Saturday, 19 May, the day Loi Taileng (name of Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army’s main base on the Thai-Burmese border) delegation led by Sao Yawdserk was haggling over the terms of the third peace agreement with Naypyitaw’s newly reorganized Union level Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC), coincides with the issuance of Order # 11 / 2012 announcing the formation of the Union level Peacemaking Central Committee (UPCC) and the UPWC itself.
Apart from the 11 men UPCC led by the President and the 52 person UPWC led by Vice President Sai Mawk Kham, the order also outlined their mission at the state/region level and the union level.
State level negotiations aim for achieving the following objectives:
- Cessation of hostilities
- Remaining only at agreed areas
- Not to move with arms in places outside agreed areas
- Opening liaison offices in mutually agreed places without arms
- Forming a delegation to negotiate with the Union level peacemaking team and to coordinate with each other to fix time/date and venue for the meeting
Union level negotiations, meanwhile, aim at achieving the following objectives:
- To remain forever in the Union
- To accept the Three National Causes i.e. Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Sovereignty and Perpetuation of National Sovereignty
- To cooperate in economic and development tasks legally
- To cooperate in the elimination of narcotic drugs
- To set up political parties and enter elections
- To accept the (2008) constitution and to make necessary amendments in the parliament by majority consent
- To fully enter the legal fold for permanent peace and live, move, work and consume in accord with the constitution
- To coordinate existence of only a single armed forces in accord with the constitution
It was in line with the “three steps to realize eternal peace” contained in the speech given by the President on 1 March. The only thing missing from Order # 11 / 2012 is the third step: To sign the final agreement at the parliament “comprising all main political players like the government, national race leaders, political parties and political forces and people’s representatives.”
What both announcements conspicuously lack is the time frame, a legacy from its predecessor.
Looking back at the first meeting between the RCSS/SSA and U Aung Min, then Naypyitaw’s newly appointed negotiator, on 19 November 2011 in Chiangrai, I remember the latter had mentioned only 4 objectives, and not 5, in the state level: cessation of hostilities, to move without arms outside one’s area, setting up liaison offices and to agree on the date and venue for the state level meeting. “It was agreed that we would notify the Burma Army if we were entering towns and roads under its control and the Burma Army would do the same if they were moving outside towns and roads under their control,” said Yawdserk.
Indeed, the first agreement reached between the two sides on 2 December 2011 had nothing to say where the RCSS/SSA, whose forces are active in southern, eastern and some parts of northern Shan State, should remain. “We told them we would not expand further from where we have arrived,” said an officer who participated in the negotiations. "But we would stay where we were."
The second agreement, signed on 16 January 2012, stated the RCSS/SSA would set up offices in Homong and Monghta, two sub-townships contiguous to each other, opposite Maehongson and Chiangmai provinces. Which was later interpreted by Naypyitaw side as areas designated for the RCSS/SSA, a statement that the latter strongly rejected.
The next contentious points are the objectives stated in the Union-level negotiations, particularly those that deal with political issues.
According to the representatives of the armed movements who had met U Aung Min in Chiangrai in November, the three stage roadmap outlined by him, is Ceasefire, Development and Political Dialogue leading to a Panglong-like Conference of 1947.
“We did not like it much,” Yawdserk commented later. “We would have preferred to go on to political negotiations after ceasefire, but we also saw that we would need time to hold consultations with the people both state-wise and nationwise, before we could enter into a dialogue with the government. And the second stage could also serve as a trust building period. That was why we had accepted his proposed roadmap.”
Naturally, when Naypyitaw’s representatives on 17 December mentioned the said union level objectives as topics to be discussed at the 12 January meeting, their RCSS/SSA counterparts promptly objected. “It wasn’t that we were totally opposed to the proposed principles that we turned them down,” explained an RCSS/SSA official who attended the pre-meeting. “But we did not deem it appropriate to discuss them until we had held consultations with the people. Also, according to U Aung Min’s roadmap, we would not be negotiating on them until the third stage.”
The government side happily did not push on the matter. In fact, U Aung Min told the RCSS/SSA delegation on 19 November, "We will not waste time arguing over what is yet to be agreed. Instead, we will start work on what has been agreed and continue to negotiate the rest later.”
Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the RCSS/SSA’s opposition to the objectives (minus development and cooperation against drugs) is non-negotiable. In fact, all of them are part of the series of questions that it is planning to discuss with political parties, leaders, individuals, armed groups and the grassroots people, according to the RCSS/SSA.
The third agreement which was discussed, agreed and signed on 19 May, also states: “The RCSS/SSA is free to hold political consultations with individuals, groups and communities throughout the country.”
As such, the second stage as envisioned by President Thein Sein, therefore, should not expect agreement from the RCSS/SSA, as well as others, until and unless they have consulted individuals such as Aung San Suu Kyi, Min Ko Naing and Hkun Tun Oo, parties such as National League for Democracy (NLD), armed movements such as Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the grassroots people, who bear the brunt of the conflict between the two sides.
And, more to the point, it is time Naypyitaw asks these groups what they think of its roadmap.