On 23 January, the top-level delegation of the signatory EAOs met State Counselor Ms Aung San Suu Kyi and the Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the former in the morning and the latter in the afternoon.
Both meetings discussed the detention in December of 4 leading members of the Arakan Liberation Party/Army (ALP/ALA) and All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF); the planned Union Peace Conference 21st Century Panglong (UPC 21 CP) in February; and the continued fighting in Kachin and Shan North that has displaced more than 100,000 people. (Some of the responses by the two has been reported in my journal, To Hopeland and Back: The 26th trip, 30 January 2017)
Following the meetings, the EAO leaders met in the evening to review them. I still remember what two of them said:
- It is quite clear the two leaders are both in a tug-of war as well as collusion
- The feeling that arose in me while talking to them was that: We are dealing not with one government, but two governments
The second remark, I think, is one of the reasons for why the year 2016 has passed without any promising results: Prime examples:
- In October, the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) wrote an official request to Naypyitaw for an urgent meeting to discuss de-escalation of the war in the north. It took more than three months to get a response. And by the time it came, the situation in the north had become so deteriorated there is a question whether this long awaited meeting will take place at all.
- It was the same situation with the 8 point (later 9 point) proposal of the 7 member alliance, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), which was presented to Naypyitaw in July. Nearly 7 months have slipped by, but an agreement of substance has yet to be reached.
In comparison, under the previous government, the longest deadlock, 7 months, followed the meeting between the EAO’s Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) in August 2014. But the informal negotiations between the two sides had never stopped. Also, it was quite obvious the country at that time had one (or almost) single government. At least there was a friendly relation between the President and the Commander-in-Chief, as acknowledged by the latter himself.
Today things are different. However, the problem is not just about the relation between the two top leaders of the country, but also, I believe, how the EAO leaders are coping with it.
So far, the impression from the outside is that the EAOs are reacting differently to “the two governments”:
- Some appear to be for joining forces with the SC and her NLD party against the military
- Some others, meanwhile, seem to be advocating the other way round i.e. joining with the military against the SC and her party, the NLD
- Yet there are others who see “the two governments” as birds of a feather and, being so, are against both
All three options, at least for the time being, are dangerous, as each is eying the EAOs suspiciously whether they would end up signing up with the other camp.
Which reminds me of a tale of a man with two wives which I had first heard some 30 plus years back.
A Thai friend who was visiting Gen Gawnzerng (1926-1991), leader of the Tai Revolutionary Council (TRC) asked him:
Friend: General, you have two wives, is that right?
Gawn: (smiles) That’s right. Why are you asking?
Friend: Do they live together under the same roof with you?
Gawn: No, of course not. They live in different houses in two different villages.
Friend: But, suppose they live in the same house, and share the same bed with you. Imagine you are lying between the two of them one evening. And, say, wife#2 is asking, ‘Who do you love more, #1 or me?’ What will be your answer?
Gawn: (smiles widely) That’s easy. I’ll say, ‘I love you both equally.’
Friend: But honestly do you think that answer will satisfy them? Remember, #1 is listening to you from the other side. Just imagine you are them. Will you buy that answer?
Gawn: Well, I give up. What in heaven then do I say to make both of them happy?
Friend: This is how. You are facing #2, right? You lift her chin with your one hand and the other hand, reaching out behind your back, hold #1’s thigh, squeeze it, and say, “I love you more, of course.” Now, who isn’t going to believe you?
Not surprisingly, a big hearty loud laughter followed.
No, I don’t think the story’s true. But suppose it is, then, it may very well be a classic example of how negotiators get out of tight spots.
The problem is that we in Burma/Myanmar are short of such skilled negotiators. What’s more, those few we have, we are not using them. Believe me, if we keep on going the same way we have been doing it the past ten months, 2020 will come and go, without any hope of peace in the country.
My message, therefore, to all leaders of the country, whether they be from the government, military, parties or EAOs, is that let us lose no time in finding/training qualified negotiators so there is peace in our land for our people, the sooner the better.