ENAC Briefing No. 5
On Union Day, February 12, 2015, the President, senior Tatmadaw officers, both speakers of the Hluttaws, political parties, and four Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs)—the Restoration Council of Shan State, Karen National Union, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, and KNU/KNLA Peace Council—signed the Deed of Commitment to Peace and National Reconciliation (the “Deed”) at Naypyidaw. By signing the Deed, the President is able to demonstrate a positive image to the country and the international community that Burma’s peace process is moving forward in advance of the election later this year.
Many of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) members were concerned that the Deed might weaken the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) process, instead of supporting it. The NCCT leader Nai Han Tha told the ENAC, “The Deed is similar to the points that the NCCT and the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) have been negotiating for over a year… It is better to solve the remaining key issues in the NCA.” The Kachin Independence Organization did not attend the Union Day activities in Naypyidaw, and its Central Committee released a statement on the Union Day expressing its commitment to the peace process through the NCCT. Among the EAO signatories, the NCCT and the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) have not signed as a group, nor did the powerful United Wa State Army sign, undermining the Deed’s credibility. Although many political parties signed the Deed, the United Nationalities Alliance ethnic block did not sign.
The Deed’s first point focuses on the basic political principles and reflects the August 2014 NCA single-text draft. UN Special Advisor on Myanmar Vijay Nambiar said, “This is a historic moment as it is the first time that a President of Myanmar has formally signed a commitment to build a democratic and federal union.” However, the EAOs remain concerned that this language does not fully guarantee a Federal Union and that it qualifies the commitment to federalism with the phrase “in accordance with the outcomes of political dialogue.”
Although it is meaningful that President U Thein Sein has now put his words on paper as well as in speeches, the Government of Burma has stated that it does not consider the Deed to be a binding document. U Hla Maung Shwe of the Myanmar Peace Center explained, “I understand that making pledges mean giving ourselves and the citizens promises. But it is not a contract.” It is unclear what the significance of the Deed and its commitments will be if the Government does not intend itself to be bound by signing the document. In addition, Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing expressed his gratitude to the EAOs who signed the Deed and urged the other EAOs to sign in the interests of the people and the nation, but he himself, as the highest ranking officer in the Tatmadaw, chose not to sign the document.
The Deed’s fifth point calls for jointly preventing armed clashes and refraining from taking measures that will harm the peace process. This is a necessary aim; however, the same week of the Union Day celebrations the Tatmadaw escalated its offensives with air strikes in northern Burma against the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, member to both the UNFC and the NCCT, causing new groups of Internally Displaced Persons to flee the area. Given the seriousness of the situation on the ground, the best way to establish confidence in the peace process would be for the Tatmadaw to stop the fighting and withdraw troops from the frontline areas.