RANGOON — Nearly all of Burma’s political parties sent representatives to meet with the government’s peace negotiation team on Monday in Rangoon, to push for a nationwide ceasefire accord and political dialogue with ethnic rebel groups as soon as possible.
About 150 representatives from 66 of the country’s 67 registered political parties attended the meeting with President’s Office Minister Aung Min and other members of the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC) at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC).
The political party representatives said discussions about federalism or self-determination—important priorities for the country’s ethnic minority groups—would be delayed until a ceasefire accord was inked and political dialogue began.
“We urge all concerned parties to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement as soon as possible for the sake of long and sustained peacebuilding in [Burma],” the parties said in a joint statement. “From that, without fail there should be a framework for political dialogue and the [start of] political dialogue, in accordance with the ceasefire agreement.”
The Kachin Democratic Party was the only registered political party in the country not included in the statement. Party members could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The government has signed bilateral ceasefire accords with 14 of 16 major ethnic armed groups. It is now seeking to consolidate those agreements into a nationwide ceasefire accord, and has agreed with ethnic groups to finish drafting a framework for political dialogue within 60 days of the signing, with the dialogue itself beginning no more than 30 days after that.
The discussions would likely last several years and cover the issue of political autonomy for Burma’s various ethnic regions, control over natural resources in these areas, and whether Burma will have one single, federal army.
Aung Min said he hoped political dialogue would begin early next year. “We don’t have much time since 2015 is an election year,” he said in an opening speech. He said the government-affiliated MPC hoped to secure a meeting with members of ethnic armed groups and ethnic political parties on Aug. 18 to discuss the framework for political dialogue.
“Official political parties like yours could not directly participate in these discussions in the past. Now you can start to participate—you can take responsibility and accountability in the process of drawing up the framework,” he said.
“President [Thein Sein] has also stated in his speeches that the door is open for free discussion in political dialogue, except for talk of seceding from the union or infringement of sovereignty,” he added.
Sai Nyunt Lwin, secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), said all 66 political parties at the meeting agreed to push for a quick nationwide ceasefire, but that he was concerned about rushing ethnic groups into a premature accord.
“We are afraid that we may be pressuring groups like the NCCT or the KIO,” he told The Irrawaddy. The NCCT, or the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, is the alliance of ethnic armed groups negotiating the nationwide ceasefire. The KIO, or the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), is one of two ethnic rebel groups that have not signed a bilateral ceasefire.
MPC representatives met in June with a group of 11 ethnic political parties and opposition parties known as the Federal Democratic Alliance (FDA) to discuss drafting a framework for political dialogue. However, the meeting with the UPWC on Monday was the largest meeting of political party members with the government’s ceasefire negotiation team thus far.