The Peace Process: Key Facts
- The internal armed conflict in Burma has lasted nearly 70 years.
- The current peace process was launched after the U Thein Sein administration took office in 2011.
- Bilateral ceasefires between the government and 15 different EAOs were signed between 2011 and 2013.
- In March 2015, the draft text of the NCA was approved by the government and the main EAO negotiating body at the time, the NCCT. As the government subsequently excluded the AA, TNLA and MNDAA from the NCA, most groups refused to sign the non-inclusive pact. Nevertheless, in October 2015, eight organizations (see The Peace Process: Main Actors) signed the agreement, which resulted in further splits and divisions in the peace process and conflicts between the EAOs that signed the pact and those that did not.
- The peace process progressed little in the lead-up to the November 2015 elections which saw the coming to power of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD.
- The first Union Peace Conference (UPC) was organised in January 2016 under U Thein Sein’s administration.
- The second UPC, known as the 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC) took place between August 31-September 3, 2016. The Panglong Peace Conferences are meant to take place every six months.
- The second 21CPC took place between May 24-29, 2017.
The Peace Process: Main Actors
The Burma Government
- Governing party: National League for Democracy (NLD)
- Negotiating body: Peace Commission (PC)
- Technical body: National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC)
The ‘Nationwide’ Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signatory Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs)
- Signatories: RCSS/SSA-S; KNU, DKBA, KNU/KNLA-PC, ALP, CNF, PNLO and the ABSDF
- Negotiating body: Peace Process Steering Team (PPST)
The NCA Process
- Body mandated to oversee NCA implementation: Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM)
- Body charged with military and ceasefire matters: Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC)
- Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC): tripartite body (16 government representatives, 16 ethnic armed group representatives and 10 political party representatives) chaired by DASSK, which is in charge of the political dialogue and coordinates the peace process.
- Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD): framework for the mandate and organization of NCA participants to the Peace Process.
The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)
- Members (as of the end of June 2017): SSPP/SSA-N, NMSP, KNPP, LDU, and ANC
- Negotiating body: Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN)
The Union Political Dialogue Negotiation Committee (UPDNC) / Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee (FPNCC) / Pangkham (or Panghsan) alliance
- Members: KIO, NDAA, SSPP/SSA-N, TNLA, MNDAA, AA, and the UWSA (the alliance’s leading organization)
- Resulted from three-day EAO summit in Panghsang (the UWSA headquarters) in April 2017. Shortly after their formation, they signed a joint-statement rejecting the NCA.
The second 21CPC in brief
- The Second UPC – 21CPC took place from May 24-29. The conference, which saw the participation of around 1,400 representatives, was attended by 15 EAOs (out of 21). Members not participating in the UPC discussions were mainly northern groups such as the Northern Alliance (AA, MNDAA, KIO, TNLA) or the Panghsan alliance, and members in the UNFC which have not signed the NCA. Certain parties did send representatives, such as the KIO which was represented by its vice chair General N’Ban La), and certain of the organizations not invited to participate in discussions, such as Panghsan Alliance members, were present at the opening ceremony.
- 37 out of 45 principles (41 originally but 4 were added) were adopted:
-12 within the political sector (3 reaffirm elements of the 2008 Constitution, 2 are new and 7 contrast with it);
-4 on social policy (one reaffirms the constitution, 3 are new additions and concern care for IDPs, tackling drug abuse as a national problem and national responsibility);
-10 on land and environment policies which called for less centralized policies, more respect for human rights and international standards, prioritizing farmers’ interests in future policy making, etc. The principles are new to the constitution which only contains 3 land and environment principles.
-11 economic principles which mostly reaffirmed the ones set out in the 2008 constitution.
Post-21CPC: A critical perspective
- It is still unclear how the 37 principles that were agreed upon will be applied and if they can be integrated in the 2008 constitution, considering the 25% bloc of the BA in parliament. Furthermore, critics remark that the 37 principles were not taken in accordance with the Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD).
- The 37 principles were submitted to a consensus and not a vote, which displeases certain political parties. 8 principles were discussed over the course of an extra conference day due to the difficulty to reach consensus (this notably includes the issue of non-secession and a federal army) however no solution was reached. Critics have said that these issues were omitted from final statements – which described the 21CPC as a success – in order to artificially inflate the achievements of the conference.
- On the 1st of June, SNLD held a press conference in Yangon, and called for more informal meetings of leaders of different stakeholders in order to facilitate discussions which were deemed too formal and often unclear regarding conference proceedings and guidelines. The party also pointed out the lack of inclusivity.
- Indeed, in addition to the Northern Alliance and UNFC members, the 21CPC Union Accord does not include the ALP or the RCSS since both groups had not been given the opportunity to hold national-level political dialogue.
- Critics remark that the 50 seats reserved for “ethnic representatives” and the 50 seats reserved for “relevant stakeholders” were ‘handpicked’ by the NLD, political parties and EAOs, a process which offers little transparency or explanations regarding the choice of participants.
Areas of contention: Non-secession from the union
- During a press conference which took place after the 21CPC, on June 1st, SNLD expressed its opposition to the inclusion of non-secession in peace process agreement. SNLD wants the Union to be based on trust and not suspicion or threat; and argues that secession is contrary to the 1947 Panglong Agreement spirit (which proclaimed “full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas”). The Chin National Front and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) have also taken a strong stance against the inclusion of non-secession, the latter deeming it to be incompatible with federalism.
- Other groups are willing to accept the non-secession clause on the condition of the provision of human rights and respect of rights of self-determination, while assuring they have no desire to leave the Union.
