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Time for Honesty Around Peace and Conflict

By Burma Partnership  •  March 30, 2015

1.2015.steve.Tickner.IrrawaddyPeace talks resumed after a six month hiatus between the Burma Governments’ Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) and the alliance of ethnic armed groups, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT). Yet in an extraordinary display of hypocrisy, the Burma Army began airstrikes again against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), just as the talks paused for a week-long break. This is to complement the airstrikes currently targeting the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in northern Shan State.

The Burma Government, through its proxies the UPWC and the Myanmar Peace Center, consistently attempts to dominate the discourse surrounding the peace talks, eschewing positive conclusions whenever talks happen. Time and time again the media is told that the signing of a nationwide ceasefire accord (NCA) is ‘just round the corner,’ or in this case, ‘within days.’ How can the signing of the NCA be within days if the Burma Army has opened two fronts on its war against ethnic armed groups? Furthermore, although the MNDAA is part of the NCCT, they have been excluded from the most recent peace talks, with the Government and the Burma Army steadfastly refusing to consider any method of engagement with them apart from through military means. There needs to be honesty from the government on the realities of the prospects for peace so that parties concerned, including the donors and civil society, are able to contribute and help steer the process instead of losing trust in it.

Amid the talks, the situation on the ground for ordinary people remains horrific. Human rights violations committed by the Burma Army in Kokang areas can now be added to those human rights violations committed for the past three and a half years in conflict zones in Kachin and Northern Shan areas. According to a Kokang refugee who fled to China “If they (the Burma Army) see a woman, they will rape her. They tie her hands up with wire, twisted tight with pliers, so that it tears into her flesh,” and “if they see a man, they tie them up and beat them with a wooden stick.” It might be a difficult argument to tell these people that peace will be “within days.”

Talks between the NCCT and the UPWC stalled in September, 2014 at the sixth round of talks when the Burma Army imposed new conditions, reneging on previous agreements, including the stipulation that a code of conduct is to come after the signing of the NCA. The code of conduct, and a monitoring mechanism that goes with it, are key aspects to the NCA, as these components represent tangible steps to avoiding sporadic clashes that occur in ceasefire areas as well as to prevent human rights abuses. A code of conduct that is monitored and in which violators of this code are brought to account is a practical, definite trust-building measure. Yet despite the initial positive fanfare emanating from this latest round of talks, this code of conduct is still a condition that the Burma Army won’t agree to. In fact, the negotiators are too afraid to even broach the subject with the Burma Army. An NCCT source told The Irrawaddy, “Our NCCT has proposed the issue of the military code of conduct, but the UPWC [Union Peacemaking Working Committee] told us that they do not dare to ask Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing to discuss the issue or even President Thein Sein. They told us, let’s discuss the issue later.” This shows two things; one is that it is the Burma Army that are the real decision-makers, and two, they do not have the political will necessary to pursue genuine measures to establish peace.

There is a need for honesty and transparency around the peace process that continues to stall, and around the actions and political will of the most powerful institution in Burma, the Tatmadaw. Donors of the Myanmar Peace Center, especially the EU and Japan, need to be more proactive and demand transparency and results from the huge amounts of money they have put into the peace process. As the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said at the Myanmar Peace Center when it was established in November 2012, “this Peace Centre shall be an autonomous centre of excellence displaying the highest standards in transparency, accountability and inclusiveness.”

So far it hasn’t shown these standards. It has been misleading the public, the donors and the media of the state of the peace process while the Burma Army has stepped up its offensives, brashly using airstrikes. Without inclusivity, accountability, and transparency, the conflict in Burma will not be resolved. And without the Burma Army committing to the establishment of genuine democratic federal union, grievances and hatred will only continue to grow. As one Kokang schoolteacher, who after talking about the massacres committed in villages over the last two months, stated, “If you give me sniper rifle, I’ll go and join the war.” It is time for the admission that this conflict is getting worse by the day and it is time for peace donors to review their approach and listen to the people of Burma rather than their government.

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