Achieving peace and reconciliation through dialogue is at the heart of Myanmar’s peace process. A complex series of national dialogues, both by geographical area; issue based; and ethnic based have been taking place over the last year. The different ideas and perspectives captured at these events feed into the Union level discussions in the peace process. But in a country which has so many different peoples, and so many different conflicts to resolve, in some cases the talking – and the resolution - needs to start at State level.
In Kayah state, for example, there are six main different ethnic groups: kayah; Kayan, Kayaw; Kawyaw (Monu Manaw); Yin Ta Lae and Gaybar e]. Over the last eleven months in Kayah state, a youth alliance, Union of Karenni State Youth (UKSY) with the support of the Joint Peace Fund, has been bringing a broad range of stakeholders together in monthly “engagement meetings”. These have created opportunities to discuss core issues of identity, language and culture; and to resolve their differences so they can collectively engage more effectively in the peace process.
These meetings have been remarkably successful, resulting in increased cooperation between the groups; the establishment of an effective dispute resolution mechanism; a successful process for reconciling cultural differences; and a broadening of civic engagement in the peace process.
“The vision of the engagement meetings,” says Philip Soe Aung, the project manager, “is to increase cooperation between different stakeholders, such as political parties, EAOs, government and CSOs. And also to resolve internal conflict and to make sure everyone who should be, is included in the peace process.”
A functioning dispute resolution mechanism within the state
Philip explains: “There is still internal conflict between some of the different groups, but now there is a way different stakeholders can talk about issues and work things out. For example, when the EAOS have a major project they are considering, such as business development of a factory in their territory, a political party or CSO might object. We had this issue over a cement factory recently. But now we have a way to resolve these disputes.”
A process to resolve differences of culture and identity
Philip says another key area that the meetings, which are formally known as the Kayah State Ethnic Cultural Exchange Forum, have helped address, are the many long-standing disputes over linguistic terminology, and written language, between the different peoples of the state. There are, for example more than seven spoken languages and six written scripts in use in Kayah state. Even the common term with which they collectively identify themselves has long been a point of contention. “The word Karenni for example, was not recognized by many of the groups as a valid term to use for all of us, because it also refers to one of the groups. For now, though, we have agreed to use it as an umbrella term, referring to Karenni citizens. In that way we are using it to refer to the territorial area and not a single group of people.”
A broader support for the Peace Process
Philip says that the engagement meetings have resolved many underlying tensions within their communities, and brought more stakeholders into discussions around the peace process. “For a long time many stakeholders have been afraid to deal with EAOs or political parties. And in the past, some EAOs would not meet face to face which meant it was very hard to reduce the competition and tension between groups.”
He says bringing different groups together regularly to talk has been incredibly positive on many levels. “The value is that all stakeholders can share their thoughts and ideas which has never happened in recent years. The regular engagement meeting of so many different groups is helping us all to understand each other better and find a set of common values. Now we have a way of reducing tension, solving disputes and importantly, maintaining within the State, the stability of the broader peace process.”