Photo Credit: SHAN
Following weeks of negative bad press stemming from the conflict in Arakan State, the Restoration Council of Shan State’s (RCSS) visit, due to the invitation of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi-led government, to Nay Pyi Taw might be the much needed positive message for Burma to show the international community that the stagnation of the ongoing peace negotiation process is being given a boost, if not a second thought.
On September 11, the RCSS delegation, headed by its Chairman General Yawd Serk arrived in Nay Pyi Taw to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC) leaders and the Military or Tatmadaw’s Deputy Commander-in-Chief General Soe Win to clear up the misunderstanding and build trust, so that the peace process could continue based on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) guidelines.
Let us have a look, on how far the RCSS has been able to achieve its projected goals.
RCSS’s targeted goals
According to the RCSS official three-point statement of September 9, it assumed the invitation of the government to be a trust enhancing act and that the Chairman of RCSS, General Yawd Serk, would lead a delegation to Nay Pyi Taw to hold talks with the State Counselor, military leaders and Union Ministers, and would continue to Yangon to meet with political parties and foreign diplomats.
It further said that matters concerning the implementation of the peace process, political issues and local public development would also be discussed with concerned leaders during the mission.
The statement concluded that it believed that this visit of RCSS delegation to Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon will be of great support for the building of trust, the implementation of the peace process and establishment of the federal union.
Earlier, on September 9, Yawd Serk told Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN): “At this stage I believe building trust with the government and the Military would be beneficial for our people. Because even after five years of ceasefire, we haven’t been able to do or achieve anything. That’s why I hope this (approach) would lead us to find the way out.”
He said the most crucial three factors for the Burma is to have nationwide ceasefire, mutual trust in order to be able to conduct political discussion, and mindful of the problems arising out of distrust on each other leading to further separation and division.
“Actually we must build up trust so that we don’t need to be on guard against each other and also should be able to forgive the past mistakes. Only in this way we will be able to reconcile,” Yawd Serk stressed in his clarification to the press.
Meeting with ASSK and NRPC
On September 11, Suu Kyi met the RCSS delegation headed by Yawd Serk at NRPC headquarters and discussed trust-building on NCA-based peace process, development of ethnic inhabited areas, education, healthcare and anti-drugs issues, according to the press statement of the State Counselor Office.
According to a reliable Shan source during the some 40 minutes meeting with the State Counselor, she mostly focused on the issue of cooperation against drugs. On the peace process, she said it is like an atmosphere of a dining table. You can’t have all the best dishes alone. And whatever she meant to say by that is anybody’s guess.
After that the government delegation held a separate discussion with the RCSS delegation
The government representatives were NRPC vice chair and Union Minister at the State Counselor Office Kyaw Tint Swe, Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Dr Win Myat Aye, National Security Adviser to the government Thaung Tun, Peace Commission vice chairman Thein Zaw and Secretary Khin Zaw Oo, chairman of Union Level Joint Monitoring Committee Lieutenant General Yar Pyae, Deputy Minister at the President Office Min Thu, Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Maj‐Gen Aung Soe, Deputy Minister for Border Affairs Major General Than Htut and Deputy Minister at the State Counselor Office Khin Maung Tin and Director General Zaw Htay.
The representatives from the RCSS side were RCSS chairman General Yawd Serk, secretary Colonel Sai Ngin, CEC members and senior officials. The meeting began at 11am and lasted two hours.
During the meeting, the same Shan source said that Kyaw Tint Swe was said to be in agreement to the RCSS proposal that the Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) be revised so that other non-signatories of the NCA could come on board.
And regarding the Shan National Dialogue, the Tatmadaw has been blocking due to the disagreement of Committee for Shan State Unity’s (CSSU) choice to be either held in Taunggyi or Panglong. For the government side, Kyaw Tint Swe proposed Langkher, while the Tatmadaw proposed Mongpan. RCSS was said to reply that it would report back to CSSU for consideration.
