CHIANG MAI, Thailand — One by one, ethnic leaders have taken the floor to stake out their positions on a nationwide ceasefire agreement during a meeting in Chiang Mai this week, with several groups still holding out on a pact seen as falling short of its stated “nationwide” ambition.
Of the 19 ethnic armed groups represented at the three-day meeting in northern Thailand which began on Monday, seven have indicated they will sign the pact.
The groups are: the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF); Arakan Liberation Party (ALP); Chin National Front (CNF); Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA); Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council (KNLA-PC); Karen National Union (KNU); and the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO).
Two observer groups, the Restoration Council of Shan State and the National Democratic Alliance Army, that are not members of the ethnics’ negotiating bloc, the Senior Delegation, did not reveal their intentions.
The former group was initially among those willing to accede, but renewed fighting against government troops in recent weeks has thrown that position in doubt.
Saw Roger Khin of the KNU, one of the groups most outspoken in favor of signing, said on Monday that ethnic groups should “maintain collaboration between those who sign and those who don’t.”
The KNU delegation suggested that the roles of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team and its successor, the Senior Delegation, be dissolved.
Major armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), have thus far declined to sign the peace pact while it excludes several armed groups.
The government has only accepted the 14 ethnic armed groups that have previously inked bilateral ceasefires with Naypyidaw since 2011, in addition to the KIO, as signatories.
Three armed groups locked in ongoing conflict with government troops, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army, are currently excluded.
Aung San Myint, secretary of the KNPP, said the barring of some armed groups would not lead to effective political dialogue.
“It is not that we do not accept the NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement], but we need more time to make sure the pact guarantees all-inclusiveness,” he said.
“If the government accepted all groups today, the signing would occur [immediately].”
The ethnic summit, originally slated to conclude on Wednesday, may be extended as groups continue deliberations on whether to sign the NCA, the framework for political dialogue and the ongoing role of the Senior Delegation.
The government has invited 15 ethnic armed groups to join a second meeting in Rangoon on Oct. 3 to discuss the proposed ceasefire signing ceremony.
Despite the growing perception of a rift among ethnic armed groups over the ceasefire process, ethnic leaders are battling to uphold a cooperative approach.
“We understand that all of our fellow groups agree, in principle, to sign the NCA, but some are not ready to sign it yet. This is due to each group’s needs,” said KNU secretary Padoh Kwe Htoo Win.
He said the KNU would pursue its aim of realizing peace with the current government and working to achieve a federal system of governance.
Armed groups that elect not to sign the NCA can only attend subsequent political dialogue as observers, Padoh Kwe Htoo Win said, and “will not be eligible to make any decisions in the dialogue.”
Naypyidaw has also pledged that NCA signatories will be removed from the official list of unlawful associations.