Reviving Myanmar’s Precarious Peace: EAOs Perspective by Naw Eh Htoo Hae, Saw Tha Wah

Reviving Myanmar’s Precarious Peace: EAOs Perspective by Naw Eh Htoo Hae, Saw Tha Wah
21 November 2018

The two largest EAOs (Ethnic Armed Organizations) signatories to the NCA (Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement), KNU (Karen National Union) and RCSS (Restoration Council of Shan State) have decided to pause their participation in the formal peace talks and continue their efforts towards peace by holding informal meetings.

The two EAOs indicate that the parties to the NCA are implementing it without common understanding of its meaning, generating “repeating contradiction.” Moreover, the military has started to imply new negotiation preconditions that are not listed in the NCA agreement, such as agreeing to non-secession and a single army before any other talks.

This article analyzes and explores the challenges of ongoing peace process in Myanmar from the perspective of EAOs. The article points out the weakness of NLD’s (National League for Democracy) performance and highlights the military’s political roadblocks
throughout the whole peace process. It further makes suggestions on implications of EAOs in continuance of peace talks, as well as contributes the possibility on security reforms that might be appealing to all parties.

The Problems with Peace Process

Optimism about the Union Peace Conferences was short lived when the new challenges emerged from the first three peace conferences, which over two years only resulted in two sections of 51 basic principles of the Union Accord that have limited effects towards changing the country. Aside from these principles, the peace process could not move forward when it comes to negotiating matters regard to self-determination, separation of powers, drafting state constitutions, security-related matters, a common vision on
Myanmar’s future federalism, and states’ sovereign powers.

The current condition of the negotiations are in deadlock for two reasons: first, the issue of inclusion and second, the different interpretations of the NCA text. The most significant challenge to emerge is the lack of inclusivity of EAOs that have not yet signed the NCA. Although both attending the peace conference and signing the NCA are intended to be “all-inclusive,” critics highlight that NLD is “practicing divide-and-rule policy” by excluding the non-signatory EAOs.

However, the government allows non-signatory EAOs to attend the peace conferences as observes but forbids them from “the rights to participate in active talks and in decision making.” As a consequence, it makes no potential to reach agreement on important
matters such as amending the constitution, power sharing, and security reforms. Regarding the political settlement, the signatory EAOs have been imposed rather than negotiated such as military imposes a package deal (self-determination and non secession)
and single army. That is why non-signatories are reluctant to sign NCA without a concrete solution or guarantees for their own autonomy.

As long as the political dialogue is dominated by the military, it will be unattractive to the non-signatory EAOs, and as long as those EAOs are excluded from or choose not to participate in the NCA process, the dialogue will not be fully legitimate.

The second challenge of the peace process is the different interpretations on NCA that leads the peace talk to a deadlock position. As KNU’s general secretary P’doh Saw Tah Doh Moo told the BBC interview, “the reason that political dialogue is in deadlock being
the visions on Myanmar’s future state-building are varied amongst the military, NLD and EAOs.” He indicates that common vision and shared values are crucial in Myanmar’s peace process.

The signatory EAOs and the military have to ensure they are on the same page when it comes to defining fundamental principles stated in NCA. Without reaching the agreements, Myanmar’s peace process will not be consistent with the Framework of Political Dialogue and it will deteriorate over time.

The Military’s Political Roadblocks

Throughout the whole peace process, the military stands tall to defend its interests, which are imposing DDR and the formation of single army for Myanmar without changing the current military structure or political role.

In the NCA, “security re-integration” is mentioned in Article 6 and 20.g, but there are different interpretations of those articles between EAOs and the military. The EAOs’ interpretation of “security sector re-integration” refers to implementing (Security Sector Reform SSR) and formation of representative Federal Union Armed Forces with the guarantee of inclusion of all ethnicities.

This is supported by NCA meeting decision 14 (referenced by NCA Article 30), which states that “security sector re-integration in the NCA means both DDR and SSR.  International best practices for SSR look at security holistically for the population, meaning that SSR includes defense reform, intelligence reform, border security reform, policy reform, justice reform, prison reform, and establishing institutions and ministries under federal principles. The federal army must ensure the representative of soldiers from all regions and their equality and equal opportunity to reach to higher ranks and a balanced power-sharing mechanism within the army.

However, on the other hand, the military strongly rejects the idea of SSR and the representative Federal Union Armed Forces but prefers DDR. DDR is defined as “a process that contributes to security and stability in a post-conflicts recovery context by removing weapons from the hands of combatants, taking the combatants out of military structures and helping them to integrate socially and economically into society by finding civilian livelihoods.” From the military’s perspective, EAOs should simply disarm
themselves and join the current military.

For EAOs, they experienced the military’s habit of violating the peace agreement, never implementing political change, and launching
attacks on them and local civilians. Given the historically deep distrust, DDR is a sensitive subject, which EAOs see as the military’s attempt to take control of their territories and exploit their lands.

In order to achieve its political interests, disarming the EAOs and sustaining the current single army, the military applies three political roadblocks: 2008 constitution, package deal and divide-and-rule strategy.

Firstly, the military-drafted 2008 constitution grants the privileges for military such as “locked in” position of 25 percent of seats in parliament, control over security and appointment of the defense minister, the right to take over governmental power, and others. Through the constitution, it constrains the power of the NLD and shapes its role in peace process. The constitution also limits the rights of ethnic groups, and it restricts the legitimacy of the ethnic groups. This blocks the demands of these minorities regarding federal and other institutional reform. The military will use its constitutional privilege to push DDR.

