Ethnic minority groups and their political leaders have begun to criticise the Norwegian-led peace plan for its lack of openness and transparency. The seriousness of the allegations against the plan was highlighted in a Democratic Voice of Burma article on Thursday, October 11. It led to the direct intervention of the Norwegian ambassador and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Naturally, the Norwegian ambassador who is leading the process has disagreed with this stance and has stated categorically that peace is the lasting objective of the plan.
When contacted by the Irrawaddy, Kjetil Elsebutangen stated that no one involved in the fund, either on the international front, from the national government or the ethnic minorities involved had asked for the fund to be suspended. He did, however, note that the Karen National Union or KNU were voicing concerns. He also noted the KNU will be given time to have internal discussions before new developments and activities were initiated.
Founding of the Peace Plan
The aid plan known as the “peace fund” was launched in early 2012 by a group of nations and institutions including Norway, Australia, the United Nations, Great Britain, the European Union and the World Bank. It is known officially as the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative or MPSI. The Norwegian embassy has outlined the objectives as building confidence through ceasefire agreements, increase aid activities in affected areas, positive interactions between different groups and increase capacity building in terms of civil societies, communities and local government. The theatre for the majority of the organization’s work will be on the Thai-Burmese border where the majority of ethnic groups are clustered.
Cease Fires Announced
This news comes on the back of six-point peace plan announced last month. In September 100 ethnic minority leaders met in the Thai city of Chiang Mai to discuss with the government and other parties how to implement peace and enshrine the rights of ethnic minorities. A statement read out at the meeting said that those attending “do not believe that the peace plans from the government can implement peace in the country. Therefore, we formulated our own proposal which can build real peace.”
Development of the six point plan may have helped to bring up dissatisfaction with the MPSI project. The six points were to 1) host a meeting including all civil groups and ethnic armed groups, 2) an international community monitored meeting between government and ethnic armed groups, 3) referenda in each of the ethnic minority states to ratify any agreements made in dialogues, 4) a peace meeting for all ethnic groups, 5) tripartite discussions between the government, ethnic groups and democracy activists and 6) implementation of any ratified agreements made.
Peace and Openness Before Development
The evident worry for ethnic minority political leaders is that the group of western countries involved in the plan and the national government are using the peace plan as a means to develop the areas of land controlled or lived in by the ethnic minorities. This is to say that the peace is less important than the monetary benefits of development and business protection. For these people, this is an intolerable situation and one that actually jeopardises the long term peace that they are striving for.
It does raise the question, once again, of whether lasting peace and security for all Burmese, regardless of their ethnicity is being put forward as the top objective. From the beginning of the MPSI project, the Karen and Shan communities have been worried that the opinions, feelings and needs of all the displaced ethnic minority groups within Burma and those who have spilled over the borders will not be taken into account by the initiative.
Naturally, the mission is developing on the ground and events unfold. At the beginning of October, Arne Jan Flolo stated that documents would begin to be translated into all languages. While this is a good start, it is only a start. Key dialogue needs to occur that brings all the groups together, puts them on a common ground with the government and allows for some kind of intellectual and spiritual agreement on human rights, democracy, self-representation and peace before development begins. It is almost a case of making carts before you have horses or indeed, cars without petrol.