‘I’m Afraid We Won’t Be Able to Sign the Agreement’

By Kyaw Kha & Nyein Nyein 26 January 2015

The National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) met in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Jan. 21. The meeting failed to set a date for a seventh round of talks between ethnic army and government peace negotiators, dashing hopes for the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement to be signed on Union Day next month.

Gen Gun Maw, deputy chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and head of the NCCT, spoke to The Irrawaddy about renewed clashes between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups, the KIA’s reservations about signing a ceasefire agreement at the present stage of negotiations, and reports of illegal logging in Kachin State.

Q: President Thein Sein has called for the signing of nationwide ceasefire agreement on Union Day and his position is echoed by Burma Army Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing. The NCCT has also pushed for it. Some rebel groups are likely to sign the truce on Feb.12. Will the KIA sign the deal?

A: Rather than discussing the KIA on its own, I’d like to talk about the entire NCCT. January is almost over and we are still having discussions. I’m afraid we won’t be able to sign the agreement by Feb. 12. Given the circumstances, I’d say it’s impossible. Without a seventh round of talks, we can’t proceed to the next step.

Q: Why has a date for the next round of talks still not been set?

A: It is mainly because we could not reach agreement on some topics, including the roadmap outlined in the September meeting. Without reaching a consensus on those topics, we can’t set an agenda for the next meeting. We discussed [at the coordination meeting] how we would hold the next meeting and how we can stop the ongoing fighting. Again, we can’t just turn a blind eye to the case of the fatal attack on our military academy in November. The next meeting should only be held after this case has been settled in a positive matter, which is why we demanded that it be included on the agenda of the next meeting.

Q: We heard that the KIA planned to meet the government at Laiza or Myitkyina to discuss the Burma Army’s attack on the KIA military academy, is this correct?

A: Previously, the NCCT demanded that talks be held in Myitkyina. However, if there are difficulties, such as transportation problems, preventing the talks from being held in Myitkyina, we are willing to meet anywhere—even at the Myanmar Peace Center. We’ve also demanded that all five ethnic armed groups who had cadets killed in the attack to be allowed to attend the meeting.

Q: Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said in a recent interview with Channel News Asia that peace depended on the will of ethnic armed groups. What is the NCCT’s response?

A: All parties want to achieve peace. But the definition of peace differs from one party to another. NCCT’s definition of peace is not just ending conflicts between armed groups, but ensuring a sense of security across the country. That’s why we are trying to draw up a comprehensive nationwide ceasefire accord. What the Burma Army commander-in-chief said can be interpreted in different ways, but in fact, peace is the concern of all. Both the government and ethnic armed groups have responsibility. It is also important that the entire nation takes part in the process. I’d like to say that everyone is responsible.

Q: Information Minister Ye Htut wrote on Facebook a few days ago that a group within the KIA does not want a ceasefire and is hindering the peace talks. What do you say in response to that?

A: It may be his personal view. We are concerned that people may see it as the President’s view, as he is the presidential spokesman. But we told MPC at the meeting that we view it as [Ye Htut’s] personal view only.

Q: What do you want to say about recent clashes in northern Shan State and Hpakant?

A: Our position is that we need to avoid firing in case of an unexpected encounter. But, we see that [the Burma Army] apparently wants to win conflicts through these unexpected encounters. It is not a good sign.

Q: Both the KIA the Burma Army have formed groups to meet and parley in case of unexpected clashes. But those groups are not useful in practice. Why?

A: They are not use because they are not led by high-ranking officials and are not formed on a large scale. Such groups are only formed between the Northern Command of the Burma Army and the KIA. They cannot monitor the fighting in other places, including northern Shan State.

Q: What do you have to say about recent reports of illegal logging in Kachin State?

A: We don’t know about the situation in detail because the area where they were arrested is controlled by militia groups. Those militia groups are under the direct control of the Northern Command. It is however said that the loggers were holding permits issued by us. But, those permits are not for the region where the loggers were found, only for the region under our control. To get into that region, the loggers may have to come through checkpoints when they cross the border. Many are crossing the border into Burma from China. We are not obliged to give a comment; we only want to say that the region where the loggers were arrested was not under our control.