For weeks, since the Panghsang or Pangkham meeting of seven, non-signatory of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) at the United Wa State Party/Army (UWSP/UWSA) headquarters, in February, the further existence of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) has been called into question, as its two strongest members, the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) and the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) were participants of the gathering, where “a new peace process approach”, rather the present NCA-based negotiation pattern was advocated, with the formation of “political negotiation committee – interim” poised to negotiate with the government, on a new track.
The Panghsang-led political alliance includes the seven EAOs, United Wa State Party/Army (UWSP/UWSA), United League of Arakan/Arakan Army (ULA/AA), Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA), Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA), Myanmar National Truth and Justice Party/Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNTJP/MNDAA), Peace and Solidarity Committee/National Democratic Alliance Army (PSC/NDAA) and Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) held a meeting from February 22 to 24, with New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) absence, although the two sent in position papers to the gathering.
Recently, the NMSP made public, its intention not to be part of the Panghsang-led coalition and instead would opt for the signing of the NCA. But KNPP still has not come up with any clarification on its part.
Panghsang rejection of the NCA
The main argument of Panghsang alliance is that the NCA is based on replacing the Panglong Agreement of 1947, which is the main political legacy and the sole legal bond between the Bamar and the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities’ territories that has led to the emergence of the Union of Burma in 1948.
In a nutshell, its take on Panglong Agreement and the interpretation of Panglong Spirit as the ethnic rights of self-determination, democracy and equality of building a multi-ethnic society, meaning: genuine federal union, where there is no place for ideology of ethnocentrism.
Earlier, surprisingly enough, the UWSA has taken a radical stand on Panglong Agreement, which now seems to be the Panghsang alliance line of basic political thinking, as never before in the past. In addition, it was convinced that Aung San Suu Kyi and the Military or Tatmadaw were on the same page where subjugation of the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities were concerned, according to its position paper of January 15, 2017, distributed on the eve of the Panghsang non-signatory EAOs leadership meeting last month in February.
Thus, the Panghsang alliance take is to work out a new ceasefire agreement, rejecting and bypassing the NCA, and enter the peace negotiation process.
After weeks of silence on Panghsang’s NCA position, the government’s spokesman Zaw Htay finally made a rebuttal, when he according to 7 Day Daily report of March 25 said: “Some put out statement that the NCA is the replacement of Panglong Agreement, which is totally untrue. We have to go to 21st Century Panglong through the NCA. Sign the NCA and after that enter political negotiation, followed by signing the formation of union agreement, “Union Accord”. Then the materialization (implementation) of the Union Accord.”
He further stressed: “The main thing that I wanted to say is that the negotiation of NCA between the government and the EAOs is not the end goal. The government’s goal is to achieve union agreement (Union Accord) from the 21st Century Panglong Convention.”
NMSP to sign the NCA
Lately, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), a junior partner in terms of military might but vocal and staunch supporter of the UNFC, began to wary and came up with a decision that it might be opting to sign the NCA, which it has so far refused to do so, toeing the UNFC’s line of all-inclusive signing of it by all EAOs.
Recently, Mon political parties, monks and members of civil society in the southeastern state are urging the NMSP, a Mon ethnic armed group, to sign NCA.
“At first, it was about signing together with the members of the Northern Alliance such as the KIA [Kachin Independence Army], MNDAA [Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army] and TNLA [Ta’ang National Liberation Army] — as all-inclusive,” said Mon National Party Central Executive Committee member Nai San Hlaing, who attended a meeting on March 22 in Moulmein involving representatives from the NMSP, political parties and civil society organizations, according to the report of DVB on March 23.
“However, the [Burma Army] commander-in-chief doesn’t accept them [members of the Northern Alliance] … and it cannot be all inclusive. Because the New Mon State Party is a comparatively small organization, it is advised to sign the NCA,” he elaborated further.
Furthermore, NMSP spokesman Nai Win Hla on March 22 told the media that its central committee members have decided to go the way of NCA.
He said: “As (some of) the groups that have been waiting for all-inclusive participation (of all the EAOs) opinion changed to opt for approach that is not NCA, we also have to review (our position). We will go according to the NCA line. Since we have different line of approach, it is impossible to go together and that has changed the stance and opinion (of all-inclusiveness participation).”
