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As hundreds of representatives from Burma’s military, ethnic armed groups and political parties converge on Naypyidaw for today’s Union Peace Conference, an alliance of over 600 civil society groups has labelled the event a sham.
A joint statement released on Monday by 518 groups under the banner of The Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Land In Our Hand, made up of 53, slammed the political dialogue as exclusionary. The organisations say that the second stage in Burma’s much-vaunted peace process has come without proper consultation of ethnic peoples and will be devoid of their voices.
President Thein Sein has made the peace process the focus of his time in office, which will end in March. The former military general ushered in over two years of peace negotiations in November 2012 with the opening of the Myanmar Peace Centre, a foreign funded board charged with brokering an end to six decades of civil war in Burma. A ceasefire deal was done in October 2015, pre-drafted by the government and 16 rebel groups but signed only by seven. The document mandated the next stage of the peace process, political dialogue, which begins with today’s meeting.
Ethnic armed groups that have not yet signed Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement gathered as members of the United Nationalities Federal Council last week to announce a boycott the conference. Those armies include the powerful Kachin Independence Army and the Shan State Army-North which have both fought vicious battles in Burma’s northeast since declining to sign the document in October.
Civil society leaders are among the seven hundred representatives that will join the five day meeting in Naypyidaw, featuring as experts and observers. Yet civil society says these few representatives will continue to be sidelined by military and political delegates there to discuss five key points, namely politics, economics, social issues, security as well as land and environment.
The Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA) is one NGO that put its name to Monday’s call for the recognition of community stakeholders.
“There are five main issues to be discussed, and the policies that will be established will be based solely on the terms defined at the conference, said Aung Kyaw Moe, a spokesperson for the organisation.
“So, without inclusive participation, policies will be set and all future discussion will be based on that. We are worried that the policy set in the first part of the meeting will not reflect the people’s needs.”
Further to the apparent snubbing of community organisations, women’s rights organisations say the government has backtracked on an earlier pledge to include women in brokering and fostering peace. Discussion preceding the ceasefire led to a quota of 30 percent women’s participation in the political dialogue that begins today. Instead the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement that was eventually signed mandates only for an “appropriate portion of women” to take part.
On Sunday, The Burma Women’s Union released a statement demanding that women’s rights groups be included.
“To establish sustainable peace and a federal union, an inclusive nationwide ceasefire should be implemented and be inclusive of the appropriate armed forces, democratic forces, political parties, political activist groups, community based organisations and women’s organisations in political dialogue,” the statement read.
President Thein Sein opened proceedings with an address on Tuesday, when he made mention of the role of civil society and non-governmental organisations in the peace process.
“In order to find political solutions for ethnic armed conflicts that have lingered since independence, representatives of political and civil society must also be involved in the dialogue. As such, we have included both ceasefire and political previsions in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement,” Thein Sein said.