Minister, Ethnic Leaders to Hold Ceasefire Talks in Chiang Mai

By Nyein Nyein 26 December 2013

RANGOON — Burmese government peace negotiator Aung Min said he will meet with ethnic rebel leaders in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, from Friday to Sunday to hold further talks on drafting a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

President Office’s Minister Aung Min said he would meet with the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), comprising 14 ethnic leaders, in order to discuss the draft nationwide ceasefire accord, adding that both sides would compare their proposals for such an agreement.

“Our drafts of the [nationwide ceasefire accord], both by the NCCT and government, are in about 80 percent agreement. But we still need to discuss the remaining issues,” Aung Min told The Irrawaddy during an interview at the Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC), a government body which the minister oversees.

Aung Min, Immigration Minister Khin Ye and the MPC technical team will travel to Chiang Mai on Thursday. The minister said the results of this week’s negotiations will be discussed in the cabinet in order to prepare for a January meeting to finalize the nationwide accord with the armed groups.

Following such an agreement, the minister said, a nationwide ceasefire could be signed at an official ceremony in the capital Naypyidaw in February.

“This [nationwide ceasefire accord] will be a historic agreement like the Panglong agreement,” Aung Min said. “It would be an agreement with greater inclusiveness than Panglong, so we try to make sure we have as few mistakes as possible.”

The ethnic leaders and Burma’s independence hero, Gen Aung San, signed the so-called Panglong agreement in February 1947. The agreement ensured equal rights and political autonomy for Burma’s ethnic minorities. Soon after signing, however, Burma descended into civil war and the Burma Army has sought to control the ethnic regions since.

President Thein Sein’s reformist government is keen to sign a nationwide ceasefire in order to show the international community that it is ending Burma’s long-festering ethnic conflicts. It has repeatedly announced that an agreement is near, but so far an agreement has remained elusive.

Long-time observers of Burma’s ethnic conflict, such as veteran journalist Bertil Lintner, have said that the government and ethnic armed groups are still far apart on numerous issues.

Aung Min held high-level talks with ethnic leaders in early November in Myitkyina, Kachin State, but the sides failed to reach agreement over a nationwide ceasefire.

Ethnic armed groups met among themselves in the Kachin rebel stronghold of Laiza in October to take a unified position in the peace talks and the groups formed the NCCT.

Aung Min had planned to hold further high-level talks with the NCCT in December in the Karen State capital Hpa-an, but the negotiations were repeatedly postponed and will now take place on Jan. 24, 2014 according to Hla Maung Shwe, a special adviser to the MPC.

The armed ethnic leaders planned to meet in Karen National Union-controlled territory of Lay Wah on Jan. 20 to again take a joint position on the nationwide ceasefire.

The NCCT led by Nai Hong Sar, who is also vice chairman of the New Mon State Party and secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council, already held several smaller meetings with its members in November and December to discuss the draft nationwide ceasefire.