CSSU is an association of 3 Shan political parties, 2 armed resistance armies, and 6 Civil Society Organizations formed in 2013, which RCSS is also a leading member.
Meeting with the Tatmadaw
Following the meeting with NRPC, the RCSS delegation led by General Yawd Serk met the Deputy Commander-in-Chief General Soe Win, together with officers from the Defense Head Office around noon at Bayintnaung reception hall.
During the meeting the conceptual misunderstanding and interpretation on union-level ceasefire agreement of January 16, 2012, between the RCSS and Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) – during the President Thein Sein government – and how to cooperate on the NCA-based peace process were discussed.
Regarding the union-level ceasefire agreement of 2012 signed in Kengtung, Soe Win agreed that it should be revisited. He said, “We can also bring in witnesses who were present there: U Khuensai and U Harn on your side, and U Aung Min and U Hla Maung Shwe on our side, for instance,” according to the insider Shan source.
And concerning the Ceasefire Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), Soe Win wanted to give more power to it to handle the armed clashes issue. RCSS says it should be handled on the military to military basis first, before handing it over to the JMC, to which he agreed. As for the status of the liaison offices he said they would accordingly be upgraded, meaning the military movements will be informed to the liaison office concerned beforehand. For example establishing hot-line communication if and when necessary.
The meeting further focused on easing military tensions, rebuilding mutual understanding and the two sides agree to cooperate in order to not burden the people.
All in all, according to the Shan source, it gave the impression of the Tatmadaw is trying to create a congenial atmosphere, which is a positive sign.
Taking cue from the recent meetings between the RCSS, the government and Tatmadaw, it could be said the effort of Yawd Serk and Suu Kyi, including the Tatmadaw, should be able to remold or create a more sincere and open relationship among the stakeholders.
Suu Kyi’s urging of trust-building and the Tatmadaw’s promise to avoid further clashes, coupled with pragmatic problem solving initiatives at the recent meeting not available before, with the RCSS is a welcome gesture, but a more holistic approach would be needed from the part of government and Tatmadaw to turn the gloomy situation around.
Everybody has been constantly talking about trust-building but it seems no one is ready to accommodate or take action in a plausible way to undertake stimulation that trust could be instilled.
For example, let us look at the complaint of the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) on the holding of Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong (UPC-21CP), which is supposed to be a joint-undertaking between the government and the EAOs, but single-highhandedly taken over and manipulated by the government, with at times working in collaboration with the Tatmadaw.
The rejection of the Shan National Dialogue, including such proposed meetings by other ethnic states’ ethnicities, and the endorsement of the first Union (Pyidaungsu) Accord, which is going to be the basis in all stakeholders’ deliberation to be able to form a federal union, in the last UPC-21CP against the protest of the EAOs and political parties.
Another example is the offensives on the EAOs, signatories and non-signatories of the NCA alike. The Tatmadaw’s on and off offensives of the RCSS, that had already occurred some 20 times according to the RCSS in two years of NCA signing, and massive to mild on and off offensives in Kachin and Shan States are not conducive to start earnest peace talks.
The Tatmadaw considers itself a sole protector of the country’s territorial integrity and the national sovereignty and thus presumed that all its offensive undertakings are legitimate and proper. On the other hand, the EAOs take it as their rights to defend their homelands and demand “shared sovereignty” instead of the Tatmadaw’s “sole ownership sovereignty” claim. Thus, it becomes a question of political demand and could only be worked out through political settlement. The EAOs’ armed struggle comes from political grievances and to end this peace negotiation is the only way. And now since the government has already embarked to resolve the ethnic conflict through political means rather than military solution, the Tatmadaw should refrain from area clearance and domination of the territories in ethnic homelands, if peace negotiation is to be given a chance.
To conclude, trust-building stimulation should start with conducting the commonly owned peace negotiation process jointly as partners between the government, the EAOs and political parties; and genuine nationwide ceasefire and all-inclusiveness should be accepted by the Tatmadaw, if peace negotiation process is to continue in earnest and eventually be successful.