Today marks the 5th anniversary of the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. In previous years, we celebrated the anniversary celebrations in this great hall. Today because of the need to prevent and contain the COVID-19 global pandemic, we are unable to celebrate. That is why I am greeting all of you via this televised video broadcast.
Reaffirming our promise
Organizing anniversary celebrations and events to mark special occasions are for the purpose of reaffirming the basic principles, agreements, and solemn commitments contained in the NCA by all those respective groups who have signed this agreement. The NCA is an agreement jointly owned by both parties. Although we have not participated as insiders in the NCA negotiations, the first thing we took up on a priority basis was “national reconciliation and peace” after we took over state responsibilities. We met with individuals and organizations involved in the peace process and listened to their views and recommendations. We noticed that there was a common path among the different beliefs, views and outlooks. This path was none other than the path of peace based on the NCA (Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement). There are three distinct characteristics in the NCA. The first characteristic is the fact that the idea for the NCA was initiated by the ethnic armed organizations.
The second characteristic is the fact that in the past eras and periods, they were based on negotiations for ceasefire and peace, and there were very few agreements signed. However, in the NCA, a majority of the EAOs (Ethnic Armed Organizations) participated and signed. The way was open for more groups to join.
The third characteristic is the fact that it is not only for a ceasefire and the guns to become silent but to resolve political problems through political means, something yearned by all the ethnic nationalities and the establishment of the new Democratic Federal Union in the future. These aspirations are included. That is why I have used the term “NCA umbrella” as a metaphor.
Difficulties encountered during the NCA process
Although we were not involved during the negotiations and signature of the NCA, we took full responsibility during its practical implementation. Our Union Government had to take responsibility for the major portions of the NCA such as the political negotiations and strengthening of the ceasefire. Although the Tatmadaw had taken responsibility for all military matters, with respect to the implementation of the NCA, our Union Government has been involved to a certain extent.
In the implementation of the political negotiations and strengthening of the ceasefire aspects along the NCA path on a harmonious way, all of us encountered difficulties and challenges. When we studied the difficulties that emerged, we found out that during the NCA negotiations: lack of clear understanding; lack of common understanding; pulling out only the parts that were of interest and implementing them; intentionally ignoring certain parts where there was no interest; and lack of clear definitions of concepts and terms among the negotiating parties. When the NCA negotiations were conducted during the past five years, the process was mainly conceptual and envisioned the future; so it is natural that problems would be encountered during the actual implementation.
The first difficulty was the fact that there had been no common understanding with respect to the agreements, and terms contained in the agreement. When there were differences in understanding, implementations became different. For example, the term “national-level political discussions” was merely mentioned in the NCA.
Although the framework and policies for political discussions had been explained at great length, since there were differences of opinion on the NCA itself, we had great difficulties when we tried to implement the political discussions. Therefore we could conclude that a common understanding of the NCA was needed for its smooth implementation.
The second difficulty relates to the mechanisms that emerged because of the NCA and the running of these mechanisms. There were two – the JICM and the UPDJC. Then there is also the JMC. The organizations that signed the NCA began to engage in arguments within these mechanisms with special emphasis on the work guidelines and procedures. Although problems could have been resolved by face to face discussions between the armed groups, trust at the ground level was eroded because of preoccupation on work guidelines. Because there was more emphasis on arguments relating to technical matters, rather than the emphasis on political negotiations, matters which could have been resolved with mutual trust developed into bigger problems as a result of arguments at the big meetings. Some people think that the running of the military component and the political component is separate. In actual fact, there is a correlation between the political and the military components. When people begin to point fingers because the political negotiations run to a halt, it impacts negatively on coordination efforts on the military side. In the same way, because of problems on the military side, trust can be eroded and could block the progress of the political negotiations. To give an example, to restart the JMC, which had been stalled for a long period, we had to make efforts in tandem with the political component to achieve success. That is why we can make an observation that it is extremely important for all the mechanisms to be working harmoniously as a whole to achieve peace.
