In Ceasefire Talks, Govt Demands Discourage Ethnic Groups

By Kyaw Kha & Lawi Weng, Reform 30 April 2014

RANGOON — The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), a coalition of ethnic armed groups, has expressed increasing frustrations with the Burmese military’s latest demands during peace talks.

Nai Hong Sar, head of the NCCT, said ethnic leaders were still pushing for a federal union, but that the Burmese military was pressuring them to lay down their arms, accept the current Constitution and subordinate their soldiers to the command of the Burma Army—all as components of a nationwide ceasefire accord, before political dialogue begins.

“We used armed struggle to fight against their Constitution. But at the meetings, they continue telling us to respect the Constitution,” Nai Hong Sar told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, referring to  meetings earlier this month with government officials and Burmese military commanders to draft a single text for a nationwide ceasefire accord. “They even told us to accept the current laws, but we cannot. Our armed struggle will have been meaningless if we have to accept their demands.”

The Burmese military has called for the incorporation of a six-point agreement into the nationwide ceasefire accord.

This six-point agreement would require ethnic armed groups to move under the command of the Burmese military, which many of them have fought against for decades. It would also require all parties to respect the widely controversial 2008 Constitution, which was drafted by the former military regime without input from the Burmese people.

“It is an undemocratic constitution. It does not allow for a federal union, only for a unitary state which will protect the military authoritarian leaders only,” Nai Hong Sar said.

Since coming to power in 2011, Burma’s quasi-civilian government has negotiated with over a dozen ethnic armed groups in a bid to end decades of conflict in the country’s border states. After inking individual ceasefire deals with all but two of the major ethnic armed groups, it is now pushing to consolidate those deals into one nationwide ceasefire accord.

The accord is supposed to be followed by a political dialogue in which ethnic groups’ demands for autonomy and a share of natural resources and other complicated issues would be discussed. The dialogue process is expected to take years to complete. The NCCT, which comprises 16 ethnic armed groups, has said it wants guarantees that this dialogue will start shortly after the accord is signed.

Another round of peace talks is scheduled to begin during the third week of May, but Nai Hong Sar said he doubted negotiations would improve unless the Burmese military changes its stance.

Gen. Gun Maw, deputy chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which is part of the NCCT, told The Irrawaddy that talks may be postponed due to fighting in Kachin State.

“Taking a longer time on the agreement of a nationwide ceasefire means spending less time for political dialogue when it comes,” he said. “What we understand is that if real political dialogue is guaranteed, the ceasefire can happen immediately, when all the gunfire stops.”

He said the NCCT would like to invite international observers to the peace talks, but would need to discuss this possibility with the government’s peace negotiation team.

Additional reporting by Nyein Nyein.