When it comes to negotiating with ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that are key parties to Myanmar’s peace process, the government is supposed to lead two processes simultaneously. The first process is to continue negotiating the proposed federal and democratic principles with the ten EAOs that have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). However, there has long been no formal meeting between the government and the NCA signatories, let alone that any substantial progress has been made. The second process is negotiating with EAOs that are not signatories to the NCA in order to get them to sign the NCA so that they can also participate as full participants in the formal process of the political dialogue (the 21st Century Panglong). So far, this negotiation has not been promising either. Overall, no significant outcomes or breakthroughs were achieved in either negotiation process. This is why many are wondering: “Is the formal peace process in Myanmar hitting a dead end?”
Since the so-called 10+10 meeting that took place in October 2018, there has been no formal meeting between the government and the ten EAOs that have signed the NCA and which are represented by the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST+2). In order to review the overall peace process and to discuss a way forward, members of the PPST+2 are convening ‘their own ethnic summit’ scheduled for five days from 14 to 18 May 2019 in Thailand. In addition to making decisions that will impact the formal peace process, it is also expected that they will decide whether the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST) will be restructured. However, it is also quite possible that what they will discuss will have nothing to do with options to overcome the pressing issue of obstacles blocking the progress of the ongoing political dialogue. Whatever happens, the outcome of this ethnic summit will be very critical to the extent that, among other things, it will become clear whether the 21st Century Panglong can be convened in 2019. In terms of collective decision-making among EAOs, this ethnic summit is considered the highest-level of decision-making platforms, with each EAO sending its legitimate high-level representatives to the summit. As it stands, the outcome of this summit will be very important to understand what will happen to the formal peace process.
At the same time, in terms of negotiations with the non-signatory EAOs on the signing of the NCA, the government is unable to produce any positive outcome. Apart from setting out their respective positions, no real substantial negotiations have taken place to find a common ground for signing the NCA. Furthermore, the policy of the government is that all EAOs must sign the NCA in order to join the political dialogue to pursue their respective political goals. However, when an EAO decides to sign the NCA to join the formal peace process, the government does not allow an option to amend the original NCA document. Plainly put, amending the agreed clauses in the NCA is not open to negotiations between the government and EAOs that want to sign the NCA. This means that the only option available to non-signatory EAOs is to sign an additional measure that they could negotiate with the government as an annex to the original NCA. However, the problem with current negotiations between the government and non-signatory EAOs is that they do not discuss any means and ways to sign such an additional measure.
At present, there are nine EAOs negotiating with the government on the signing of the NCA. All of them – with the exception of the United Wa State Party (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA-Mongla) – were actually members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) that negotiated the NCA document. This means that seven of them – with the exception of the Wa and Mongla – have already accepted the principle of signing the NCA. Early on, the UWSA and NDAA did not see the need for them to sign the NCA, as it was only seen as another level of ceasefire. They did not find it necessary to sign the NCA, partly because their long-standing bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government have been in full force since 1989 without any violation. However, when the government made it clear that the NCA is the only path to political dialogue, they have no choice but to consider the option of signing the NCA.
While deliberating on the option of signing the NCA, the UWSAA and NDAA definitely do not want to sign the NCA as it is, because they were not involved in negotiating the content and agreed clauses in the NCA document. The UWSA and NDAA want a new version of the NCA if possible. This is why, after the formation of a political negotiating body called the Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee (FPNCC) under the leadership of the UWSA, one of the main initiatives undertaken by the FPNCC was to develop and adopt a counter-proposal to the NCA. In explaining their position, the FPNCC clearly states that: “The FPNCC does not accept the NCA initiated by the previous government of Myanmar because it is not all-inclusive and does not recognize the political rights of all ethnic nationalities. In addition, the NCA is just windows-dressing for a whole trend of negotiations and peace talks which have not yielded any good results and it will not lead to any meaningful political transformations in Myanmar” (http://fpncc.org/agreement/). Although the FPNCC wants a new version of the NCA if possible, given that the government – including the Myanmar military – has rejected any notion of negotiating a new NCA, the counter-proposal by the FPNCC has never been discussed. In addition, the FPNCC grouping is not recognized by the government.
Currently, after two years of discussions about the NCA, it can be said that all seven FPNCC members, in particular the UWSA and NDAA, are willing to negotiate the possibility of signing the NCA to join the political dialogue. The only outstanding question and unresolved matter is how they would sign the NCA. What is clear is that the FPNCC members will not only sign the NCA document. They want an additional measure that allows them to address issues of their concern, in addition to signing the original NCA document. Furthermore, such an additional measure will also serve as a way to enter the political dialogue with dignity when they sign the NCA.
What the government needs to do is to address this question of how the FPNCC members can sign the NCA. One way to do is to ask the FPNCC members to submit a concrete proposal for the additional measure, with a list of the provisions and clauses that they would like to include when signing the NCA. Repeating the same old message of asking the FPNCC members to sign the NCA is not enough. The government should focus on negotiating the additional measure that the FPNCC wants and how such a measure, if agreed, will be signed. So far, no substantial negotiations have been conducted on such an additional measure, which will be essential for their possible signing of the NCA. Without negotiating this additional measure to be signed along with the NCA, the negotiations between the government and the FPNCC members about the signing of the NCA will not produce the desired outcome.
In observing the overall negotiations between the government and the seven members of the FPNCC, there is one process that needs to be closely monitored. That is the ongoing talks between the government and the four-member military alliance known as the Northern Alliance (NA), which consists of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Arakan Army (AA), the Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA-Kokang). The four of them are core members of the FPNCC. The talks between the Northern Alliance and the government are now scheduled for April 30 on the border between China and Myanmar. The main focus of the talks is to discuss the possibility of signing a bilateral ceasefire agreement, which is considered a precursor to the signing of the NCA. This means that the Northern Alliance members will not sign the NCA without securing an agreement to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement between the government and themselves. As a matter of fact, the outcome of this talk on April 30 will also be crucial to understand whether the government will be able to secure an agreement to sign the NCA with the seven members of the FPNCC before the 2020 general elections.