The third difficulty is the situation of NCA and its limitations. It just specifies the implementation of Union Accord but fails to mention how to implement it. It states reconciliation in security affairs, without clarifying how to carry it out. Such sensitive issues were not discussed in detail. There were awkward situations to cause delays in negotiations for security issue due to the terms and conditions of respective groups which could not be neglected in implementation. Moreover, as no specific guidelines were adopted for implementing the agreements, worries appeared in the process of political dialogue. Such conditions have delayed the political negotiations.
Part III of Union Accord
The stakeholders had to find ways to overcome such challenges after holding discussions in an open and transparent manner. The findings were turned into the agreements, and we could also solve more problems in such situations. As a result, the ‘Framework Agreement on Implementing Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement’, which is the part 1 of the Agreement under the Union Accord III, was signed on 21 August.
Moreover, how to proceed with the peacemaking process in the post-2020 has been a question for the stakeholders. The NCA did not mention it. Although the Part I and II of Union Accord have been approved at the Union Hluttaw, in reality implementing these two agreements is still a long way off. We had many informal discussions, whether to set a specific time frame on these issues or to implement them in prioritized order on stage-by-stage. Finally, we agreed the stage-by-stage implementation modality. This agreement became Part 2 of the Agreement under the Union Accord III, ‘Stage by Stage work programmes and step by step implementation in the post-2020’.
Moreover, the NCA has just stipulated ‘to establish democracy and federal system-based Union’. However, there have been different views on the systems of democracy and feudalism. While we were having intense discussions, we gradually realized to adopt a common vision in shaping our future Union. We had to take a long time to achieve this agreement. It was then created into Part 3 of the Agreement under the Union Accord III, ‘Fundamental principles to establish a Union based on democracy and the federal system’.
In reviewing these processes, the NCA was the first step to begin political dialogues after ending armed conflicts, and to establish a Democratic Federal Union. The NCA was first created with the issues of politics and military. However, the Part III of the Union Accord was developed to turn federal dreams with different forms of democracy and federal systems into a ‘Union Dream’ as a common vision to overcome challenges in implementation and to proceed to the next step for establishing a Democratic Federal Union step by step in line with the Part III of the Union Accord. The steps that began with the NCA have been stronger, and it has been a great success for our Union and national people.
Part III of the Union Accord has become a strong foundation laid down at the 21st Century Panglong to implement the Union Dream, which has been the aspiration of all the ethnic nationalities for many years. I fully appreciate and value the participation and contribution of all the stakeholders and supporters in the discussions.
First historical dialogue on politics
In looking back at the history of our country, Myanmar could not properly organize political dialogues through peaceful negotiations after regaining Independence through the 20th Century Panglong due to the results of armed conflicts which emerged together with the Independence of the country.
Due to the ‘power first’ ideology, the armed conflict of the country has been labelled as ‘the longest civil war’. By removing these practices, We need to engage in peaceful negotiations characterized by flexibility and give-and-take.
In reviewing the efforts of successive governments for peace after Independence, peace negotiations in Yangon during the administration of the Revolutionary Council failed to make agreements. During the term of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), only one ethnic armed organization signed the ceasefire agreement. Under the rule of Tatmadaw governments in the post-1988 period, the ceasefire agreement was made with 40 ethnic armed organizations. However, no political dialogues could be held in line with their declaration of ‘no way to hold any political dialogue under the non-political administration’. The Union Solidarity and Development Party government signed ceasefire agreements with 15 ethnic armed organizations and adopted the NCA with eight signatories of EAOs. The Union Peace Conference was organized one time and held paper reading sessions.
We had to repeatedly amend the political dialogue framework in our term of more than four years. The amendments were based on the difficulties encountered when we practically used it, and we had to amend it up to 12 times. All of us conducted negotiations and took great efforts to make the series of conferences more efficient, and we could deepen the friendship and understanding between us. We frequently held both official meetings and very important informal meetings. All of us worked hard to enter into political dialogue, which can be called the first political dialogue of our country after it gained Independence, so the dialogue can be called a historical political dialogue.