However, attempts by media to contact the NMSP spokesperson to discuss the armed group’s thinking on the issue were said to be unsuccessful.
Thus, the rationalization of opting to sign the NCA seems to be based on the fact of the Panghsang decision not to sign the NCA and instead to tread a new alternative approach, which in turn makes the commitment of the remaining EAOs within the UNFC clinging to all-inclusive participation demand meaningless.
What about the UNFC’s 9 point proposal?
And with the bargaining power of the UNFC on the wane, due to the KIO and SSPP abandoning the ethnic alliance mother organization, the doubtfulness of whether the remaining members of the UNFC would be able to cut a better deal regarding its 9 point proposal become apparent.
Particularly, it is questionable if the number one nationwide ceasefire declaration of the Tatmadaw within 24 hours, followed by the UNFC members’ ceasefire announcement within 48 hours; the number three, tripartite dialogue composition – government, parliament, military; EAOs; and political parties – on all level of the peace process talks; the number six, formation of military Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) with representatives from the government, EAOs and international figures acceptable to both parties; and number seven, formation of a neutral, enforcement tribunal for NCA involving domestic and international law experts and judges that are acceptable to both parties; would be heeded by the government that has earlier indicated that they are in agreement principally.
In a logical sense, since the NMSP is already committed to tread the part of the NCA from the outset, there is no incentive left for the government to yield to the UNFC demand anymore. To put it differently, the NMSP is going to sign anyway.
For now, the NMSP has officially haven’t concretely take up the position in relation to the signing of the NCA. Likewise, the KIO and SSPP haven’t also make any official statement, saying that they still have to call central Committee meeting to come up with an official decision on the issue.
Looking at the situation, the government-military side could boost its peace process approach for any additional party signing the NCA, but whether the UNFC members that are left could make any progress on its 9 point proposal is also an open question, as it has no more bargaining chip left to swing the government-military establishment, to make the peace process more equal and balance in creating a level playing-field, which is basically the aim.
From the point of the Panghsang and northern alliance, the war in the north of the country would likely go on and their demand for a new ceasefire deal leading to a new peace process looks quite remote. At the most, the intensity of the war in the north could deescalate, depending on how China’s mediation and pressure are going to work out on both warring parties.
The recent China’s closing of one of the MNDAA banking account and directive to disarm Kokang people entering China that might be armed, giving incentive even to buy the weapons, could be seen as a good will message to the Burmese government and at the same time pressuring the MNDAA.
Inside sources, although as yet officially unconfirmed, according to the UWSA information department on March 26 translation, regarding the Minutes of the March 14 meeting between Sun Guoxiang, Special Envoy of Asian Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, and the UWSA wrote that the MNDAA is solely responsible for the recent Kokang conflict; urgently demand MNDAA’s unilateral ceasefire announcement; requested the UWSA to release a position statement as well as to mediate and stop the conflicts; mentioned Aung San Suu Kyi’s repeatedly stressing of an inclusive peace process and the Tatmadaw supportive attitude in the peace process; suggested signing the NCA would be beneficial to all stakeholders including all the EAOs; and finally, urged the UWSA to sign the NCA, while keeping reservations on some terms.
As it is, the UNFC most likely is programmed to disintegrate, the war in the north would continue, the peace process or 21st Century Panglong Conference would move further on with partial ceasefire arrangement, without ever been all-inclusive, if there is no radical change in the current prevailing political situation and atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the Chinese would continue to play the role of a mediator without much success, while the West, particularly the European Union would continue to fund the peace process, dubbed peace industrial complex by some disgruntled Burma observers and watchers.
As for the United States, it would continue to be in the waiting mode, until the Trump administration decided to do something on Burma, as it is still more consumed by pressing issues in the home front.
But while stakeholders continue to angle and re-position themselves with intensive political maneuvering, in an attempt to out do one another, one political outfall is programmed to take place, which is the disintegration of the UNFC.
The NMSP has now started the first move and it may be only a matter of time, before the KNPP chip in to the signing of NCA, that would spell the end of UNFC as a formidable ethnic front, repeating the disintegration of National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB), its predecessor organizations.
It might be history is repeating itself.