-determination and a federal union before the NCA can be signed.
The government has been very resistant to changing the constitution despite pressure from many groups, including the U.S. government, ahead of elections later this year. The government has also previously said there is no need to formalise a federal union.
The statements the government and army are likely to have the biggest problems with are: all EAOs must have the right to sign the NCA even if they have not previously individually signed a ceasefire agreement with the government and that a group that includes representatives from all EAOs should be allowed to negotiate with the government and participate in political dialogue.
This is likely to cause problems because the government is adamant that it will not recognise the MNDAA or the AA, whilst the TNLA has not signed a ceasefire with the government.
The army’s animosity against these groups is so great that it was threatening to arrest their leaders as they travelled to the Pangsang conference, even though such an action could have ruined the conference. The army did not act on that threat, but the government did warn journalists that they could face prosecution for reporting on the conference if they were seen to be in contact with members of an illegal organisation.
Another point that the government will disapprove of is the support from all the conference participants for the formation of a Wa State.
The statement concludes that another conference of ethnic leaders will be held “at a convenient time”.
There was hope that the Pansang conference would move the NCA signing process forward, but it appears not to have really clarified anything or advanced the NCA signing process in any meaningful way.
As is so often the case with the peace process in Burma, it appears that it has gone one step forward whilst going two steps back.
The 12 points in the Statement from the participants at the EAO Leaders Conference in Pansang are:
- We reject the use of force. Political problems have to be solved by political means.
- All ceasefire groups and non-ceasefire groups must have the right to sign the NCA.
- The fighting in Northern Shan State and Kachin State must stop because it causes distrust.
- Human rights violations in ethnic areas must stop.
- The constitution has to be amended to guarantee ethnic rights, self-determination and a federal union.
- We will not secede from the union
- Fighting in Northern Burma must stop and the U.N. and China must monitor the ceasefire.
- There must be all-inclusive political dialogue that includes the government, parliament, the army, political parties, EAOs and civil society organisations.
- We all live together in the union, so we should have mutual respect and help each other. We need to build unity between Burmese and non-Burmese.
- A group that includes representatives of all EAO groups should negotiate with the government and participate in political dialogue.
- Conference participants support the proposal for the formation of a Wa State.
- The United Wa State Party/Army will organise another EAO leaders conference at a convenient time.
The author would like to thank Sai Leik of the Myanmar Peace Monitor for translating the statement points above from Burmese into English.