Secondly, package deal is one of the main reasons why the KNU and RCSS to pause participation in the formal peace talks. This package deal imposes on all EAOs to accept non-secession associated with self-determination though it is not mentioned in the NCA.
Since the military brought non-secession to the table while there is a high degree of distrust, suspicions among EAOs rose regarding the military’s real intentions. This package deal delays the peace process, allowing the military to block the possibility of federalism. As a result, the strongest EAOs have paused formal peace talks.

Finally, divide-and-rule strategy is used as a roadblock when the military deals with the EAOs. The notion of the strategy is that “a single actor exploits coordination problem among a group by making discriminatory offers or discriminatory threats.” The military’s
objection towards the inclusion of the AA (Arakan Army), MNDAA (Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army) and TNLA (Ta-ang National Liberation Army) in the NCA, shifting the conflict zone from south to north of Myanmar by launching attacks on the
KIA, and creating divisions among the signatories are the basic tools of this strategy. Due to this strategy, there is a separation emerging amongst EAOs: the ones who already signed NCA, those who are willing to amend NCA, and those who are willing to dismiss the current NCA and start a new approach. Now, the division spreads to those who signed the NCA, resulting in the ones who take a break from formal peace talks and those who are willing to continue. Inevitably, this leads to a significant challenge for the peace process. Due to this strategy, there have been the separations among EAOs.

NLD’s Stumble in the Peace Process

The NLD’s expected role throughout the peace process is to lead and act as a middleman that bridges the political principles gap between the military and EAOs. However, NLD’s failure in building relations and trust, and sending party representatives to meet with the ethnic groups is a questionable move which has caused consternation among ethnic groups and places them in a dilemma as to whether they could rely on the NLD’s leadership in the peace process. Although NLD’s replacement of MPC (Myanmar Peace
Center) with NRPC (National Reconciliation Peace Center) was well intentioned, the NRPC’s performance has been extremely poor due to a lack of competence and experience, heavy centralization of power, and weak organizational capacity. This eventually led to holding peace meetings less often and failing to meet EAO representatives to build relationships, and operating a less effective peace process.

As mentioned above, it has led to holding peace meetings less often, failing to meet EAO representatives to build relations that could be assumed that minority ethnic groups have been ignored, and operating the least effective in peace process. Moreover, the NLD has
become submissive to the military in the political sphere. The NLD prioritizes building its relations with the military for improving civil-military relations, hoping for preferable outcomes in the 2020 general elections. Under this circumstance, the NLD is advised to
be more “proactive and take initiative” and should focus more on strengthening “negotiation bodies and mechanism.” Moreover, the NLD should also focus on the process rather than the end result that would favor the party in 2020 general election.

Implication for EAOs

The EAOs cannot rely on the civilian government’s leadership of the peace process due to its lack of legitimacy, struggle for its political survival, and inefficiency in leadership.

Hence, given the least role of NLD, EAOs should directly deal with military and moving forward with the political dialogue to reach a common interpretation and vision for statebuilding. Needless to say, building trust is one of the biggest challenges between actors. If they all conduct political dialogue based on trust, Myanmar’s peace will not be possible in the near future. That being said, instead of emphasizing building trust too much, the actors should focus on building institutions that binds all actors under the workable political
mechanism that monitors building trust is based on principles. According a strategy called institutionalization before liberalization (IBL), actors should prioritize domestic institution building in the fragile environment. “Once national institutions have the capacity to support liberalization, these reforms can be implemented with gradual and deliberate steps.”

Under such circumstance, the most sensitive matters such as power-sharing and DDRSSR should be dealt with through institutions. DDR-SSR issue, for instance, should be negotiated until all parties reach to a common agreement. Both sides should figure out the
best way to operate dual DDR-SSR and be flexible on the process.

On the one hand, EAOs should be flexible about SSR, understanding it’s a long-term process that involves many series of reforms in different sectors. On the other hand, the military should be flexible on DDR, as it needs to understand disarmament is impossible for EAOs without any assurances of the potential threat of the military terrorizing them or of high quality of re-integration. The way to deal with this DDR issue is initiating third generation of DDR which changes to “RDD” that emphasizes re-integration first, then concentrate on demobilization as second, finally move on to disarmament at the end. The military’s flexibility on RDD would be convincing to EAOs as there would be progress on the table first.

All in all, in a situation where trust building or pro-democratic parties do not perform well in the peace process, both EAOs and the military should focus on building institutions and political mechanism that enhance mutual trust, and furthermore utilizing these institutions to build up a concrete foundation for the strong federal union in the future.


(Editor’s Note – Some parts of this article is published on Myanmar Times. This is complete paper)

Saw Tha Wah is a recent graduate of International Law and Diplomacy from the Assumption University of Thailand. He is a contributor and co-founder of the Center for the study of Myanmar Politics and Society. His focus studies include international relations, foreign policy, strategic and security studies.

Naw Eh Htoo Hae is a communications Consultant who is involving in the Peace Process in Myanmar. She used to work as a national communications officer at the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), Loka Ahlinn. Moreover, she served as a reporter for The Farmer Journal, Mizzima Media Group, and Education Digest Journal.