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BURMA PEACE PROCESS CRITICAL PATH
August 5, 2016
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Burma's Ethnic Armed Organizations have completed their latest summit. They are once again talking with the government about the nation's peace process.
An excellent analysis of the summit is available in Sai Wansai's article, Mai Ja Yang EAOs' Plenary Meeting: Successful but need time to iron out common positions, available on the Shan Herald Agency for News website. This statement abstracts from the article the different steps that now lie on Burma's critical path to peace, including who holds the responsibility for seeing that they are achieved.
Ceasefire - There can be no effective peace process until there is a ceasefire on the ground. As the conflict is the result of the military dictatorship's continuing offensives against the EAOs, it must suspend its attacks, and withdraw Burma Army troops, before there can be any hope of peace.
Inclusion - There can also be no peace process unless the EAOs that have been excluded are allowed to participate. As they have been banned by the dictatorship, the responsibility for this step lies solely with it. No inclusion means no peace process, ever.
Peace Principles - Referred to at the summit as the "Panglong Handbook," these are the principles and provisions that the EAOs expect to see incorporated into any ultimate peace agreement (many of which date to the 1947 Panglong Agreement). As these represent the rights that are the foundation of Federal Democracy, they are all completely justifiable and must be accepted. Therefore, once again, it is the military dictatorship which must give, and embrace the fact that Burma can only have peace if it implements real democracy.
Federal Constitution - The peace principles in turn can only be realized if the nation's constitution is either rewritten or substantially amended, which again the dictatorship must permit.
National Structure - Related to this is the issue of Burma's organization into States and Divisions, and which currently embeds a bias in favor of the Burman ethnic group. Equality for the ethnic nationality peoples can only be achieved if this structure is altered, and which too will require constitutional change. The dictatorship in this case must accept this need, and which in turn should begin with the government publishing the ethnic census data, as it is required to properly evaluate such national redesign.
Security Issues - The dictatorship has demanded that the EAOs disarm (including by becoming Border Guard Forces under Burma Army control), which falls under a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration approach (DDR). The EAOs have countered that to accomplish federal democracy the country requires security sector reform (SSR), starting by placing the Burma Army under the control of the elected civilian government. As the country's Civil War is solely due to the dictatorship's 1962 takeover and subsequent decades of atrocities, it must accede to this position.
Political Dialogue - In addition to all of these factors, peace in Burma will require extensive dialogue as the country transitions to a truly democratic system. Aung San Suu Kyi has implied that to participate in such dialogue those EAOs which did not sign the so-called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement must do so. (This is coercion. Also, strictly-speaking, they may participate without signing, but only as observers.) A second issue is which specific interest groups will participate in the dialogue, meaning whether it will be tripartite (the EAOs, the government and the military, and registered political parties), or the seven groups envisioned in the NCA. While it is certainly legitimate to include as broad a representation as possible in the nation's peace discussion, it is actually much more likely to succeed if the negotiation is limited to the parties who can directly influence the war. For this reason the EAOs prefer the tripartite structure, and which in varying forms the pro-democracy movement has been advocating for for years. This is the simplest approach to what will undoubtedly be an extremely complex negotiation. Finally, there is the issue of who will design the dialogue (the Framework for Political Dialogue). At present, only NCA signatories may be involved. (This is a second aspect of Suu Kyi's coercion to get the non-signatories to sign the NCA - she is trying to force them to follow the regime's blueprint.) This too is unacceptable. On all of these issues both Suu Kyi and the military dictatorship must relent. Otherwise, the dialogue planned for the 21st Century Panglong Conference will achieve nothing.
In summary, while progress was certainly made on the EAO side at Mai Ja Yang, there are many significant blockades to peace, all of which the dictatorship controls. Unless it, and Suu Kyi where appropriate, alter their positions, peace is not possible. It is this writer's view that the dictatorship will never change. While the decline in repression in Burma for some (largely the Burmans) is welcome, it is still the case that the most straight-forward route to real nationwide peace and freedom remains the EAOs fighting offensively as a comprehensive force and either defeating the Burma Army or triggering among the generals a top-level pro-democracy coup.
It is also this writer's view that all of these barriers are in fact the main elements of the dictatorship's underlying strategy never to allow real democracy. They are designed to postpone such change. To the extent that the above issues are not addressed before the new Panglong Conference, it will only serve the regime as yet one more delaying tactic. It is therefore a waste of time to hold the conference until the dictatorship does compromise.