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Myanmar: Peace Process Going Nowhere

Paper No. 6334                                   Dated 29-Dec-2017

By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

With the escalation of the offensive on the Kachins by the Myanmar Army from November onwards and the standoff between the Government and the China backed Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) over the fundamental basics of the process, it appears that there are too many hurdles in the cease fire process that can be sorted out.  Indeed it makes no sense to convene the next Panglong Conference in the near future unless there is some dramatic breakthrough.

Briefing by the Mynamar Institute for Peace and Security

A recent briefing by the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS) only confirms the above view. The briefing covered three points 1.  The Tatmadaw’s resolute action to expel the Arakan Army from the northern most reaches of Rakhine State would entail more clashes in that area and the fighting would affect the civilians too.  2. Both the FPNCC and the Government continue to stick to their rigid stand in the mode of dialogue- collectively or individually.  3.  The standoff between government and the UNFC (which at one time was close to signing the cease-fire agreement) may not be easily resolved.  The UNFC may not sign the cease fire in the immediate future and thus will not be able to participate in the upcoming Panglong Conference.

The offensive against the Kachins by the Myanmar Army

What has not been mentioned in the report and what would seriously affect the course of the cease fire process and the Panglong Conference is the escalation of fighting between the Burmese Army and the Kachins.  It is not happening in Kachin area alone as the military engagement is happening in the north, northeast and western part of the country, thus placing the entire peace process in jeopardy.

* According to KIA spokesmen, clashes between the KIA and the Myanmar Army started from early November and fighting continued throughout the month.  Artillery barrages on the KIA area were frequent disturbing the lives of ordinary citizens.  

* The Myanmar Army continued its offensive in December shelling the Kachin townships at Laiza, Mansi and Tanai. The Army claimed that the operation is a result of landmine incidents on an almost daily basis around Kachin State.  No humanitarian agencies have been allowed to deliver supplies to the Kachin IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons).

* Fighting escalated in the middle of December when the Myanmar army deployed fighter jets on the Kachin positions around Mansa.

* In an attack similar to the ones in 2012, the Army shelled the Kachin positions on the eve of Christmas when there was no provocation from the Kachin side.

It is not clear why the Myanmar Army is concentrating on the Kachins who for sheer survival has been forced to join the FPNCC led by the largest of the groups- UWSA and supported by China.

The Standoff between the Myanmar Government and the FPNCC

In the meantime, the standoff between the FPNCC and the Government continued with the latter refusing to recognise the former as a dialogue partner and the FPNCC is equally rigid in not willing to negotiate with the government not individually but as a block.

There is no doubt that the key to peace in Myanmar is resolving the “northern crisis” where the most powerful of the ethnic armies have joined together to oppose the present National Cease-fire Agreement and in turn offering a fundamentally different narrative to the cease fire process.  The recent talks between a delegation of senior government officials led by the Union Minister for Border affairs with representatives of the United Wa State Army and its smaller ally the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), also known as Mongla Army indicated of serous difference and perceptions of the group against the dialogue and the cease-fire process of the government.  A reading of what had taken place between the two sides indicated that there was no room for agreement on any aspect of the cease fire process or on devolution of authority. 

China’s role as a mediator and a supporter of FPNCC

It is in this context that China’s role in resolving the “northern crisis” comes into play. What is perplexing is that China was behind the consolidation of the most powerful groups into a formal alliance in the north.  China’s province Yunnan appears to be dealing directly the representatives of UWSA group and even entering into formal agreements like the one on drug eradication!

In a meeting with the Myanmar’s Commander in Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in the last week of November, President Xi Jinping mentioned that China pays great attention to the peace process in Myanmar and that it is willing to play a constructive role.  A report of 18th December indicates that China has donated US dollars 500000 to National Peace Center and has promised an additional 3 million dollars for the center in the days to come.

It is only because of Chinese support that the UWSA, the most powerful of the ethnic groups with other six allies including the KIA is taking a fundamentally different and rigid stand in the whole cease-fire dialogue.  One may recall the Chinese influence in forcing the Myanmar Army and the Government in breaking the fierce and the principled stand of the Army not to allow the three Armed groups- the Kokang, the Arakan Army and the T’ang National Army to be invited as special guests to the 2nd Panglong Conference.  In fact these groups got more than what they had bargained for, by getting some legitimacy when the State Counsellor agreed to meet the group separately during the conference.

It is expected that China as a responsible power as it claims to be, could do more for the peace process and persuade the northern group to be more reasonable in the peace process.

Four Stake Holders

There are four stake holders in the entire ceasefire process.  They are the Government led by Suu Kyi who is genuinely interested to follow the path of reconciliation as was envisioned by her late father, the armed ethnic groups led by the China supported United Wa State Army, the Myanmar Army- Tatmadaw (other smaller groups and even those who signed the cease fire agreement do not count) and China itself. They would represent the four wheels of a coach and unless these are synchronized the coach cannot run.  In the present case the Myanmar Army appears to have its own agenda in selectively going on the offensive against certain groups. 

Conclusion

With the UWSA led FPNCC group having a diametrically opposite narrative for the entire ceasefire process with that of the Government and with China not taking a responsible position, it is inevitable that the cease fire process is heading towards a stalemate.

 

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