- Upon signing the NCA, EAOs also agreed to the three national causes upheld by BA: “non-disintegration of the union, non-disintegration of national solidarity, and perpetuation of national sovereignty”. In practice, this means NCA-signatory EAOs cannot support any movement favoring independence or secession.
- When the non-secession clause was dropped at the end of 21CPC, BA insisted that the drafting of States and Regions’ independent constitutions also be dropped. The move is considered as part of the BA’s broader “give-and-take” tactics to make self-determination and state constitutions conditional on acceptation of the non-secession clause. Observers of the proceedings support that the BA’s insistence on non-secession is a form of distrust, and is not ultimately compatible with federalism. The “trade-exchange” between non-secession and self-determination through the state constitutions also reflects a lack of trust between the BA and ethnic groups.
Areas of contention: The federal army
- The BA insists on a single army (“Union Army” or “Standard Army”) which would maintain the Bamar-dominated status-quo within military and commanding leadership. But given Burma’s history, EAOs wish to retain the capacity to fight off or deter potential attacks from the BA.
- EAOs want a “Federal Army” which takes orders from a federal union government, allowing them to keep their respective armed forces (weapons and personnel). But the BA claims this is a potential threat to territorial integrity and national solidarity, and fears that a federal army would weaken the Union’s potential to oversee the state and regional governments.
- The NLD supports that the BA be placed under the control of an elected government, which also translates a certain concern regarding the BA’s army role vis-à-vis the government.
The role of the UNFC
- KIO, followed by the WNO, announced their departure from the UNFC in May 2017 (TNLA and MNDAA had previously submitted resignation in 2015 and KNU in 2014). The KIO departure was to be potentially replaced with a new membership-bid by the KNO, an unarmed Kachin group (KNO and KIO used to be separate entities but merged upon their entry in the UNFC alliance).
- Other armed groups whose applications have been pending for several years include the Kuki National Organization, Zomi Group and the DKBA. The membership application of the CNF, who was expelled after they signed the NCA, is also pending.
- With KIO and WNO departures, only KNPP and NMSP are left as “big players” within the UNFC alliance. SSPP/SSA-N’s stance is unknown due to its membership to both the UNFC and FPNCC. LDU and ANC are both smaller entities without an important fighting force (about 600-1000 troopers each while bigger EAOs have forces ranging from 8,000 to 30,000).
- Remaining members of the UNFC continue to insist on the nine-point proposal amendment to the NCA before any signing. DPN and PC discussions concerning the proposal have stalled to “agreed in principle” postures, without any actual agreement reached.
- While the UNFC may be weakened by EAO departures, it is deemed unlikely that the BA will put extensive pressure on the remaining members to sign the NCA in the near-future, since it is busy with ongoing conflicts in Kachin and Shan states (see section on Armed Conflict and Displacement).
- During the first week of June, the DPN – the bargaining body of the UNFC – and the PC met in Chiang Mai to discuss the upcoming negotiations between the UNFC and the PC in early July. The parties notably discussed the international community’s role in ceasefire and conflict-resolution mechanisms. The UNFC is favorable to grant the international community a ‘tribunal role’ during ceasefire breaches and moderator role in case of disputes between government and EAOs. BA disagrees and sees this as undermining state authority.
- The UNFC announced it would hold its bi-annual conference on June 20-29 in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to discuss the issue or new/departing memberships and to hold new elections. All 21 EAOs (except the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K)) were invited to the second part of the meeting (June 27-29) to discuss common programs based on decisions previously made during the 2016 ethnic leadership meeting in Mai Ja Yang. It is thought that this move by the UNFC is an attempt to revive the alliance’s potential as peace actor. TNLA announced it would not attend due to its current engagements in combat.
- The PC reacted to the announcement by declaring in the 7 Day Daily report of June 17th that it would not acknowledge new members which are not involved in the NCA in the UNFC. If the membership-bids were approved, the government warned it would stop negotiations with the UNFC.
- The UNFC Conference, which took place on June 20-29 in Chiang Mai, was chaired by KIO Vice-Chair General N’Ban La-.
- On June 26th, the day of UNFC leadership election, reporters boycotted the UNFC Chiang Mai conference after being barred from entering the meeting room to report on conference discussions. The media block was presumably initiated by the Radio Free Asia report concerning the KIA, WNO, TNLA and MNDAA resignation from the UNFC. News of the election came late (June 28th) due to the boycott.
- The KIO and the WNO received permission to leave the alliance. The TNLA and MNDAA also departed from the alliance.
- The new UNFC leadership is as follows:
Chairman: Nai Hong Sar (NMSP). Nai Hong Sar has been a lead peace talk negotiator for years and was previously vice-chair of the ethnic bloc.
Vice-chairman: Dr. Khin Maung (ANC).
General Secretary: Khu Oo Reh (KNPP).
Joint-general secretary-1: Say Onn (SSPP).
Joint-general secretary-2: Solomon (LDU).
The UPDNC / FPNCC / Pangkham (or Panghsan) alliance and the role of China
- The FPNCC insists on meeting with the PC as a group, while the government prefers to hold talks with FPNCC members individually. The PC is prepared to meet with three of the Northern Alliance members collectively (AA, MNDAA and TNLA) but only separately with the remaining groups.
- China continues to be heavily involved in Burma politics, by pushing EAOs to attend peace talks (several group representatives, namely KIO’s N’Ban La, attended the 21CPC as a guest of the Chinese delegation). China’s motivation is most likely backed by “One Belt One Road” economic plans which would necessitate the Burma-China border to be free from armed conflicts between EAOs and the BA.
- UWSA, Burma’s largest non-state armed group and leading actor of the FPNCC, is backed by China.
- China has demanded of the FPNCC to be more accommodating to the government’s stances concerning peace talks.
Information updated July 10, 2017.