Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 152, 26 August 2020

Myanmar: The Fourth Session of the Union Peace Conference witnesses the signing of Union Accord-III
D. Suba Chandran

In the news
On 21 August 2020, Myanmar concluded the fourth session of the Union Peace Conference. The three days session, held in Nay Pyi Taw witnessed the participation by the following: Aung San Suu Kyi (State Counsellor and Chairperson of National Reconciliation and Peace Centre NRPC), Representatives from the Government, the Hluttaw (Legislature) and the Tatmadaw (Military), members from the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) that have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), and representatives from political parties.

On the same day, the Union Accord-III was signed by the representatives from the government, the Hluttaw, the Tatmadaw, the EAOs, and the political parties. The Accord, third in a series, includes three main agreements and cover 20 points focussing on a working plan and the implementation process. The First Agreement provides the framework agreement on implementing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). The second provides for a "stage-by-stage work programme" and a "step-by-step implementation," to achieve the NCA. The third agreement provides fundamental principles to establish a Union based on democracy and federal system in Myanmar.

Also, on 21 August 2020, Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a long speech (now available online). She referred to the sense of disappointments with the previous conferences, short duration of the fourth session, and the difficulties in reaching the Union Accord-III. She emphasized on three points. The first one was about a "new plan beyond 2020 for developing a Democratic Federal Union". The second one was about "shaping the character of a Union with common agreements of national people" and the third one "to continue holding dialogues."

On 24 August, the military announced extending the ceasefire across the country, however excluding the Rakhine state. Earlier, in May 2020, the Tatmadaw had announced a ceasefire until end August.

Issues at large
The first issue relates to holding peace conferences and signing agreements vis-à-vis their actual implementation. Across the world, all peace processes face this problem. In Myanmar, this is neither the first conference nor the first time, the parties come to a consensus and sign an agreement/accord. 

In October 2015, the government signed the famous "Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement" (NCA) with eight Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). Two more groups joined in 2018, making the EAOs that have signed the NCA into ten, and are now referred to as the NCA-S EAOs. During August-September 2016, Myanmar held the first session of the Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong. Two more sessions were held during 2017 and 2018. The latest session is the fourth in this series. Numerous agreements were signed in these sessions/meetings; for example, in the third session held in July 2018, Union Accord – II was signed; and 37 agreements were signed in the second session in 2017 referred as the Pyidaungsu Accord. The challenge is not conferences and agreements, but taking implementing them on the ground.

The second issue relates to the comprehensiveness of the "Nationwide" Ceasefire Agreement – in terms of groups and geography. While the Peace Conferences since 2015 have succeeded in getting ten Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) within the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), there are many outside it. And not every group that took part in the meetings were a part of the signatory the agreements. Similarly, the "Nationwide" Ceasefire, does not cover entire Myanmar; Rakhine State, for example, is outside it, as announced by the Tatmadaw recently.

The third issue relates to the differences and the political space within the State actors that include the political parties, the legislature and the military. The Tatmadaw continues to remain dominant and occupy a larger space in the dialogue process vis-a-vis the ethnic groups within Myanmar – militant or otherwise.

In perspective
The forthcoming elections in Myanmar scheduled in November 2020 loom large for the NLD and Aung San Sui Kyi. The immediate focus of the NLD would be to win the elections and form the government subsequently. Hence the elections, victory and post-election government formation will assume priority for Myanmar's main political party – the NLD, and also for the Tatmadaw. The latter would be watching the elections closely and see its outcome. The immediate priority for the State actors would be elections and not the peace process and the agreements signed. Myanmar seems to have succeeded in establishing multiple processes and also signing agreements. However, the end goal – peace, seems to remain afar.

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