Khu Oo Reh (Photo: PI)

Day Four. Thursday, 30 March 2017

If you want to gather honey,

Don’t kick over the beehive.

Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)

This morning, our special guest speaker is Khu Oo Reh, Vice Chairman of the KNPP and General Secretary of the UNFC. Coming from Loikaw at 05:00, he arrives at 07:30.

And today, we are hearing an update from him about the ongoing negotiations with the government. Being the leader of the UNFC’s Delegation for Political Negotiations (DPN), how he sees what’s going on is of much importance to all of us.

The extracts here are what I think haven’t appeared in the media, and if they do have, they may not be in context:

  • Clarification of the 9 point proposal to the government. Only 8 points are being negotiated. Point 9 is not for negotiation, as it is only a statement saying the UNFC will sign the NCA with the government after the above 8 points are successfully negotiated.
  • Some people have asked whether we want to deviate from the NCA path. We wish to reply that the UNFC’s purpose is not to wander from the path, but only to broaden it.
  • On 1 March, we spoken for 2 hours with the State Counselor. She was listening attentively to us and we were encouraged.

Two days later, we negotiated with the Peace Commission (PC) again. This time it was very pleasant and relaxed, unlike previous ones. In no time, the 9 points reached “agreement in principle.”

Asked why “agreement in principle,” he answers that for one thing, he didn’t have the mandate to sign. It must be reported back to the UNFC. “For another, we wanted to have our verbal agreement officially recorded, to make sure it is honored by both sides.” Still yet another (which he does not mention during his presentation) is that he doesn’t want it to be final without the participation of the KIO and the SSPP, whose memberships still hang in the balance following their participation in the Wa-hosted Pangkham Summit, that had jilted the NCA.

The main reason for the happy turnout of this meeting, with the government side was the Pangkham Summit, he reasons, but does not elaborate further.

(Another reason offered by a former negotiator was that the Tatmadaw’s representatives: lieutenant generals Ya Pyae, Min Naung and Khin Zaw Oo did not object to the decision. “They didn’t,” he said, “because there was no directive from the CinC whether or not to consent to it.”)

The government has also agreed to accept the UNFC’s non-combatant members: Arakan National Council (ANC), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), and Wa National Organization (WNO) as NCA signatories, he adds. He elaborates later that the agreement was not without conditions: one, they would not be accepted as members in the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC) and, two, they would not be allowed to set up liaison offices (L.O.s).

Whatever elation he felt, he says, completely wore off when reports came on 6 March that the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) had staged another counter attack in Kokang against the Myanmar Army (MA). “It was as though all our efforts have become water that is poured into the sand,” he recalls. Later he was relieved to hear that neither the KIO nor the SSPP had taken part in the fighting.

  • His planned schedule is as follows:

April       –      To report back to the UNFC and seek approval

  • To meet the PC again before Thingyan holidays, 13-16 April, to finalize the 3 March resolutions (Note: That did not materialize)
  • To sign the Deed of Commitment (that reiterates the agreed 8 points) after Thingyan

May       –      To sign the NCA at the second UPC21CP

I guess many at the conference are satisfied with his presentation, like myself. It doesn’t mean we now have all the answers we need. Just that we are clearer about what’s in store for the peacemakers in the coming months.

PSF and JPF representatives with Victor Biaklian, EBO, far right. (Photo: PI)

The next speakers are no less interesting, because they are from the Peace Support Fund (PSF) and the newly established Joint Peace Fund (JPF). And here are excerpts from my notes:

  • The PSF took responsibility to fund the EAOs peace efforts from mid-2016 up to the end of February 2017
  • The JPF, representing 11 donor nations, will be able to start its funding programs only by May
  • Funds for March and April will be provided by Norway
  • Liaison offices are considered important. We (donors) don’t care whether you have or have not signed the NCA.

The liaison officers also have their proposals for the donors:

  • So far, we have received only operation costs. Our work will run smoother and faster, if we are also provided with activity costs.
  • Some of our liaison offices are named economic liaison offices. Not that we are engaged in business, but because they have yet to be officially recognized by the government. We propose that donors consider funding them too.

Kakku Pagoda (Photo: PI)

The conference ends at 12:30. Most of the participants spend their afternoon visiting Yawnghwe/Nyaungshwe and the Inlay Lake. We are to meet again at the dinner party at 19:00.

For myself, I have long thought about visiting the Kakku pagoda, south of Taunggyi, in Kyawnktalong sub-township. It had become famous only quite recently. I had never heard about it when I was living here, 1962-1969.

It is a leisurely jaunt by car over tarmac road to the place, 22 miles away, which stands beside the Tamphak river.

According to the booklet that I have bought there, the number of stupas were 2,402 in 1918 and 2,548 in 1928. However, the local folk-rhyme meanwhile boasts a total of 7,623 stupas.

Sao Hkun Kyi

The booklet’s writer, referring to handwritten (or hand copied) manuscript in 1816 by an unknown author, ventures that it was built by Alaung Sithu (1174-1211), King of Pagan/Bagan, a widely traveled monarch, who arrived there in his personal royal barge.  The surrounding area was later named Kakku by the PaOs, whose princedom that came into being in 1781 had a border checkpoint there with the state of Yawnghwe. “Kak” means “checkpoint” or “outpost” and “Ku” means “border”, the booklet says.

My friend Peun Kham, a former learned monk from eastern Shan State, however, says pagodas like Nawng Kham Laikha, Mong Keung, Indein and Kakku bear the unmistakable Yon (Yonok) Shan style. His statement appears to be supported by Sao Hkun Kyi, the late ruling PaO prince of Hsatung (1929-48), who wrote that the area was once settled by Yon Shans. But as it was frequently raided by the Karennis who abducted the inhabitants and sold them as slaves to Thailand, their descendants later moved to and founded the neighboring Samka and Sakoi states. This No Man’s land later was settled by PaOs coming from Thaton.

PaO traditional dancing (Photo:PI)

I take a stroll inside with my sister and her husband, stopping once in a while to look at the workmanship, and blaming myself a little for not bringing with me Peunkham or someone who’s knowledgeable.

The evening is spent at the farewell party, where the PaO cultural group entertains us with their marvelous and joyful dance, which is strikingly similar but different in style to the Shans’ Gawng Mawng Hserng.

Day Five. Friday, 31 March 2017

Those convinced against their will

Are of the same opinion still

Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)

Today, we return to the old capital, where I arrive at noon. The day is spent visiting PI Office in South Okklapa township and its staff led by Dr Sai Oo, and later with friends whom I had worked with since 2011.

The next day, 1 April, while the by-elections are being held for 19 vacant seats in the state and union legislatures, I am back in Chiangmai, the home away from home.