As Third Day of Peace Talks Resumes, Key Ethnic Demands Still Unresolved

By Lawi Weng 24 July 2015

As a third day of talks on a nationwide ceasefire resumes in Rangoon on Friday, it remains unclear whether resolution will be found on key outstanding points, including the ethnics’ demand that the ceasefire be open to all ethnic armed groups to sign.

After 18 months of protracted negotiations, Friday’s talks between the government’s peace negotiation team and the ethnics’ new negotiating bloc, known as the Senior Delegation, shapes as potentially decisive, the New Mon State Party’s Nai Hong Sar told The Irrawaddy.

“If [the government] does not accept the participation of all our ethnic armed groups, we will not sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement [NCA]. If this happens, the situation will again be tense,” Nai Hong Sar said on Thursday.

The ethnic Mon leader said that during the first two days of the eighth round of official negotiations, participating Burma Army officials had kept very quiet, preferring to let government representatives do the talking.

The ethnic Mon leader’s personal view is that the NCA will be signed soon but that more time may be needed to negotiate outstanding points with the Burma Army.

There are three key outstanding points that both sides are yet to agree on, including which leaders from both sides will sign the NCA and whether three armed factions—the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army—will be able to sign on, as ethnic negotiators demand.

A third point concerns which countries will be invited to send representatives to observe the signing.

Friction on all three points has been apparent throughout negotiations, with the Burma Army particularly opposed to allowing the three ethnic armed groups that it is sporadically fighting in northern Shan State to sign the NCA.

The ethnic negotiating bloc has requested that President Thein Sein and army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing sign the NCA on the government’s behalf, while the latter has put forward chief negotiator Aung Min to perform the role.

The ethnics’ have also requested that representatives from the US, UK, EU and other countries be present at the signing, which the government has also opposed.

On the opening day of discussions on Wednesday, no Burma Army official addressed the meeting at which head of the Senior Delegation Naw Zipporah Sein and deputy La Ja made an appeal for fighting in Kachin, Karen and Shan states to stop.

Tar Bong Kyaw, general secretary of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, said that fighting would only continue in northern Shan State if the government did not allow his group to sign the NCA.

“For us, we could fight another 5 or 10 years as we have a strong force on the ground now. But we want unity with all our ethnic armed groups. When we sign the NCA, we should only sign it when all our ethnic armed groups can participate,” he said.