Friday, August 18, 2017

Military insists on its conditions for peace

THE draft nationwide ceasefire agreement signed by the government and representatives of 16 armed ethnic groups has been hailed in some quarters as a “historic” achievement, but controversial pre-conditions laid down by the military could yet prove a stumbling block in the search for a lasting peace.

The Tatmadaw displays its armour on Armed Forces Day in Nay Pyi Taw on March 27. Photo: AFPThe Tatmadaw displays its armour on Armed Forces Day in Nay Pyi Taw on March 27. Photo: AFP

When President U Thein Sein’s reformist and quasi-civilian government launched the peace process four years ago, Senior General U Min Aung Hlaing, the military commander-in-chief, laid down six “principles for peace” that the ethnic armed groups must follow.

The most controversial was a demand that the ethnic parties and their armed wings adhere to the 2008 constitution written by the then-military junta, which preserves key political roles for the Tatmadaw, including an effective veto over future amendments.

The six principles are also seen as a warning to the ethnic armed forces not to seek “loopholes” in a ceasefire agreement, as well as an attempt to stop the collection of taxes and customs duties in the border areas they control.

Bearing in mind that the draft agreement must still be ratified by leaders of the ethnic groups before moving on to the next stage of political dialogue, the international community’s enthusiastic welcoming of the March 31 signing – after six decades of conflict – has been tempered by the knowledge that a lot of work remains to be done.

Vijay Nambiar, UN special adviser, hailed the draft ceasefire agreement as a “historic and significant achievement” while the US called it a “potentially historic step”. Yesterday the European Union, which is financing the peace talks, sounded even more cautious, commenting, “We hope that this will prove to be a milestone for the Myanmar peace process.”

Political analyst U Yan Myo Thein said the key will be the willingness of the military to negotiate.

“I think the Tatmadaw’s six peace principles would be main challenges rather than barriers,” he told The Myanmar Times. “If they can’t negotiate an agreement on these points, the peace process will stall. If the dispute is to be resolved there must be some give and take between them. But I don’t think the military side has the will to negotiate.”

The ethnic groups have consistently rejected the six principles, and the peace process stalled last August when Tatmadaw representatives at the talks insisted on their adherence. The draft ceasefire agreement did not shed clarity on how the issue would be tackled.

Lieutenant General U Myint Soe of the commander-in-chief’s office said the Tatmadaw discussed the six points in the latest round of talks and would continue to do so once the next stage of political dialogue began.

“Our Tatmadaw have already declared that genuine peace will happen if [ethnic armed forces] adhere to our six principles,” said Lt Gen U Myint Soe. “These six principles we [Tatmadaw] hold firmly forever,” he told a March 31 news conference at the Myanmar Peace Center.

U Naing Han Thar, leader of the ethnic groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), said they would never accept adherence to the 2008 constitution and the six Tatmadaw principles. “They did not mention detailed points of these principles [in the text], so we don’t need to say how we dealt with it,” he said.

On Armed Forces Day on March 27, Sen Gen Min Aung Hlaing reaffirmed the six peace principles. “I want to say that if [the armed groups] have a true desire for peace, they’ll have to solemnly keep promises in agreement and utilise only political means for the purpose of solving political issues,” he said.

Issues left on the table include establishment of a union peace talks committee, introduction of a federal system, reorganisation of the military in line with federal principles, a framework for political dialogue and introduction of a military code of conduct. The NCCT tried to get a commitment to these points in the draft ceasefire text but agreed in the last round of talks to put off discussions until the next stage.

“Many points were moved to be discussed in the political dialogue,” said U Naing Han Thar.

Another outstanding issue is how to stop fighting on the ground while preparing for political dialogue. Clashes have continued in the Kokang region between the Tatmadaw and ethnic Chinese rebels who were not represented at the ceasefire talks.

Negotiators for the NCCT and the government issued a joint statement saying they would cooperate to prevent further fighting. Lt Gen U Myint Soe said the Tatmadaw would cooperate and that both sides should stop blaming each other.