Army Demands Complicate Ceasefire Talks

ethnic conflict, peace process, Kachin, Palaung, Shan, Myanmar, Myanmar army, Tatmadaw, Thein Sein

Government and military leaders (right) shake hands with ethnic leaders at the start of nationwide ceasefire talks in Rangoon this weekend. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Since Saturday, senior government officials, military commanders and ethnic leaders have held the first discussions on jointly drafting a single text for a nationwide ceasefire accord, which would draw from ethnic groups’ ceasefire proposal and from the government’s proposal.

But as discussions entered into a third day on Monday, it became clear that the initial plan to merge these two different proposals has been complicated by demands by the Burma Army for the incorporation of its own six-point statement into any future nationwide ceasefire deal, ethnic leaders said.

The statement repeats demands the army has made earlier, such as that all ethnic armed groups come under central command of the military and that all parties respect the 2008 Constitution—a military-drafted charter that is viewed as undemocratic and puts ethnic regions under centralized authority of the government in Naypyidaw.

Nai Hong Sar, who heads the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) which represents 16 rebel armed groups, said the ethnic groups found that the initial plan to draft a single ceasefire text from the NCCT’s proposal and the proposal of Minister Aung Min’s peace negotiation team had become more difficult due to the military’s demands.

Nai Hong Sar said he believed that President Thein Sein’s team, led by Aung Min, was carrying out a joint strategy with Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing’s military officers towards the ethnic groups.

“They brought two drafts. I found that they have a strategy by doing this. One strategy from President Thein Sein is to engage as much as they can with ethnic armed groups, while the side of Min Aung Hlaing uses his troops and threatens our ethnic groups to sign this ceasefire agreement,” he said.

“[But] we cannot accept that our armies will come under their command,” Nai Hong Sar added.

About 200 delegation members joined the discussions at the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Rangoon, which will carry on for a fourth day on Tuesday.

Previously, NCCT members had said they were optimistic about the new plan to draw a single ceasefire text from the alliance’s 30-page proposal and that of Minister Aung Min. A leading NCCT member said top military commanders were becoming directly involved in the talks and had indicated willingness to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement before August 1.

The government advisors at the MPC have said they were confident a ceasefire could be signed before the start of the Water Festival on April 13.

On Saturday evening, more than a dozen Burma Army generals, including Lt-Gen Myint Soe who heads the Bureau of Special Operations that oversees military operations in conflict-torn Kachin State, attended the negotiations. Lt-Gen Thein Htay, who has been placed on a United States government blacklist for allegations of arms dealing with North Korea, was also at the meeting.

There are about six ethnic armed groups that are not represented in the NCCT, most important among them, the Shan State Army-South, the heavily-armed United Wa State Party (UWSA) and its smaller ally, the National Democratic Alliance Army.

UWSA members were in attendance as observers during the talks at the MPC.

In breaks in the negotiations, ethnic leaders spoke to reporters, but military commanders shunned the assembled media.

Ethnic leaders said despite complications with the ongoing ceasefire talks at the MPC, they remained optimistic that some progress could be made towards drafting a nationwide ceasefire during this round of talks.

“President Thein Sein and Gen Min Aung Hlaing have said that they will change policy if that is required for reaching a peace agreement. I do not think the army will keep its stand on these six points [position]. They will change some points through negotiation. From our side, we will try to negotiate about this,” said Gen Gun Maw, the deputy army chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The KIA and the Ta’aung National Liberation Army (TNLA) are members of the NCCT, but have not signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement with Naypyidaw—unlike the other 14 members of the ethnic alliance.

“There are more things to be discussed because they brought their army six-point position,” said Mai Aie Phone, a senior leader with the TNLA.

Gun Maw said much of the current discussions focused on how the conflict areas could be managed after a nationwide ceasefire is signed.

A ceasefire would be followed by the start of a political dialogue between the government, army and ethnic groups. This dialogue is expected to take years and as the sides try to resolve complicated political issues such as the ethnics’ long-standing demands for cultural rights, political autonomy under a federal union and control over natural resources in ethnic areas.

Ethnic representatives have said they want guarantees that they can administer their own areas while this dialogue is carried out.

“We are discussing at meeting mainly about [the period] after we have a ceasefire agreement,” said Gun Maw.

“We do not think just after signing a ceasefire agreement, our area will have peace. There are many things to do in order to have peace in our area. If we could reach an agreement soon, that will be great. If not, this will take more time,” the KIA deputy leader said.

6 Responses to Army Demands Complicate Ceasefire Talks

  1. This is the military regime’s last resort to make such demand to accept the 2008 constitution by the most important political stake holders as part of their trap plan to hold on power for a longer term.

    We all believe that the ethnic armed groups will not accept the demand but make a counter demand to change the constitution aiming toward a democratic way so that all can assure that Myanmar is going forward rather than turning backward as the generals wish.

    Collective voice of all the ethnic armed groups to make a strong demand for rectifying the constitution is the utmost importance for all of us for this critical moment in Myanmar.

    • Thank you for your insightful comment, Thura Zaw Hein.

      Do you believe that the military will be willing to back away from enough of their six-point agenda that a ceasefire agreement is likely to be signed before the April 13 Water Festival? Or will negotiations to accommodate the military’s requirements into a final draft ceasefire agreement rule out the possibility of a signing ceremony happening in April?

    • 100% agree wtih Thura Zaw Hein. SUGGEST Unity and Unity among all ethnics.

  2. The Army complicated the peace process again. Army = Problem-maker. As long as Army is involved, there will never be a single positive thing. People do not want to hear the name of Army. People do not want to see the green color as it is the color of the Army. Now, Army is messing the peace process again. In political issue, Army must not be included. The peace process must not be according to the Nragis constitution. Because the ethnics armed groups have nothing to do with the Nargis constitution. If the regime tries to achieve peace in the boundary of Nargis constitution, the democratic reform must better be stopped now. Because regime’s insincerity is clearly seen today. The involvement from Army signals negative impact as it seems going nowhere.

  3. It seemed in the beginning like regime was about to lead us into the genuine democratic change. Actually, the ethnics are the ones who are on the right track toward real democracy. I am not sure whether Army understands what it is demanding and what it is talking about. It seems like Army is standing against the will of the general public once again.

  4. I am happy to see both sides have interest in peace and progress, but without giving up an inch. Two things all must realize.
    1. All groups must come under one command; otherwise you are demanding secession. Even in ancient days this was not allowed.
    2. It is proper and dignified to have ethnic areas under greater participation like in the US. Ethnic armies provide regional peace and stability, elect their own mayor and governor, collect reasonable property taxes [1%], sales tax [5%], maintain their roads, run their schools and health care. They must respect proper federal land, federal laws, federal highways, interstate commerce and reasonable imminent domain rights which they can negotiate for their cut like 5% vs federal 51-5% to start with. You can keep your arms but must come under the central command.
    For simplicity sake, US ambassador or Great Britain ambassador can provide the frame work. Do not mix them up. It will not work. Do not alter any, these laws came about not only after years of brain storming amongst the greatest minds on earth ,but through experience.
    Sincerity and Trust are paramount.It would help if ASSK is present and in the capacity of The President. .

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