In one of the final moves just before the formal transfer of power to the new administration, former president Thein Sein dissolved the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) and transferred its assets and properties to new organizations that will be led by leading figures and top officials of the MPC. The MPC was established in 2012 as a part of an agreement with the Norway-led Peace Donor Support Group that also comprised the European Union, Japan and United Nations agencies. The MPC was a beneficiary of massive investments from peace donors in the international community and became a prominent symbol of the former military-led Union Solidarity and Development Party Government’s “successful” peace process efforts. The former head of the MPC and chief negotiator in the previous administration, Aung Min, will helm the “Center for Peace and Development” – one of the new institutions – and would be joined by Tin Maung Thann, special adviser to the MPC.
Burma watchers and political analysts have decried the farce surrounding the MPC, with some even demanding that the organization should be audited and investigated for corruption and the lack of effectiveness over its term. A longtime Burma watcher and the Director of the Educational Initiatives, Igor Blaževič, commented on this transfer stating, “This deserves a proper investigation by [the European Anti Fraud Office]. If EU funds have been misused and misappropriated, [then] EU investigating office has right to undertake investigation.”
Evidently, there are sharp disjunctures in rhetoric, policy and daily realities despite the “success stories” peddled by the former Thein Sein Government. Since the NCA was signed in October 2015, the fighting has increased both in Kachin and northern Shan states. On the same day a new civilian president was sworn in on 1 April, 2016, fresh fighting flared up in northern Shan State. Meanwhile, a heavily securitization-centered approach continues particularly in restive areas like Rakhine State despite lifting the state of emergency. Arbitrary arrests and detention are rampant under the Unlawful Association Act (1908), which has been notoriously abused to designate the members and activities of EAOs, and anyone deemed to be affiliated with EAOs, as illegal. Allegations of torture of suspects and those accused of being sympathizers of the Arakan Army (AA) have also ramped up after renewed clashes with the Burma Army, who have also vowed to “eliminate” the group.
The NLD-led Government has inherited many issues created by the outgoing government and resolving armed conflict in ethnic areas remains at the top of their agenda. In his opening address in the inauguration ceremony, President U Htin Kyaw stressed the importance of peace, the prioritization of national reconciliation, achieving a truly-democratic constitution and genuine federal union. Another notable step forward was the creation of a new Cabinet portfolio- the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs- by the NLD-led Government. However, the move was met with lukewarm reactions, with doubt if the body can decisively play a role in the ongoing peace process, including reforming the political environment for ethnic communities to address their aspirations. Already, there are early visible tensions emerging from the lack of consultation and invitation of ethnic political parties in formation of governments at different levels.
In the time of the MPC’s existence, internal conflict has soared exponentially while the non-inclusive “nationwide” cease-fire agreement (NCA) features only eight of the country’s ethnic armed organizations. Last week, the non-signatories of the NCA came together and made an announcement to defend each other from further attacks and attempts to create divisions by the Burma Army. International donors of the MPC have also come under fire for legitimizing the heightening conflict and endorsing a half-baked peace process. In doing so, what transpires then is a box-ticking exercise where peace donors and partner organizations are satisfied with the hollow “returns” on their investment, such as the non-inclusive and flawed NCA. They, including members of the Peace Donor Support Group and other initiatives such as the EU-coordinated Joint Peace Fund, cannot afford to remain oblivious or turn a blind eye to the fact that the NCA possibly remains a useful tool for the Burma Army and its political proxies to maintain their space and control over the peace process while creating divisions and discrimination, including through the timeworn divide and rule tactic.
Furthermore, there are fears that the peace process has turned into a lucrative “industry” in Burma, as the proliferation of peace advocacy and development initiatives, activities and projects demonstrate. Meanwhile, aid delivery and assistance only minimally reaches the real victims of conflict and intended beneficiaries of a durable and just peace. Just last week, the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC) – formed after the NCA signing to monitor and respond to complaints in signatory areas – reported that it was under-capacitated in resources and expertise to respond to the complaints of violations, mostly from Shan State and Karen State.
The dangers are already laid bare and do not bode well for the new political leadership, particularly in the absence of clear policy formulation and direction as regards addressing the civil war and tyranny of abuses that accompany the conflict. In that regard, the NLD-led Government and the international peace donors and aid agencies need to fundamentally reappraise the peace process, starting with an inquiry of the MPC and its workings, including the serious allegations of public misconduct and seeking accountability for the copious investment dollars. It is imperative that the review is conduced in an inclusive manner and held in participation with those who have been systematically left out, including primary stakeholders such as women as well as ethnic communities. The further threat here is that also by remaining gatekeepers, the Burma Army and its civilian-clad political proxies can hijack and dictate the terms, pace and extent of peace process, and ultimately what form of democracy Burma eventually takes.Tags: Burma Partnership, Myanmar Peace Center, National League for Democracy, Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, Peace and National Reconciliation
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