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‘Talks did not become reality’: UPJDC secretary bemoans lack of progress in peace process

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Two years after the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was signed in October 2015, the country’s peace process has only become more intractable and divided, according to an official from the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee.

“The number of signatories has not increased from the original eight organizations over the past two years. It looked like there was progress in discussions with the UNFC [United Nationalities Federal Council], but talks did not become reality,” said Sai Kyaw Nyunt, secretary of the UPDJC, a body headed by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and composed of the eight ethnic armed groups that have signed NCA, as well as representatives from political parties, the Union government and Tatmadaw.

Sai Kyaw Nyunt was speaking during an August 29 panel discussion, organized in part by Burma News International.

“It won’t be easy to achieve peace if the way we think and handle the ethnic armed organizations doesn’t address all of their issues,” he said, alluding to continued opposition to the NCA.

As the second anniversary of the NCA, the landmark achievement of former president U Then Sein’s peace effort, looms on October 15, peace-focused organizations are taking stock of the current status quo.

UPDJC’s secretary Sai Kyaw Nyunt (Photo: Mizzima)
Even at the time of its signing, the NCA was criticized for excluding most of the armed ethnic groups still engaged in active hostilities — only two signatories, the Karen National Union and the Restoration Council of Shan State, still retained significant fighting forces. A key precondition to signing the NCA, demanded by the Tatmadaw, stipulated that armed groups must disarm in order to participate in political dialogue. The provision has proved a critical stumbling bloc for including several ethnic armed groups in the Union Peace Conference.

Although the National League for Democracy-led government is still pursuing negotiations with the United Nationalities Federal Council to sign the NCA, talks have broken down with the Northern Alliance, a faction of ethnic armed group fighting in northern Kachin and Shan states.

The Chiang-Mai based UNFC, once a leading representative for Myanmar’s armed ethnic organizations, has seen its influence wane this year following a series of resignations over opposition to signing the NCA: The Kachin Independence Army and the Wa National Organization pulled out of the alliance in April. Earlier this month, the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army North announced its indication to withdraw as well, which would leave the hobbled-bloc with just four members: the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Arakan National Council (ANC) and the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU).

Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) general secretary Zhao Guo-ann slammed the voting system established under the NCA’s political framework as a trap for ethnic people, the Irrawaddy Burmese Edition reported on August 29. He also criticized the UNFC for failing to recognize the drawbacks in the government’s NCA-led peace process.

Earlier this week, government-led negotiation teams held a roundtable discussion to review and prepare for the third installment of the Union Peace Conference, or the 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference.

Previous installments of the conference, from August 31 to September 3 in 2016 and May 24 to 29, 2017, were criticized for failing to address more forcefully address points of contention and achieve tangible breakthroughs in the peace process.

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