Here, I would like to respond to the criticisms that say we did not listen to the voices of national ethnic people and ignored their feelings. To negotiate the NCA and the parts of the Union Accord, our discussions were based on the needs and wishes of ethnic groups. During our government’s tenure, two more ethnic organizations signed the NCA; we follow a policy of inclusiveness and welcome the participation of the remaining ethnic armed organizations.
When we discussed the matters related to creating a Democratic Federal Union and its basic principles, we took into account the opinions of the remaining ethnic armed organizations, too. The 21st Century Panglong Conference is timely, first-ever political dialogue since after Myanmar gained Independence, to fulfil the historical needs of Myanmar, and so we would like to invite the remaining ethnic armed organizations which have yet to participate in the conference because of various reasons, to be involved in it. We would like to inform you that we will continue putting in a great deal of effort in order for the remaining groups to participate in the conference.
Solemn commitment for Peace
If we compare the current situation of the peace process of the country to the status of more than ten years ago, the current situation is on the right track for shaping a great future for the Union.
Here, I would like to stress that if all stakeholders are really eager and take effective efforts to create a Union, the characteristics of the Union will take shape; the deep, peaceful friendship between our national ethnic people will become stronger and we will able to build together a “genuine Union” which will have good political culture and real essence.
On this 5th anniversary of the NCA, I have thought about time. It is about procrastination. I think that procrastination in making peace is rejecting peace. If responsible leaders are giving higher priorities to their personal matters, their political advantages and their fans as well as procrastinating rather than bravely working hard for their duties, or if they are disturbing the peace process, they will not be dutiful in their roles for the people. If those people are taking important positions and ranks for the entire Union, they can become irresponsible persons for the future of the entire Union. I want you all to take careful note of this point.
Despite COVID-19 related challenges and electoral processes, our peace process cannot be paused. I would like to urge all of you not to take military advantages by exploiting the pandemic and the electoral processes. In the previous session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference, we all agreed to continue peace talks after the 2020 General Elections. I do not want you to see it as a delay. We all reached agreement and clearly showed the nature of faithfulness at the conference. The Peace process cannot be stalled; we must continue it with relentless efforts all the time. Our citizens are suffering from a lack of peace, so we must take efforts all the time to ease the sufferings of our citizens.
So, not only the organizations which are involved in the NCA peace process but also the NCA non-signatories which are negotiating to sign the NCA must continue official and informal talks, and negotiations. What I would like to stress is that “Fighting, wars and attacks need to be stopped. But the peace process and ceasefire must not be stopped.” We must continue the forward march of the peace process every day. I would like make a solemn request not to adopt a “wait and see” attitude with regard to Peacemaking.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that the peace process is not a separate process. Now, our country and our citizens are facing COVID-19 related impacts on our health and our economy, and the democratic elections, which are very important for the future, are around the corner. Moreover, there are intense rivalries in evolving international relations, and geopolitics is also important. In the context of those situations, we must work hard to achieve stronger peace day by day.
If our country has weaknesses, it will be like inviting unnecessary consequences. Since after Myanmar gained Independence, the main weakness of our country is the lack of national unity, and consequently, we could not achieve lasting peace. So, there is no development. Even if we achieve development, it cannot be equitable development which can be shared by all.
Now, we all know both the disease of the country and the cure. After the NCA started, we could achieve future processes such as the Union Accord Part III. In our way to peace in the post-2020 period, what we need is the will to cure the bad disease of disunity, and to cure that disease without delay.
Lack of peace can create an attitude of relying on weapons in this country. It will also harm the political tradition, which applies polite and peaceful dialogue. Moreover, I want the citizens to deeply understand that democracy, human rights and development cannot be achieved without peace. Lack of peace, wherever it occurs in the Union, is a bad inheritance. Our national ethnic people and our citizens have terribly suffered from lack of peace for many years. I would like to urge the citizens to support the organizations and people who are working hard for peace, and to take efforts to understand peace. I would like to urge all to take appropriate positions and roles in the peace process. I would like to conclude by calling on all our people to participate in the peace process and take efforts to create an advanced and developed Union which can stand tall with dignity among the nations of the world based on the foundations of national unity and peace.
Thank you all.
(Translated by Kyaw Myaing, Maung Maung Swe)