RANGOON — The head of an alliance of 16 ethnic armed groups said most of its members had declined to sign a Union Day pledge reaffirming commitments to Burma’s stalled nationwide ceasefire process, as the government-drafted statement failed to address key outstanding issues.
Nai Hong Sar, who heads the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, said most groups had passed up on the opportunity to sign the so-called Deed of Commitment for Peace and National Reconciliation during a meeting with the president on Thursday lacked concrete details on key issues, such as on the ethnics’ aspirations for establishing a federal union.
“They are only just saying what sounds good, but if we look at their plan it is very general. They offered not have concrete points of agreement, and there were no strong promises,” he told The Irrawaddy.
“For us [the NCCT], we wanted to see it clearly how he [the president] is going to set up federal system plans or even his strong commitment for doing this before we sign a nationwide peace agreement,” Nai Hong Sar said. “But they did not accept what we asked—instead they only showed their plans for having a political dialogue.”
The leaders of 13 ethnic groups, including most NCCT members and representatives of the powerful United Wa State Army, were invited to attend a meeting with President Thein Sein on Union Day, during which the president called on the groups the sign the statement as a “binding promise, not a legal agreement.”
The statement called for “building a Union based on democratic and federal principles in the spirit of Panglong [agreement],” referring to the 1947 agreement that incorporated Chin, Kachin and Shan states into Burma with the right to secede after 10 years.
Only the Karen National Union, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, the Shan State Army-South and a Karen splinter group called the KNLA-Peace Council signed the pledge.
Sai Hla, a spokesperson from SSA-South, said it had signed the pledge as the points it were acceptable and “there is nothing to lose for our group by signing this agreement.
“If we do not take it, we will be far away from them, or they [the Burma Army] may think we do not want to have peace. This is a point we need to consider. So, let cooperate with them, and then we will understand them,” he said.
The UN Secretary-Generals Special Adviser on Burma, Vijay Nambiar, welcomed the signing of the statement by the president and four ethnic leaders as “an historic moment,” but added he hoped that it would “create a
more conducive environment to address” the conflict currently raging in northern Burma “and the serious impact it has had on the civilian population.”
Three groups non-ceasefire groups that are currently embroiled in heavy fighting with the Burma Army in northern Shan State, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, were absent from the meeting.
Burma nationwide ceasefire process lost momentum in September as the government, army and rebels failed to bridge disagreements over key issues. The army’s surprise shelling of a KIA training school used by various rebel groups on Nov. 19 killed 23 cadets and brought on a further decline in mutual trust.