As the second session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference approaches, Myanmar’s ongoing peace process remains at a crossroads as continued Government and military pressure to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) is exacerbating differences between ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). Reports that the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Wa National Organization (WNO) to tender their resignation from the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a previously 11-member coalition of EAOs that has yet to sign the NCA, has placed doubt on the future of the UNFC as a viable bloc for political negotiation and lays bare the different approaches to the Government-led, exclusionary, NCA process. It is clear that as the Myanmar’s Army continues military offensives in ethnic areas, the NCA is divisive, undermining ethnic unity and the hopes for a federal democratic Myanmar.
The move by the KIO and WNO to leave the UNFC signifies a possible disintegration of the UNFC. The KIO and WNO both submitted separate letters of resignation and it looks likely that the KIO will join the United Wa State Army (UWSA)-led EAO grouping in the north of Myanmar. Following recent summits of EAOs in Wa-controlled Panghsang, the political influence of the UWSA over groups hesitant to sign the NCA has risen. The UWSA instituted the ‘Union Political Negotiation Dialogue Committee’ (UPNDC) as a counter-strategy to the NCA process, and has the support of seven other non-signatory EAOs based in northern Myanmar and along the China-Myanmar border.
Differences over the approach to the NCA are thus being brought to the fore and are providing a major hurdle to a broad, pan-ethnic alliance that can effectively negotiate a sustainable peace. The groups that are part of the UPNDC – mainly northern EAOs that are experiencing the brunt of the Myanmar Amy’s offensives – reject the process that is centered around the NCA, claiming that it has brought no tangible progress and remain skeptical of how it will help to achieve their long term political aspirations for ethnic equality. Meanwhile, the New Mon State Party announced that it will sign the NCA, and it is possible that other UNFC members such as the Karenni National Progressive Party will follow. The immediate consequences of not signing the NCA will also play out at the next session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference on 24 May, 2017. While all EAOs have been invited, only those that sign a ‘deed of commitment’ to sign the NCA at a later date will be allowed to actively participate and others would be reduced to roles as ‘special guests.’
The differences around the NCA are ultimately damaging to the unity of EAOs and is a continuation of a decades-long tactic by Myanmar Army strategists that attempts to divide alliances by negotiating with them separately. The “divide and rule” tactic is used as a tool to create divisions between EAOs, as the Vice Chairman of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) Brig-Gen Tarr Jode Jarr points out, “The military has always met ethnic groups separately in order to prevent them from uniting. It is their tactic.
Despite the contentions around the NCA, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD (National League for Democracy)-led Government have continued to urge the EAOs to forfeit arms, cease fighting and sign the NCA. More importantly, there has been a notable increase in armed conflict, especially in northern Shan and Kachin States, resulting in non-signatories that form the UPNDC continuing to distance themselves from the NCA process.
As negotiations continue, the peace process in Myanmar remains stalled. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be encouraging her Government and the Myanmar Army to facilitate a full, meaningful and inclusive peace dialogue that initiates a process to change the institutional and governance structures of the country. The success of the peace process is inextricably linked to the amendment of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, a document that institutionalizes grievances of ethnic nationalities and entrenches military power. Yet the Myanmar Army remains intransigent to even discussing amendments. Despite the announcement that seven ethnic states can draft their own constitutions, the important caveat that the 2008 Constitution takes precedent renders such a move insignificant regarding ethnic nationalities’ aspirations.
By sowing divide regarding the NCA, a sustainable peace settlement becomes more and more difficult to achieve yet focus should shift away from this divisive accord. The Myanmar Government, as well as financial backers of the peace process in the international community, must do more to recognize the goals and aspirations of ethnic nationalities and commit to comprehensive political, institutional and legal reforms that guarantee a federal system of governance that reduces the power of the Myanmar Army and guarantees ethnic equality and self-determination.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
Resources from the past week
Statements and Press Releases
Burma: Two Islamic Schools Shuttered in Rangoon
By Human Rights Watch
The People’s Republic of China and Burma: Not Only Pauk -Phaw
By Bertil Lintner, Project 2049 Institute
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”