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BOYCOTT THE BURMA "PEACE" CONFERENCE
August 16, 2016
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Aung San Suu Kyi has announced that Burma will have a national peace conference, starting at the end of the month. Many people have commented that this leaves very little time for planning, and that it should be postponed. What is the point of having a conference if the lack of suitable preparations means that it will fail?
This in turn raises the question of what the conference is actually supposed to achieve.
A peace conference is simply a meeting between two or more sides in a war. Its goal, obviously, is to end the conflict: to achieve peace.
In theory, such a meeting could be limited to two people, one representative each for conflicts which have two clear sides. They would then bargain hard and compromise where necessary. Such negotiations could involve a whole series of meetings, as the representatives communicate with their compatriots, and everyone gets comfortable with and finally approves the appropriate compromises.
Peace conferences may also have facilitators or mediators - independent individuals who help and if necessary prod the different warring parties to compromise.
As a general principle, the lower the number of people who are involved, the more likely the negotiation will succeed. Adding more participants raises the prospect not only of additional disputes between the two sides, but also within them. Suu Kyi's planned conference, therefore, which is to have close to one thousand participants, clearly has poor prospects, at least if the meeting goal is real peace for Burma.
Successful peace negotiations also have a couple of other characteristics:
Sincerity - The negotiations cannot achieve a favorable conclusion if the sides to the conflict are insincere. For Burma, this too raises the question of whether the conference should even be held. Burma's military dictatorship, under the continuing ultimate rule of Senior General Than Shwe, although he now has his orders carried out in secret by factotums, starting with Min Aung Hlaing, and which enforces its rule through the Burma Army, is not sincere. Were it sincere, the dictatorship would immediately end its offensives in the ethnic nationality areas, and pull back its troops. Not only will the dictatorship not do this, it has in fact made no concessions whatsoever, including on the issues of inclusion, the demand for ethnic army disarmament, and their need to sign the so-called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. Therefore, any negotiations will - they necessarily must - fail.
Role of mediator - If the negotiation involves a facilitator, this party must be objective and impartial. For Burma, the facilitator is Suu Kyi. However, she is not impartial. Through both her words and actions she has taken sides - with the dictatorship. Suu Kyi has met with dictatorship officers and agents many, many times (going back to Thein Sein). Conversely, she has met the ethnic armed organization non-signatories only once (the "other side" in the war), and in a staged meeting where they felt compelled not to be forthright about what they and their peoples are experiencing (e.g., by not describing dictatorship offensives and war crimes). She has never publicly condemned the Burma Army for its decades of atrocities. Instead, she has announced her warm feelings towards it. Also, she has followed the dictatorship blueprint to the letter. She has installed former military personnel in key positions in the peace process institutions, and in the government posts which she appoints (country representative to the U.N., Attorney General, Minister of Population and Immigration). She has further insisted that the peace negotiation be based on the NCA. In effect, she is trying to corner the non-signatory EAOs and force them to accept something with which they disagree.
Why is she doing this? Is it Burman racism? She is after all Burman, as is the dictatorship. Do the ethnic nationality interests, including as formalized in the Panglong Agreement, have no significance to her? Or, as her apologists argue, is she merely stuck in a difficult situation, and has decided to capitulate to the dictatorship at every turn, to minimize the risk of having the generals re-seize overt power, even if this means the ethnic nationalities must accept never-ending oppression?
Frankly, the underlying reason for her behavior does not matter. The "peace" conference won't lead to peace. It will be a spectacle, and the ethnic nationality participants merely actors on a stage. The one thing we can be certain of is that Suu Kyi has unlimited vanity (and also arrogance - she believes that she and she alone knows what is right for the country), and while the peace conference won't end Burma's Civil War, it will indulge her. She will be on the grand international stage once again. How lovely!
The non-signatory EAOs have one responsibility - to do what is best for their people. Since the peace conference will have no result, or, even worse, a fake result - Burma is at peace!, while the war continues without end - they should boycott the conference. They should not attend without inclusiveness, and also unless there is a concrete plan to achieve something tangible about the war, starting with a ceasefire announcement by the Burma Army. They should not allow themselves to be puppets in Suu Kyi's show.