By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
The ten signatories to the National Cease fire Agreement started a five-day meeting at Chiang Mai from May 14-18 to discuss about the agreement and how to move the peace process forward.
It looks that having been brought into the “bag”, the smaller groups which have unwittingly joined the cease fire agreement without a well thought out agenda are fighting for their relevance in the absence of any progress on the political dialogue. One member of the group the KNU has already withdrawn from the peace process for all practical purposes.
It is not clear why this group decided to meet in Chiangmai and not in Naypyitaw itself where it could move freely and consult others.
The ten groups that have joined are light weights and the real ones – the UWSA and others in the Northern Alliance who are outside the NCA who have the muscle and the strength do not seem to have any idea of joining the NCA in the near future. More importantly except for the Arakan Army which is fighting in a different theatre and the Kachins for different reasons, the rest are all fully supported and sustained by China. It is China on one side and the Myanmar Army on the other that hold the key for peace and stability in the non Bamar regions.
Therefore, it is not at all clear as to what made the ten small groups to band together and go for a lengthy meeting of five days with lofty ideas to get all the parties, particularly the seven-party alliance led by UWSA to actively participate in the peace process.
The Communique in the meeting said that the meeting will focus on three topics.
- Seek ways to enable the Peace process Steering team to proceed collectively.
- To seek ways for resumption of political talks.
3. To encourage the non-signatories and the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) to actively participate in the peace process.
A day after the talks, the participants realized the futility of their efforts and one Representative- Yawd Serk of RCSS said openly that the peace process will have to be pursued beyond 2020- that is after the next general elections. The Tatmadaw has also said on many occasions that they expect peace and stability to be restored by 2020. Probably they expect many changes after the next elections when the NLD of Suu Kyi will have lesser representation and perhaps, at least the Army is hoping that their proxy USDP on the civilian side would perform better for eventual synergy between the Army with quarter of the seats in the Parliament and the USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party of Myanmar) making a decent showing.
There are two issues that need to be factored in discussing the peace process. The mighty display of the WA group on the 30th anniversary celebrations at Pangshang where China was represented along with low level officials of Myanmar Government showed how a bilateral ceasefire and de facto “independent economy” has transformed the Wa region as one of the most developed regions in that part of Myanmar. This is the model which the non-signatories would aspire for.
Those foreign correspondents who were allowed to witness the celebrations came back with the feeling that there is no difference between the two sides of the international border between China and Myanmar in the Wa region. In short, the Wa region led by UWSA is enjoying a status higher than the status of a federal union. The Myanmar Peace process authorities as well as the Tatmadaw are fully aware of the hapless situation Myanmar is in, in dealing with the Wa region.
Added to this is that UWSA in their objectives of the FPNCC is for stripping away the military seats in the constitution which the Army will resist. The cease fire process suggested by the FPNCC is a totally different narrative from that propounded by the Government in the National Cease fire agreement.
The second is the civil war raging in the Rakhine region between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army. With more reinforcements coming in to the Western Command, the Tatmadaw is seen poised for a long haul. According to the Arakan Army Sources, in the first 12 days of May, 33 clashes took place and on 13th May there was a major clash at the Kyauktaw township. In one case in a village, the army took away all the able bodied youths over 80 in number and are said to have interrogated (tortured?) them only to finally arrest four supposed members of Arakan Army. The situation in some areas is rather serious with many villages starving with the Myanmar Army going for the familiar tactics of “three cuts”.
There was a major ambush by the AA on an Army Convoy at Sittwe highway. Another major clash that resulted in causalities to the Army was also reported from Kyauktaw township.
These details are being mentioned to show that unless the Rakhine fighting is settled and a bilateral ceasefire is worked between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar Army as also with the KIA there is no hope for any peace under the “Panglong” Spirit. Added to this is the possibility (though remote as China may not allow it) of other groups of the seven-party alliance joining hands in the fighting against the Tatmadaw. This will be the death knell of the entire peace process.
It for this same reason that it is felt that the initiative taken by the ten EAOs who have signed the National Cease fire Agreement for five-day meeting to move forward with the peace process is to be seen as an “exercise in futility”