World View Columns

Peace in Myanmar?

The finalisation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) between representatitves from 16 ethnic armed organisations (EAOs), the Army, and the government in Myanmar is a welcome step. The negotiators from all these sides must be congratulated for their efforts.

On March 31, a tentative deal was reached in Yangon, the formal capital of Myanmar, which set out a framework for a countrywide cessation of armed conflicts.

The agreement was welcomed by the United Nations, which has been acting as an observer to the peace talks. “For the government of Myanmar and 16 Ethnic Armed Groups to reach a ceasefire agreement after more than 60 years of conflict is a historic and significant achievement,” said a statement released on behalf of the UN Special Advisor Vijay Nambiar.

Welcoming the development, Myanmar President Thein Sein said at the draft signing ceremony that “the people need peace, they desire peace and they expect peace” and hopes to see a full agreement signed within the next few months.

The draft agreement, which came after numerous bilateral ceasefires negotiated with individual ethnic armed groups, was reached over several rounds of formal negotiations between the parties beginning from November 2013.

While the latest political development needs to be welcomed and appreciated heartily, every conscious political observer should understand the challenges that still remain.

First, the deal has been reached between negotiators from members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC), and representatives of the Army who have been tasked to draft the document.

The text of the agreement will be forwarded and reviewed internally by leaders of each ethnic armed group in their respective camps. Though the text is likely to be endorsed and supported by individual armed groups, there is still a possibility of opposition from some quarters.

Even if leaders of all participating ethnic armed groups accept the deal, the process can drag on for months before a consensus can be reached by the elites. During the course of ceasefire negotiations, there were instances of differences/ disagreements on critical issues such as the role of the military in politics and the establishment of a federal army.

The goal of the NCA is to pave the way for political dialogue, similar to the 1947 conference held in Panglong, to find solutions for the decades-old, ethno-political problems in the country, including the ethnic minorities’ demand for autonomy under a federal structure.

The other issue pertains to the non-participation of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) armed group in the peace process. Some analysts believe that the absence of MNDAA was a deliberate strategy by the government.

The armed conflict between MNDAA and the Myanmar army began on February 9 in Laukkai township, when MNDAA fighters who were trying to retake the Kokang self-administered zone attacked Myanmar army outposts near the towns of Mawhtike and Tashwehtan. The army resorted to airstrikes in retaliatory attacks. In the ensuing armed clashes, many were killed on both sides — government troops and Kokang fighters. Thousands of civilians have either fled the conflict zone or have become internally displaced persons.

Emergency in Kokang

In an attempt to control the upsurge of violence and to subdue MNDAA fighters, President Thein Sein declared a three-month state of emergency in the Kokang self-administered zone in the northern part of Shan state on February 17.

MNDAA, under the leadership of Phon Kya Shin, had agreed to a ceasefire with government forces from 1989 to 2009. The two decades of ceasefire ended when MNDAA rejected the Myanmar government’s proposal that it become a border guard force under the command of the Myanmar army.

Of the 16 EAOs represented in the NCCT, ethnic armed groups such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) are two others yet to sign bilateral ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar government.

While the NCA draft is a positive development, the Myanmar government and all other political stakeholders, including the international community, should understand that a true nationwide ceasefire cannot be possible as long as armed conflicts continue in Shan state and Kachin state.

Instead of sidelining them, the government should invite MNDAA leaders to the negotiating table for a viable political solution. Even if the government is unable to meet the demand of every armed group, all possible options should be explored through peaceful means.

(Nehginpao Kipgen is general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum.)

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2020 5:34:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/peace-in-myanmar/article7078255.ece

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