LAW KHEE LAR, Karen State — Ethnic leaders have declared that they will not sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement if three armed groups currently battling government forces are excluded from the accord.
The move appears to have prompted representatives from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army to reconsider their resignation from the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which was announced last week.
Nai Hong Sar, the NCCT chairman, said that any ceasefire agreement would be meaningless if ethnic armed groups currently battling the military were excluded, adding that the decision was reached by consensus among all NCCT members present at the summit.
“We have decided that we don’t accept leaving behind some groups,” he told a weekend press conference. “We stand by the principle of signing the agreement together.”
The MNDAA, TNLA and Arakan Army are involved in active conflict with government troops and were excluded from the draft text of the nationwide ceasefire agreement, negotiated between the NCCT and government representatives on Mar. 31.
A coordination team to be formed by the summit will negotiate the inclusion of the three groups with the government. The team will also be tasked with negotiating 15 proposed amendments to the draft text of the ceasefire agreement raised during last week’s discussions in Law Khee Lar.
Khun Myint Tun, chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization, was optimistic that the government would eventually agree to bring the three groups into the fold.
“U Aung Min (the chief government peace negotiator) told me at the state-level peace talks that he would not leave any problem, even a small one, unresolved,” he said. “The problem of these three groups is not a small one, so I don’t think the government would disregard this issue.”
The exclusion of the three groups from the ceasefire agreement has been a source of tension since the draft text was unveiled. All three raised the possibility of resigning from the ethnic negotiating bloc at the end of an earlier ethnic summit in Panghsang last month, and each submitted letters of resignation to the NCCT leadership on Thursday.
Over the weekend, delegates from the three groups attending the Law Khee Lar summit adopted a more conciliatory tone, announcing they would present the summit’s declaration to their organizations for a final decision on future participation within the NCCT. Aye Tun, the Arakan Army’s external relations officer, confirmed that his group would withdraw their resignation as a result of the summit’s decision.
“We decided to quit because we would be left out,” he said. “Now, as all ethnic armed groups have agreed to stick together with us, we have said we would like to rejoin the NCCT. According to our procedures, our chief of staff will withdraw the resignation through our military headquarters.”
Phone Win Naing, a communications officer for the MNDAA, opted for a more cautious pronouncement, but left open the possibility of the ethnic Kokang insurgents rescinding their resignation from the NCCT.
“To rejoin, we still have to speak to the central executive committee, who will make the decision,” he said. “It is still difficult to say whether or not we will rejoin. I think everything will be fine. If the ceasefire agreement guarantees a just outcome for us, we would sign it.”