By: Sai Wansai
Tuesday, 22 May 2012
The remarkable thing was that on 19 May, prior to the 20 May meeting between the government peace negotiating team and the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), Myanmar Ahlin, the regime mouthpiece, reported and publicized the formation of Union Peace-making Central Committee and Union Peace-making Work Committee, with 11 Central Committee members and 52 Work Committee members, although the formation have been made since 3 May.
According to Monday, 21 May, report of Myanmar Ahlin, U Aung Min read out the formation statement signed by President Thein Sein, at the start of the meeting.
On 20 May, Irrawaddy reported that General Soe Win, the Burmese military’s second highest ranking officer said: “There are three steps to the peace process—state-level talks, Union-level talks and then discussions within the Parliament,” echoing the words of reformist President Thein Sein in a recent speech.
Aung Min also invited the SSA to form a political party and take part in the next general elections set for 2015. He told reporters that following the signing of Saturday’s agreement that the rebel group was “in principle a legal organization.”
The crucial message intended and being delivered here is repeating the regime’s position of sticking to its prescribed roadmap and that political settlement is only possible within the framework underlined in the Union Peace-making Work Committee formation statement.
The case in point is the directive that the Work Committee should follow, in striving to materialise peace agreement, with the ethnic resistance groups, reaffirms Thein Sein government’s “old wine in a new bottle” stance.
Union-level talk conditions outlined are as follows:
- Acceptance of non-secession
- National Solidarity and Perpetuation of the National Sovereignty
- Economic development and anti-narcotic cooperation
- Forming political party and entering the election
- Acceptance of the constitution and amendment in the parliament with the endorsement of the majority
- To enter the legal fold
- To transform into one single armed force
The non-Burman ethnic resistance forces have gone back to war for they refused to accept the previous military regime, SPDC’s Border Guard Force (BGF) program to integrate all opposition armed forces under the command of Burmese military. And the essence of the Union-level Work Committee guideline is just an old idea in a new package. In other words, the regime has not budge one little bit from its previous demand that peace settlement should be only according to its prescribed roadmap and game plan.
RCSS/SSA on its part has maintained that the final scenario of political settlement should only be discussed later and this doesn’t necessarily mean that the regime’s game plan and roadmap are being accepted without question. For the time being, it seems to be dwelling on confidence-building process through various interactions with the regime and at the same time, lessening the woes of the people of Shan State by maintaining ceasefire, coupled with intended various development plans.
Not long ago, RCSS/SSA has made known that it is for collective-bargaining position of all the non-Burman ethnic groups and would cooperate with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), when the time comes.
To sum up, there are two different approaches of peace initiative. The government is banking on its own prescribed game plan that political settlement be thrashed out through parliamentary procedure, while the ethnic opposition groups favour that it is worked out, outside the parliament, by first calling the conference of all non-Burman ethnic nationalities, followed by a tri-partite – the USDP military regime, NLD, plus other political opposition groups and non-Burman ethnic nationalities -, “National Convention”, leading to “National Accord”.
The logic behind such a rejection of the political settlement through parliamentary channel is that the non-Burman ethnic groups see that first and foremost, the 2008 Constitution is unitary, in contrast to their aspiration of originally agreed federalism in 1948. And the present regime, although quite accommodating to peace process to an extent, is still refusing to tackle the adjustment of viable political system desired by the ethnic groups, in addition to the fact that it is still military, Burman dominated one. And as such, it only represents the military and not them. In other words, USDP regime is only seen as partly Burman and partly military dominated political entity, not more and not less.
And given such a backdrop, the Thein Sein government “self-help” peace initiative could perhaps only achieve partial success, if the underlying political aspiration of the ethnic peoples is not addressed. And there is no guarantee that the armed conflict would not resume again, once the regime try to pressurize the ethnic armed groups to dissolve or forcefully integrate them into the Burmese military establishment.
The only viable solution, particularly the “one single army for the nation” doctrine, could only be within the framework of federalism. Kachin Independence Army/Organization (KIA/KIO) has once said that it is ready to be part of a federal army, under the federal government structure, but impossible to join the present military setup, dominated by the Burmans, under a unitary system. This position is widely accepted by all ethnic armed groups and as well, their peoples. And thus, the change of political system, and not just a few paragraphs change here and there of the 2008 Constitution, is a necessity for long-lasting peace and political settlement.
So long as this core problem is not addressed, it is hard to imagine that the ethnic conflicts within Burma could be resolved anytime soon.
The contributor is the General Secretary of Shan Democratic Union (SDU) - Editor