‘I Have Been Trying with Good Faith and Intentions to Make Peace Possible’

By Kyaw Kha & Nyein Nyein 11 February 2015

The Burmese government has officially confirmed that the goal of signing a nationwide ceasefire agreement with ethnic armed groups will not be achieved before Union Day on Thursday. Ethnic leaders stated last week that without agreement on several outstanding points of contention, it would not be possible to sign a peace accord.

Aung Min, vice-chairman of Union Peacemaking Work Committee, spoke with The Irrawaddy reporters Kyaw Kha and Nyein Nyein in Chiang Mai last week, after a meeting between government negotiators and ethnic armed group representatives from the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) failed to set a firm date for a seventh round of discussions on the peace accord.

Question: President Thein Sein last month called for the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement with ethnic armed groups on Union Day, Feb. 12. Rebel groups said it was too soon to sign an agreement, as their conditions for a durable peace have not been met. What do you say?

Answer: If we had held a seventh round of talks with the NCCT before Union Day and reached overall agreement at that meeting, we would have been able to sign the nationwide ceasefire pact. But, the fact is that it has been put off. The reason, as you might know, is that many ethnic groups have been celebrating their national days, which are usually held in January and February. Last week, Mon National Day was celebrated in Mon State, which meant Mon representatives [of the NCCT] were absent, and therefore we could not hold the meeting. Consequently, we can’t sign the agreement on Union Day.

Q: The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) has called for the signing of an agreement which guarantees the establishment of a federal system of government. Does the government have a view on this?

A: Let me quote the nationwide ceasefire accord draft. It enshrines a provision that a federal union will be implemented in accordance with the outcomes of political dialogue. It is not that we do not accept a federal union, but it would be implemented after discussions. If they say they must have it immediately, I would say that we still need to have discussions.

Q: What agreements were reached between the government and the NCCT at the most recent meeting in Chiang Mai?

A: The NCCT and the Union Peacemaking Working Committee held a coordination meeting on Dec. 22-23. We discussed the date, venue and topics for the seventh round of talks. We have generally agreed to meet in Rangoon within a week after Union Day, but we have yet to set the exact date.

Q: The Union Peacemaking Central Committee (UPCC) reportedly met in Burma before you came to Chiang Mai. What were the guidelines adopted by the UPCC meeting?

A: The nationwide ceasefire agreement is the most important one. We still can’t reach agreement on eight points in the agreement. The UPCC meeting set guidelines for those eight points. That’s all.

Q: The UPCC meeting has reportedly made certain concessions to the demands of ethnic rebel groups, including the inclusion of the term “revolution” into the text of the ceasefire agreement. Do you have anything to say on this point?

A: We have to discuss this with them to reach a compromise. We still can’t reach agreement on eight separate points of the ceasefire agreement. We only have a general understanding of which points we can and which we cannot concede, we don’t know specific details. We can only talk about concessions at the discussions with the NCCT. The NCCT will also not be willing to talk about them before ceasefire discussions.

We started with disagreement over 112 points in the national ceasefire agreement. We kept on negotiating, and now there are only eight points left for discussion. So, suffice to say, the negotiations are making progress.

Q: Do you think a nationwide ceasefire agreement can be signed before the 2015 election?

A: I am working hard for it. Personally, I am desirous of it. I don’t know which government will come to power at the next election, and therefore, I have been trying with good faith and intentions to make peace possible while I am still in the cabinet.