Myanmar’s Unsettling Search for Peace

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – October 01 
Published by MoeMaKa on October 02, 2023

Myanmar’s Unsettling Search for Peace

The Chairman of the State Administration Council (SAC), Min Aung Hlaing, is gearing up for the 8th-anniversary celebration of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), scheduled for October 15 in Nay Pyi Taw. The occasion is intended to include ethnic armed organizations and non-ethnic armed groups that have signed the NCA. This pact was inked around two months before the 2015 election on the very date of October 15. At that time, the NCA garnered the signatures of eight armed groups. Following the 2015 election victory of the NLD government, two additional groups joined, resulting in ten signatories.

The path to NCA signing involved several years of discussions and negotiations during the tenure of the government led by U Thein Sein, who won the 2010 election and subsequently assumed office. These discussions spanned multiple levels, from informal talks to formal negotiations, state-level consensus, and union-level consensus. Even some armed groups that were in conflict with the military prior to 2010 and continued to do so thereafter took part in peace talks, which were facilitated by U Thein Sein’s administration. However, some ethnic armed groups, like the Wa and Mongla groups, which had maintained peace for decades without military confrontation, abstained from the NCA. The border-based ethnic armed groups with China abstained cleverly to avoid armed conflict, recognizing that maintaining the status quo and sustaining relations with China took precedence over securing federal integration, as offered by the NCA. Among the two major Shan armed groups in Shan State, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) led by General Yawd Serk signed the NCA, but the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) did not reach an agreement.

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) previously concentrated on regional development and bolstering their own military while adhering to a ceasefire from 1994 to 2011. However, they returned to widespread hostilities after a 2011 incident near Myitsone rendered the ceasefire ineffective. During that period, the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA), which had engaged in long-standing conflict with the military, pursued peace talks and signed the NCA in 2015.

The peace talks held from 2011 to 2015, under the U Thein Sein government, marked the first phase, followed by peace talks from 2016 to 2020 under the NLD government, and events like the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference constituted the second phase. These peace talks and agreements differed significantly from the ceasefire arrangements aimed at regional development in the special regions established post-1988.

Notably, these discussions, unlike those conducted under General Khin Nyunt’s guidance after the 1988 coup, delved into political issues, signifying the distinct character of this peace conference. The military coup of 2021 has obliterated the foundation of trust and all the factors stated above. The knowledge that the Myanmar military could seize power at any time obliterated trust and consensus and led to the belief that peace talks were only political tools.

A decade of trust-building, along with every effort to construct a federal democratic nation that has eluded Myanmar since independence, appears to have been in vain. In the current climate, any peace talks would be perceived as riddled with mistrust, suspicion, cunning discussions, and incapable of forging a lasting ceasefire or peace.

The recent meetings between military leader Min Aung Hlaing and certain KNU leaders, including former KNU president Saw Mutu Say Pho, are efforts to momentarily halt attacks from a faction of their adversaries while they are encircled. By professing a desire for peace, it has sowed discord among anti-military factions but serves as nothing more than a bid for temporary respite. The attempt to achieve peace has been mired in previous peace endeavors during the NLD government.

During the Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong (Fourth) meeting on August 19, 2020, held in Nay Pyi Taw, there was mention of the peace process being disingenuous and allegations that ethnic armed groups’ hostilities against the government were politically motivated, with blame squarely placed on the military. In a closing note, the speech contained pointed words, chastising both the NLD and the armed groups. Thus, it is clear that the upcoming military-sponsored NCA anniversary celebration is not about peace.

It is hoped that the armed resistance forces, which emerged in 2021, as well as the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), and the National Unity Government (NUG) leadership at the forefront, will increase consultations concerning short-term and long-term objectives with alliance groups. This should occur after reviewing the past and current actions of the military, the continuous engagements with existing ethnic armed political forces, and the various strategies employed by these ethnic armed groups to prevent ceding territory, influence, and control to other factions striving for a federal union.