Friday, August 18, 2017

‘We want a real peace, not a fake one’

U Shwe Myo Thant is secretary 2 of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the main armed group in Kayah State. He tells Carole Oudot and Matthieu Baudey why the KNPP refused to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement, expresses reservations about the November 8 election and suggests what the Tatmadaw really wants from armed ethnic groups.

Karenni National Progressive Party secretary 2 U Shwe Myo Thant. (Carole Oudot/The Myanmar Times)Karenni National Progressive Party secretary 2 U Shwe Myo Thant. (Carole Oudot/The Myanmar Times)

What is the current status of the peace process? What happened to the all-inclusiveness originally planned in the NCA?

It’s a bit complicated. We don’t completely trust the military. We reached the final stage before signing the NCA. But the military are still launching operations. It makes all-inclusiveness impossible. Ethnic leaders used to think that if the government allowed all NCCT members to sign, everyone would sign [the National Ceasefire Coordination Team is the umbrella organisation for ethnic armed groups]. But they won’t include those who don’t already have a bilateral agreement, which excludes groups like the MNDAA [Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army], the AA [Arakan Army] and the TNLA [Ta’ang National Liberation Army].

During the negotiations, we proposed, and the government agreed, a bilateral ceasefire with the TNLA and the others. The problem is, the alliance of those three is solid. Even if the ethnic armed organisations [EAOs] and the government had been willing to conclude a bilateral agreement, it’s now impossible. For example, the TNLA would sign, but not if it means abandoning its allies. In that case the military will continue to attack the remaining alliance members.

Why did the KNPP refuse to sign and what is going to happen now?

I think the government and the military should reassure us that they are sincere and really want to stop fighting, in order to establish genuine peace. That’s the only way out. On the one hand, they are proceeding with the political dialogue; on the other, the military keeps launching operations. That doesn’t make sense. It will make genuine peace impossible. Because they are not ready to sign with the MNDAA, the TNLA and the AA, the government attacks the KIO [Kachin Independence Organisation], which has connections with the other groups. It makes signing a lot harder. So we said no. We are still committed to peace, to putting an end to the fighting and to getting out of this dead end. Actually we really want to sign, but it’s not easy. We want a real peace, not a fake one. Some people are criticising us for not signing. We’re prepared to explain our reasons.

If there is no further progress on the NCA, do you fear renewed fighting in Kayah State?

The Tatmadaw’s final goal is to eliminate all the armed groups in Myanmar. This is where the process is going wrong. They’re trying to reach their goal through the NCA first, but if the peaceful way doesn’t work, they have plan C. Now we are in plan B, switching to an open-book policy: Anyone who wants can come and sign. If plan B doesn’t work, there can be a plan C. In the KNPP area, they cannot launch operations. Many divisions have been sent to the north, so we don’t expect any fighting. They’re busy elsewhere. But we are never sure, precisely because of the tensions in the north.

Do you think Tatmadaw acts on its own, irrespective of the government?

That’s possible. Every organisation in the country asked Nay Pyi Taw to stop fighting. It didn’t happen ... What does it mean? We feel the military and the government have different strategies to achieve peace.

But how will the political framework after the NCA work if only a few groups sign? A political framework is meaningless if it does not represent everyone. Who will organise the political dialogue in Karenni [Kayah] State? Everything collapses if you remove the nationwide aspect of the nationwide ceasefire agreement.

Is the government rushing ethnic armed organisations into signing because the election is approaching?

I don’t know how they think. There are two possibilities. First, they know they don’t stand a chance against the NLD [National League for Democracy] in the elections. So they are making peace with the armed groups so that with their support, they can win some of the ethnic-controlled areas. The USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party] and the military recently gave 200 rice packages to the Karenni Army [the KNPP’s armed wing]. This is the first time such a thing has happened in 67 years. It’s clear that actually they want to befriend us for electoral purposes.

The other possibility is, if they’re sure they can’t win the election, they will start making trouble in ethnic areas so that the election is postponed. I don’t know which scenario they will go for. But we won’t feel responsible if they postpone the election. We don’t want to play their game.

Where does KNPP stand as far as the election goes?

We would like to see our ethnic Karenni parties win seats. They know our state’s situation very well; they are not limited by a central authority. Moreover, they are our brothers and we can talk to them. For the moment, the main problem is who will be competent enough to be chief minister, to run the government. It’s more important than the political parties. The last state government proved to be a real failure, without any capacity or administrative skills. Better communication and joint action between the state and the Union level will be needed too. Our state is very complicated – you need to know who controls which areas.

What is the main issue a new government will have to address in Kayah State?

The land issue. Sixty percent of the people here depend on the land for their livelihoods. And there are still so many land confiscations. We are still a rural country. We cannot compete for now with other countries regarding industrialisation or technology. This country has to solve issues faced by its agriculture. Establishing a solid economy in our state cannot be achieved by land-grabs.

Do you think the election will be free and fair?

No, I don’t. Nearly 95pc of Union-level administrative personnel in the ministries come from the military. Even if they are not in uniform, they have a military background. The USDP will of course use that advantage. Any newly formed government will have to deal with administrators who are ex-military. How can they progress toward democracy?

Do you think the ruling party will easily accept defeat?

They say so. But the military still won’t release its grip. President U Thein Sein himself encouraged people to vote for candidates with a military background. That’s very funny, but it’s not how elections are supposed to work.

Would an NLD win speed up constitutional reform?

It depends on how the military cooperate with the new government. If they don’t, we will have a failed state. The NLD is confident about the results, but I think they may be a little bit wrong. They didn’t make any alliances with the ethnic parties, which would have been a smart way of holding on to the ethnic states. Instead they’re going round trying to win ethnic areas on their own, without any alliance. But in the end they will need ethnic parties, or they will lose a good part of ethnic support.

Since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is not eligible to be president, can we expect a president from the USDP or the military even if the NLD wins?

To be president, you must have the approval of the military, that’s for sure. The NLD will still need to get support from them to make their candidate president.

Thura U Shwe Mann was pushed aside from the USDP leadership in August. Do you think this is a bad omen?

Yes, it clearly shows that they [the USDP] have a hidden agenda. They still want to hold power, maybe for the next 10 or 20 years. Thura U Shwe Mann was kicked out because he started to change things. It will affect the elections. But their inner strategy remains a mystery.

Do you think the USDP have lost their electoral edge because of this?

Definitely. Thura U Shwe Mann has good relations with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The two had an understanding on how to shape the country after the elections. Even inside the USDP, some groups are in favour of reforms and constitutional change. So Thura U Shwe Mann’s eviction also affects the USDP, as well as potential supporters. Now they must be asking themselves a lot of questions.