Army Chief Optimistic as Govt, Ethnic Reps Ready for Rangoon Talks

By Nyein Nyein 5 August 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Ahead of the next round of talks on a nationwide ceasefire in Rangoon on Thursday, Burma’s commander-in-chief called for “trust [and] sincerity” in negotiations and expressed optimism the peace process would achieve “total success.”

Leaders of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and three Karen armed groups, the Karen National Union (KNU), the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and the Karen Peace Council, met with Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday in Naypyidaw.

All four groups signed a deed of commitment on Feb. 12, Burma’s Union Day, reaffirming their commitment to the nationwide ceasefire process. The same ethnic representatives met with President Thein Sein in the capital on Monday.

Army officials and ethnic representatives discussed issues including federalism, security sector reform (SSR) and the contentious process of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR), according to a post on Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook.

Colonel Sai La of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCCS) who attended Tuesday’s talks told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that both the president and the army chief reiterated that the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) would be signed when a majority of ethnic armed groups reached consensus.

“We were told that political and military guarantees will be offered when the ethnic armed groups accept the NCA, the Tatmadaw’s six-point principles and the proposed security sector [reform] and reintegration [process] in the NCA,” Sai La said.

The Burma Army’s six points include that ethnic armed groups fulfill pledges made during the peace process, refrain from exploiting peace agreements and, perhaps most notably, respect Burma’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution.

The RCSS, as with the KNU, is ready to sign the nationwide pact when a majority of ethnic groups agree, Sai La said.

The issue of SSR and DDR is expected to be a key focus of talks between the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee and the ethnics’ Senior Delegation in Rangoon on Thursday. However, government officials want the matter hashed out in political dialogue following the signing of the NCA.

In Tuesday’s meeting, KNU chairman Mutu Sae Poe reportedly expressed eagerness for ethnic armed groups to sign the NCA, a deal Hla Maung Shwe of the Myanmar Peace Center told The Irrawaddy was “almost finalized.”

“The time has arrived for the good leaders focusing on the interests of the nation and the people to make a clear decision between black and white,” Mutu Sae Poe was quoted as saying on Min Aung Hlaing’s post. “The stand of the KNU is to strive for restoring a durable peace through talks after signing the NCA.”

The government accepts at least 14 ethnic armed groups, as well as the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, as signatories to the NCA.

Among them, three groups—the United Wa State Army, the National Democratic Alliance Army and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang—have indicated they would not sign, but would participate in political dialogue.

The government had blocked six groups, including the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army, from signing the accord.

Three other groups—the Lahu Democratic Union, the Wa National Organization and the Arakan National Council—were deemed not to have sizeable enough armies to warrant designation as combatants.

But according to Sai La, the government is now open to allowing the Ta’ang National Liberation Army to sign the NCA.

He also said the government would consider allowing the Arakan Army to sign on if it did so under the aegis of the Kachin Independence Army, to which it is allied.

Referring to this week’s meetings, Sai La said, “We talked about guarantees for those groups who are not included in the NCA. The government said they would negotiate with those who had declared not to sign the NCA to include them in the process.”

The ethnics’ negotiating bloc, the Senior Delegation, has repeatedly stated that it would not sign the nationwide agreement if certain ethnic armed groups were excluded.