A 'Tripartite Dialogue' is usually understood to mean a dialogue amongst three parties: the military government (SPDC), the democracy forces (NLD) and the ethnic nationalities. The notion of 'Tripartite Dialogue', therefore, highlights the indispensable participation of the ethnic nationalities in political transition and national reconciliation processes.


The term 'Tripartite Dialogue' was first used in the 1994 United Nations General Assembly resolution because most external actors thought the problem of Burma can be resolved by solving two issues- the issues of democracy versus military rule. 'Tripartite' was used to indicate that a third party or issues must also be resolved.


The underlying intent was to emphasize the fact that the Burmese problem is a constitutional problem - not just a minority or even an ethnic problem which can resolved at a later date once democracy is established. The question of democracy, military rule and the constitutional arrangement with the non-Burman ethnic nationalities are intrinsically intertwined and cannot be resolved one without the other. This is the meaning behind the call for a 'Tripartite Dialogue'. It requires 3 issues to be resolved at the same time by 3 parties or groups. It is not enough to resolve the question of democracy versus military rule without also resolving Burma's constitutional crisis.


The ethnic nationalities consider the constitutional problem to be the major problem. The problem in Burma is not just a 'minority' problem. A minority problem affecting 5% to 10% of the population can be resolved at a later date. In Burma, the non-Burmans make up at least 40% of the population and the ethnic states occupy 57% of the total land area.


The problem in Burma is also not an 'ethnic' problem as in the former Yugoslavia. The ethnic nationalities are not fighting and killing each other, requiring a strong army to maintain law and order. The ethnic nationalities live peacefully and work well together. The common enemy in the past 50 years has been the Burmese military controlled by the central government. Solving the constitutional crisis will strengthen the unity of the nation. It will end the current ethnic violence.


The ultimate 'Tripartite Dialogue' will involve an inclusive nation-wide convention to draft a new constitution. The drafting of the new constitution will resolve all three issues - the role of the military in Burmese politics, democracy, and the constitutional arrangement between the constituent states of Burma. In this context, the process to get to a constitution drafting convention could be further down the road from the current 'confidence building' talks.


However, it is important for future of the nation that the process leading to the constitution drafting process be inclusive - whether it is 'confidence building', negotiating compromises, or forming a transitional authority. In other words, the concept of a 'Tripartite Dialogue' or 3 parties discussing 3 issues need to be incorporated into the dialogue process as early as possible.