NAYPYITAW — Myanmar Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing urged all of the country’s ethnic armed groups to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in a speech marking the second anniversary of several groups signing the pact on Sunday in Naypyitaw.
The commemoration saw speeches from the country’s chief peace negotiators, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Karen National Union (KNU) chairman Gen Saw Mutu Say Poe.
“I firmly ask you to sign the NCA,” said the army chief. “No provision in this agreement limits or restricts the rights of people, but provides every possible right for them. It is therefore fair to assume that continued ignoring of this fact amounts to resisting the federal Union which people aspire to, opposing democracy, having desire for armed ‘anarchy,’ and disregarding the interests of the Union and its people.”
The number of NCA signatories has not increased since an initial eight ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) signed the accord two years ago.
More than a dozen EAOs—some of whom helped draft the NCA—have shown little interest in signing the pact.
Sixteen EAOs under the banner Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team and government peace negotiators under the previous administration drafted the NCA in late 2013.
But clashes continue in Myanmar’s northeast involving the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army, Arakan Army, and Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army—all of whom the Tatmadaw refuses to accept as peace partners.
These three EAOs are allied with the militarily strong United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) under new political alliance the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC).
The UWSA-led bloc has called for an alternative approach to the NCA. The government, though, has rejected negotiating with the FPNCC as a whole and insists on meeting each of its seven members separately.
Efforts of the government’s Peace Commission to bring NCA non-signatories to sign the pact have been further hampered by a nine-point proposal from another ethnic bloc, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). The bloc of five members is waiting for the government to agree to the proposal before signing the NCA.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the National Reconciliation and Peace Center among other state roles, said at Sunday’s ceremony that the government was “ready to welcome” non-signatories to the NCA.
She invited them to collaborate with the government in implementing the basic principles needed for a federal state.
“Our government welcomes all non-signatory groups to participate in the process of formulating the principles towards a Democratic Federal Union in the future. In fact, the NCA is not an end in itself, but just the first step towards national reconciliation in the country,” said the State Counselor.
“I would like to reiterate today that the NCA opens the door for political dialogues which will pave the way to the Union Peace Conference,” she added.
In the second round of the Union Peace Conference in May, the delegates signed a part of the Union Accord, but it did not cover key federal principles regarding equality and self-determination.
Union peace conferences would be held biannually in accordance with the plan, said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Almost five months after the second session of the Union Peace Conference, national-level political dialogues are yet to be held. In the dialogues, regional stakeholders discuss suggestions at large-scale public consultations, the results of which are shared at the conference.
Still, the State Counselor said the government would hold its third round of the Union Peace Conference later this year as planned and two more next year.
Members of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) and the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC) gave reports on their progress. The committees are the mechanisms to implement the NCA, established at a Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) two years ago.
Gen Saw Mutu Say Poe said self-determination, autonomy and ethnic rights for ethnic nationalities are yet to be fully implemented despite an agreement between independence hero Gen Aung San and ethnic leaders of Shan, Chin, and Kachin states under the Panglong agreement signed in February 1947.
“Our aim is to build a union envisioned by the 1947 Panglong agreement, and to end an almost seven decades long civil war. To reach our goal, we have to implement the peace process through the roadmap drafted in the NCA and to hold political dialogue with all stakeholders,” he told the ceremony.
On the same day the KNU released a statement urging the government and the Tatmadaw to compromise on policies regarding ethnic equality and the right to self-determination.
“The compromising of these policies could enable the remaining EAOs to sign the NCA, and reinforce the efforts for peace and the emergence of a federal democracy,” read the statement.
Gen Saw Mutu Say Poe stressed in his speech the need to hold regular gatherings of the JICM, the highest authority in decision-making on NCA implementation.
But the government reportedly does not want to call JICMs unless there are disputes to resolve.
NCA signatories showed optimism that clashes between their groups and the army had significantly reduced since they signed the NCA.
Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong of the Chin National Front told reporters in Naypyitaw on Sunday, “It is a big success as we have seen that military engagement in the ceasefire territories have been reduced by 80 to 85 percent.”
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi shared similar observations at the ceremony.
“Despite criticism of the NCA, there has been noticeable progress. We have successfully decreased conflicts in the regions of the ethnic armed organizations signatories and as a result, the socio-economic lives of the local people have significantly improved,” she said.
“It has been two years since we signed the NCA. There is no reason to retreat. We only need to go forward and pave our way towards our desired goal,” she added.