A NEW BURMA PEACE PROCESS - PART 2
By Roland Watson
May 1, 2016
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In my first article about the reset of the negotiations in Burma, I made the following points: The NCA should be abandoned; new people were needed (the MPC staff should be excluded from the peace process); the ethnic and religious census results should be published immediately; the law should be changed so the EAOs are not designated as illegal; the NLD should take ownership of the process; and, the focus should be on achieving peace on the ground, before proceeding to political negotiations.
Aung San Suu Kyi has just attended a meeting of the Joint Monitoring Committee - she does appear to be taking control of the process. But, the JMC was an outcome of the so-called NCA between the military dictatorship and two resistance armies, the leaders of which were bribed by Europe to sign. In addition, the MPC is going to be renamed the National Reconciliation and Peace Center. It apparently will survive (probably at the behest of Europe), although it is uncertain if the old faces will return.
Just by participating in this meeting, Suu Kyi gave legitimacy to the NCA. She further said, as quoted by DVB: "By strengthening the ceasefire we have now and making evident the positive outcomes of a strong ceasefire to the public, we can entice the remaining parties to join in and pave the way for peace talks that can promise us perpetual peace."
This statement signifies a couple of things. First, she believes there is a ceasefire. This is ridiculous, as the dictatorship is attacking the EAOs in many different places. The Burma Army even last week invaded the KNDO HQ, which NCA violation led the group to announce: "The NCA is bringing a fake peace in our territories and this evil accord was only implemented to destroy the ethnic people."
Secondly, Suu Kyi also has no intention to abandon the NCA. She merely wants the non-signer EAOs to sign. These groups resisted years of intensive pressure, because it meant surrender, and now her strategy appears to be: Well, just sign - surrender - anyway. Dear Daw Suu: There will be no "positive outcomes," or "strong ceasefire." Please understand, the old peace process served the dictatorship perfectly. Nothing concrete happened and the Burma Army came under no pressure: to stop offensives, war crimes, even to implement code of conduct measures with the groups, such as the KNU, with which it had deals. It was a time wasting exercise. For Senior General Than Shwe, it did exactly what he wanted. Now, you are proposing that the process that suited him perfectly be continued.
At the JMC meeting she further called for a new Panglong conference, in one to two months time, which would be a political meeting, and for which an enduring peace on the ground is absolutely essential. Also, the census results are still not published, one month after the NLD has taken over the government; and, while the law is being changed to decriminalize protest, it is unclear if this will extend to the armed resistance groups.
The issue of False Equivalence
The reason all of this is important is because it reveals the fundamental assumption underlying the entire negotiation: that the two sides have equal legitimacy. But, while the Burman dictators and the EAOs are absolutely the two sides of the negotiation, they are not equal. The first is the oppressor and the second the oppressed. In many peace talks, such as over borders or territory, the different sides often have authentic positions tied to history. The purpose of the discussion is therefore to negotiate these differences. This does not hold for Burma. Indeed, Harvard Law School researchers who studied the country concluded that the generals have committed war crimes. They shouldn't even be in the peace process. They should be arrested, and tried at the International Criminal Court.
When Sui Kyi says that she has warm feelings for the Burma Army, or that the NCA should be extended, she is reinforcing the false equivalence between the dictators and the EAOs. She, possibly without even realizing it, has picked sides. To once again state the obvious: any peace process that is biased will fail.
The EAOs' greatest fear has always been that Suu Kyi would align with the Burma Army. This would give credence to the idea that they are insurgents. This is why they and their activist allies have repeatedly documented that it is the military who are the terrorists, and who have invaded the ethnic homelands like a colonizing force and committed crimes against humanity.
The possible explanations for Suu Kyi's bias include that she doesn't really understand it - she lacks both self knowledge and a deep appreciation of what is taking place and what needs to be done to bring peace to Burma; that it is actually an overt characteristic - she is a Burman racist; or that she is uninformed. To be polite, I will assume the last. When she was under house arrest, she obviously had limited access to information, but this no longer holds. Suu Kyi should make a sincere effort to understand Burma's civil war, including its daily manifestations. She further needs help to do this. For example, President Obama is given an intelligence brief, every morning, about events - notably military events - that are signifiant to U.S. interests and policy. Suu Kyi needs the same type of brief.
In the first article I said that the NLD should establish a peace working group, to manage the process. One of the responsibilities of this group should be to prepare this brief, including of all the conflict currently underway in the different parts of Burma. Furthermore, the EAOs should help with this, since they have the best battlefield intel. They should email sitreps to the new NLD peace group, which can then include the info in Suu Kyi's briefs.
I would also suggest that the first order of business for the EAOs, through the UNFC, should be to compile a list of all the Burma Army bases and outposts in their territory, including with the number of soldiers present and their heavy equipment such as artillery and aircraft. There are no doubt hundreds of such bases. Lists, and if possible maps, would make the full extent of the Burma Army colonization clear, and also that the obvious route to peace is for the generals to withdraw.
Lastly, in a negotiation there is an agenda, of what needs to be discussed. But, for Burma, there is one thing that is not subject to negotiation. The Burma Army must stop its attacks. Aung San Suu Kyi can believe in unicorns, for all I care, but there won't be peace in the country until the military dictatorship ends it offensives.
A new Panglong
This brings us to the idea that it is possible to have a new Panglong conference, in short order. Suu Kyi's proposal misses a basic point. The Panglong Agreement was signed in February 1947. This was a year and a half after the end of World War II; before the assassination of Aung San that July; and almost two years before eventual dictator Ne Win started attacking the Karen in Insein and other townships. This means Panglong was signed during that rare thing for Burma, a period of peace, and with a trusted leader in charge. Suu Kyi may be trusted by many people, including some EAO leaders, but there is no peace. There is no possibility at all of a new Panglong until there is peace on the ground, and for an extended period. But, this isn't up to her. Regarding conflict, the generals are in charge. And, if anything, they have increased their attacks since the election. Suu Kyi promoting the possibility is simply raising false hopes and expectations. It may even be an attempt to deceive (that she can bring peace to the country without confronting the military).
Finally, if such a time does arrive when a new Panglong conference may be held, the EAOs should be extremely careful about signing anything. The original agreement is still valid, and it gives them many rights, including to secede. A new agreement will rescind this. Considering how uncertain the future of Burma is, with the dictators still in power and clearly after Suu Kyi leaves the scene, the EAOs need to hold onto their guns and not yield any of their rights.
The National Census
In conclusion, I want to return to the unpublished national census results once again. Why do I focus so intently on what seems to be a minor issue? The reason is that their publication could change the peace negotiation if not the entire national dynamic. Everything about Burma is based on a single idea, that the Burmans are the majority. It underlies the generals' demand that they be in charge, and that the EAOs have no right to leave the union much less autonomy. It further supports the false equivalence - the dictators must be legitimate since they "represent" the majority.
But, what if the Burmans aren't the majority? Prior national surveys counted all Buddhists as Burmans and mixed group individuals as well. The results, therefore, were false. But now there is a much better, and U.N. sponsored, count. It is quite possible if not likely that pure-Burmans (both parents are Burman) are not in the majority. Instead, the country has no majority. It is a collection of disparate minority groups!
In that case, no one group can claim precedence. Indeed, the country must have a federal democracy. No other system can work.
Suu Kyi, though, is extending the censorship. This combined with her appointment of regime official Thein Swe as Immigration and Population head is very suspicious. She is either being timid - she fears what will happen if the truth is known; or she really is a Burman bigot and racist, and not only against the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi: Don't live in fear! Please release the ethnic and religious breakdowns. The truth will set you, and the country, free.