A four-day meeting between leaders of Burma’s ethnic armed groups and government peace negotiators concluded in Rangoon on Tuesday with the two sides announcing that they agreed “in principle” on a draft of a long-awaited nationwide ceasefire agreement. However, key parts of the wording of the elusive single draft agreement still had not been agreed upon.
The agreement was lauded in a joint statement from the government side and the ethnic groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), but another meeting has been scheduled in the first week of May to work out the remaining issues.
Hla Maung Shwe, a special adviser to the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the long-debated issue of the language that would be used in the agreement had still not been settled.
“The leaders agreed on the first draft in principle, but they must work on the choice of words,” he said.
Salai Lian Hmong Sakhong, the leader of the Chin National Front and an NCCT member, said it was important that there was now a single text that both sides could focus on. Previously, the sides had each put forward their own drafts, which were a long way from agreement.
But he stressed that the issue of wording remained a serious concern. The ethnic armed groups want to include the terms “revolution,” “civil war,” “ceasefire,” “federal” and “autonomy”—which they say are important if the document is to accurately reflect the current situation and the history of ethnic armed struggle in Burma.
The government side, for its part, wants to replace the term “civil war” with “armed conflict.”
The Burma Army has also insisted that the word “federal” is not used.
And the phrase “in accordance with the current law,” is demanded by the military, but rejected by ethnic groups who do not accept the country’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution.
“By ‘federal,’ we mean ‘not separate.’ We want to include these words because we have been fighting for the equality and autonomy for our ethnic groups,” Salai Lian Hmong Sakhong said.
“We are not inventing new terms for this ceasefire agreement, the terms we use—such as ‘genuine federal union’—have a long history. [Using these terms] could be the best way to solve our ethnic problems.”
The MPC’s Hla Maung Shwe said it was inevitable that the details of a nationwide ceasefire would be difficult to work out. “Both sides have anxiety which is rooted in six decades of conflict. The details must be negotiated,” he said.
NCCT leaders also met with the ethnic politicians from the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA)—a grouping of ethnic political parties—on Wednesday morning to share the results of their discussions with the government.
Aye Thar Aung, a UNA board member from the Arakan League for Democracy, said that despite the moves of President Thein Sein’s reformist government toward a ceasefire deal, a lack of trust remained between the two sides.
“It has been three years since 2011 and the nationwide ceasefire is yet to come. When can we expect the political dialogue to solve our decades-long problems?” said Aye Thar Aung.