Bertil Lintner contemplates a way forward for Myanmar’s peace process.
On the other hand, the EAOs that did not sign it have failed to come up with a viable alternative to the now stalled “peace process.” They have also been reactive rather than proactive, and are now doing little more than waiting for the new government to invite them to talks. Cynics would argue that some of the EAO leaders may also be waiting to hear what lucrative deals the new government may offer them, and if those would be even better than the business deals awarded the KNU, the RSCC and others.
But it should not be too difficult to come up with a comprehensive roadmap for peace, even though the situation in Burma today has been made even muddier by the presence of a host of foreign carpetbaggers. Styling themselves as “peacemakers,” they have shown that they have little or no understanding of Burma’s ethnic problems—and that their main interest is to cash in on the peace bonanza that the flow of foreign funds has resulted in, not to alleviate the sufferings of the people in the frontier areas.
A simple way forward could look like this: As a first step, the government should announce a nationwide ceasefire. Nothing has to be signed at this stage, but some on-the-ground monitoring would be required.
Then the government should invite leaders of the EAOs, representatives of civil society groups and religious organizations for talks about the way forward.
Step three would be to study federal models that would provide lasting solutions to the ethnic conflicts and thereby strengthen the Union. A continuation of the civil war will only be detrimental to national unity, as has been the case been for decades.
Then, a federal model should be agreed upon in line with the aspirations of the non-Bamar peoples—and the promises of the NLD’s 1988 manifesto of “the highest degree of autonomy consonant with the inherent rights of the minorities and the well-being of the Union as a whole.”
As a fifth and final step, a political agreement should be signed, the EAOs could be dissolved and turned into local police forces or whatever they, civil society and the government think would be the best solution. Such an accord could be considered a successor to the historic 1947 Panglong Agreement, at which Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San, worked with leaders from ethnic groups to decide how the Union of Burma would be constituted. But as was with the first Panglong Agreement, these new terms should be signed only after a consensus has been reached on what kind of political structure Burma should have.
This may not be easy, but solving decades-long conflicts never is. At the very least, it would be more constructive than the policies of the previous government and its supporters in the international donor community. The main task has to be to bring one of the world’s longest-lasting ethnic wars to an end, not to benefit from it financially in terms of funding for various, largely meaningless “peace projects.” After decades of “misfortune verging on the tragic,” as the NLD stated in 1988, the people of Burma, regardless of nationality, deserve nothing less than to live in peace and harmony with each other.
Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and author of several books on Burma, including Outrage: Burma’s Struggle for Democracy; Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Democracy; and Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948. He is currently a writer with Asia Pacific Media Services.