Wed 30 Jul 2014
Filed under: Ethnic Issues,Inside Burma,Military,News,Opinion
At 20 pages, with seven chapters and about 120 different points, it’s hard not to agree with the international conflict resolution expert who recently called Myanmar’s draft nationwide ceasefire agreement as the world’s lengthiest ceasefire deal.
Negotiating parties have spent the past nine months coming up with the current version of the agreement. At the beginning of the talks there were several different drafts. It took some time for negotiators to consolidate these into a single document, a feat achieved in April.
The nationwide ceasefire agreement is supposed to be a ceasefire text. To me, it is really more of a political document, and this may explain why it has taken some time to get to where we are now.
The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which is negotiating on behalf of 16 armed ethnic groups, has been meeting again in Laiza – the Kachin Independence Organisation headquarters – in recent days. It is their second gathering at the Kachin State border town to discuss the agreement – they last met there in October 2013. The next round of talks with the Myanmar government is expected to take place in Yangon sometime in August.
As early as March this year, the Myanmar Armed Forces, or Tatmadaw, stated that it wanted to sign the ceasefire agreement before August 1. Through this, military leader showed their commitment to peace. Given the current situation, however, that objective will not be realised.
The nature of the conflict and negotiations, which involve multiple stakeholders, is such that no one actually knows when the talks can be concluded. Frustration sometimes tends to supersede patience and perseverance. But all groups have little choice but to remain patient and focus on reaching agreement.
Frustration aside, all parties are now unofficially aiming for a September deadline – which to me is very realistic – with the probable commencement of the political dialogue in January 2015.
But let’s take a glance at the agreement, and see both what it contains and what remains to be negotiated.
As in any agreement, it starts out with a preamble with a pledge aimed at achieving durable peace based on equality and dignity. There is also a commitment to working collaboratively, transparently and accountably toward peace.
The first chapter is about basic principles. Here, all sides are to agree on union, rather than secession, and respect of sovereignty. Other key basic principles include a commitment to peaceful dialogue rather than war, inclusiveness and recognition of diversity, and establishment of pledges toward federalism rooted in multi-party democracy.
The second chapter focuses on the aims and objectives of the agreement, including the long-awaited political dialogue process and a ceasefire monitoring mechanism. It also emphasises that the agreement should be signed by all groups that are part of the peace process.
The third chapter deals directly with ceasefire issues. It talks about joint ceasefire monitoring mechanisms, troop relocations, freedom of movement without weapons for troops, freedom of movement for civilians, protection of civilians and humanitarian assistance. One word that is often repeated here is collaboration. Civilian protection alone has 20 sub-headings ranging from refraining from establishing military bases at social, religious, health or education buildings to the protection of women and children in armed conflict.
The fourth chapter is an agreement to draw up codes of conduct once the agreement is signed, which is a crucial step for strengthening ceasefires. Without these and the joint ceasefire monitoring, it would be impossible to maintain an effective ceasefire.
The next chapter focuses on political guarantees and the holding of a political dialogue. It sets out the key steps toward peace, starting with the nationwide ceasefire agreement, followed by the development of the framework for political dialogue, which is the basis on which political dialogue will be implemented. One of the provisions of this chapter is on the ratification of political and peace agreements by the nation’s parliament.
The deadlines for this chapter are ambitious. It says the framework for political dialogue must be jointly developed within 60 days of the signing of the ceasefire agreement and political dialogue must commence within 90 days. In some other countries it has taken anywhere from four months to a year to develop a similar framework. In order to make the deadline feasible, stakeholders have begun informal consultations on the framework in parallel with ceasefire negotiations.
The sixth chapter is about transitional arrangements and future plans. One of the most important agreements will be the suspension of the Unlawful Associations Act for all signatories to the agreement, which has been a thorn in the side of the peacemaking efforts.
Chapter 7 – the final chapter – deals with the official language, validity and signing of the agreement.
How much remains to be finalised? After several rounds of negotiations, both sides have agreed in principle on 75 percent of the text. The remaining 25pc therefore needs revisiting.
The majority of the outstanding issues are in the chapters dealing with the basic principles and transitional arrangements. Some others concern political guarantees in the draft. There are also some 20 to 30 words to be defined or redefined so they are compatible with the agreement, such as federalism, federal army, revolution, union, and existing – as in existing laws – just to name a few.
Despite some reservations and misconceptions, all sides have indicated that they will sign the agreement. It is for this reason that the negotiations have been given such prominence.
The purposes of the ceasefire are crystal clear. In October 2013, I wrote, “The NCA is a pragmatic attempt to end all hostilities in what has been a horribly destructive war. It will affirm the commitment of all armed groups, including the Tatmadaw, to peace and to the peaceful settlement of problems that confront Myanmar. It is a chance for political leaders on all sides to leave a legacy of peace – a legacy sorely lacking in Myanmar – for generations to come.”
These are crucial political considerations and objectives for all stakeholders. Aside from these, the nationwide ceasefire agreement contains all the right language, attitude and commitment for peace. Importantly for ethnic armed groups, it does not force them to give up their weapons or territory if they sign the agreement. Even at first glance, then, the agreement is not a bad deal.
Aung Naing Oo is associate director of the Peace Dialogue Program at the Myanmar Peace Center. The opinions expressed here are his personal views.