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Burma’s NCA Takes Another Chaotic Turn

By Burma Partnership  •  April 6, 2015

1.april. JPaing.The IrrawaddyOn 31 March, 2015, a signing ceremony took place in Rangoon involving members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC), and observed by President Thein Sein. Contrary to initial fervour around this event, this was not the actual signing of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). Rather, it was to agree in principle to a draft text that may be signed in the future. Many more difficult negotiations and hard compromises are still to happen. The next step, and this is not an insignificant rubber stamp of approval, is for the ethnic representatives to take this draft back to their respective organizations and alliances such as the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), for discussions and decisions to be made as to whether this draft text of the NCA will be signed. This may well be made at a conference of ethnic armed groups (EAGs) towards the end of April.

The instant headlines around this event were misleading, and international actors were indeed, misled. The UN Special Advisor for Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, called the event “a historic and significant achievement” while the European Union said the agreement “bears testimony to the political courage and commitment of all sides to resolve grievances through dialogue rather than armed conflict.” Domestically, however, this praise was not reciprocated, as many Burmese political commentators and civil society criticized the signing on social media. This is hardly surprising because as of yet, key issues have been delayed and pushed back for later talks. These issues include a code of conduct, a monitoring mechanism for the ceasefire, interim arrangements before political dialogue begins, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), and security sector reform (SSR).

Nambiar has a penchant for naming events historic. Earlier this year, another ‘in principle’ agreement on the ceasefire process, signed by only a handful of EAGs, was also termed ‘historic’ by Nambiar. Most groups did not sign on. In fact, it only created tension and division for the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the main EAGs in Burma, who did sign this ‘in principle’ agreement, as it accentuated the differences in opinion within KNU leadership and created more tension as differing factions disagreed with the decision to sign.

It is also unclear how such an event is historic to the tens of thousands displaced this year in Kokang areas, as this ‘nationwide’ in principle agreement does not include the ethnic Kokang armed group, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). The government refuses to negotiate with them, seeing military methods as the only way to achieve peace. Aung Naing Oo of the Myanmar Peace Center, stated at a press conference “It’s possible to have a nationwide ceasefire and still be fighting the Kokang—they are considered a renegade group,” This Kafkaesque situation, of a ‘nationwide ceasefire’ while offensives still occur in the country does not bode well for peace. Other groups excluded from this process include the Arakan Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army who are also fighting against the Burma Army. As a member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the Chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), Col. Hkun Okker rightly pointed out, “NCA will be meaningful only if the conflict stops. If there is fighting in Kokang, we cannot sign the agreement. We will be able to sign only if all the fighting between the Burma Army and all ethnic groups stop.”

A historic achievement is one in which the government and the Burma Army engage in a meaningful political dialogue with ethnic representatives and the democratic opposition on democracy, justice, ethnic equality, and federalism. This necessitates the amendment or the annulment of the 2008 Constitution. Abiding by the 2008 Constitution is one of the Burma Army’s six conditions for this process and one which they will not compromise on. Lt-Gen Myint Soe, the Minister of Defence stated, “Our Tatmadaw have already declared that genuine peace will happen if [ethnic armed forces] adhere to our six principles. These six principles we [Tatmadaw] hold firmly forever.” The 2008 Constitution is a flawed document that concentrates power and resources in Naypyidaw, and entrenches the Burma Army as the most powerful institution in the country yet the Burma Army won’t budge on this. It is only when the 2008 Constitution is changed to create a federal system whereby the equal rights and self-determination of ethnic people are guaranteed, this is when the international community can start using the term ‘historic.’

Please note: Burma Partnership will be closed for the New Years in Burma and Thailand. We will be back with our next issue of Weekly Highlights on 20 April. Happy Thingyan and Songkran!

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