CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) said on Wednesday that a national peace accord is unlikely to be signed next month without further meetings between ethnic army representatives and the government.
Speaking after a meeting between the NCCT, an alliance representing ethnic groups, and the government-backed Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Chiang Mai, ethnic representatives said that the discussion had failed to agree on a seventh meeting between the parties, jeopardizing a push to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement on Feb. 12, the anniversary of Union Day.
“It is impossible until the next meeting is conducted,” said Gen. Gun Maw, the deputy commander in chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and head of the NCCT.
Wednesday’s meeting focused on unsettled issues around the draft text for the national ceasefire agreement and arrangements for the transitional period after the agreement is signed, according to Gun Maw.
Speaking to reporters, the General sought to manage expectations about the outcomes of a peace accord, warning that there may be continuing conflict if some armed groups are unable to reach a settlement.
“How could we call it a national ceasefire agreement if one or a few groups are left behind?” he asked. Gun Maw’s army has yet to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government after renewed fighting broke out in mid-2011.
Kwe Htoo Win, the secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), echoed Gun Maw’s comments, noting that the decision to seek an agreement with the government would remain the prerogative of individual ethnic armies.
“As soon as the text of the agreement is settled and everyone in the NCCT accepts the text, we would sign. But it is each armed group’s decision whether to sign or not,” he said.
Hla Maung Shwe, advisor to the MPC, said that the government’s negotiating team are waiting for MCCT members to agree upon the next meeting, and that he would relay Wednesday’s discussion to Minister Aung Min, the chief negotiator and the vice chief of the Union Peace Making Committee.
“We also shared the minister’s message that the government wants to meet for a seventh time,” he said, without elaborating on the details of any future meeting.
The MPC, the government and the Burma Army all appear to be pushing for a nationwide ceasefire agreement to be signed next month. According to Hla Maung Shwe, President Thein Sein is eager to take up a KNU proposal for the peace agreement to be signed on Union Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Panglong Agreement on Feb. 12, 1947, which granted autonomy to ethnic communities within a unified Burmese state. Other parties to the negotiating table have voiced concerns that rushing to an agreement will undermine the durability of any peace accord.
“Everyone wants to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement as soon as possible,” said Gun Maw, “but we cannot hide from the actual situation, we cannot lie to the public and the public should not be given false hope. The future plan is important. It would be a useless accord if its only focus is the signing and not the guarantee of further dialogue.”
Skirmishes between government troops and ethnic armies have strained relations between the two sides in recent months, while the NCCT has blamed deadlocks in negotiations on the Burma Army’s six points proposal, which amongst other conditions requires ceasefire signatories to recognize the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.
Earlier this week, in an interview with Channel News Asia, Burma Army Commander in Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing made a public intervention in the negotiations, suggesting that ethnic armed groups were not committed to ending the country’s civil war.
Despite recent clashes on the ground in northern Burma, both the NCCT and MPC claimed that negotiations were proceeding well on Wednesday.