Ceasefire Talks Resume After Months of Tension

By Lawi Weng 22 July 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s ethnic rebels and government peace negotiators reconvened in Rangoon on Wednesday after a four-month lull in the nation’s ongoing peace talks, kicking of the eighth round of meetings aimed at finalizing a nationwide ceasefire accord.

The peace process, which began more than 18 months ago, hit a series of roadblocks this year as fighting flared between government and rebel troops along the eastern border. A series of conferences held between ethnic leaders culminated in the formation of a newly constituted negotiation team that was initially rejected by government peace brokers.

The new team, however, was invited back to the table this week at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Rangoon, an EU-backed technical support hub viewed as supportive of the government. More than a dozen ethnic negotiators joined four Burma Army generals and eight government officials for the two-day meet.

Speaking to reporters before talks commenced, the government’s chief peace broker, Aung Min, said the talks will focus on building trust and understanding between the government and the new ethnic bloc—the Special Delegation, which was established during a recent summit in Law Khee Lar, Karen State, and has issued revised terms for the government.

“We understand that ethnic people are worried if we look at some of the points raised after the meeting at Law Khee Lar,” Aung Min said, adding that “we all will work together to find a solution.”

Aung Min stressed the need to keep momentum in the talks and try to reach an agreement before a new government steps in early next year. The official, who also serves as President’s Office Minister, said reaching a strong agreement, ending hostilities and proceeding with political dialogue are still the top priorities among negotiators.

The ceasefire agreement, he said, “is just a gateway, and is just the beginning of our peace process.”

Naw Zipporah Sein, vice chairperson of the Karen National Union and leader of the Special Delegation, spoke with a more personal tone on Wednesday, recalling her upbringing in southeastern Burma, where civil war has raged for six decades.

“I was born in a war zone; I grew up there and I have experienced suffering from war,” she said. “If the government and Burmese Army work together to find a solution, this will benefit all people in the country.”

Under her leadership, the ethnic delegation has said it hopes to reach an agreement that would include all 16 members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team—the original ethnic negotiating body—without excluding those that the government still views as illegitimate and with whom they are still at war.

Her colleague in the delegation, La Ja, made similar remarks, calling on the government to enable a more inclusive pact that would benefit the entire country.

“If we discuss and negotiate peacefully to solve our fighting problems at the table, we can find a solution,” he said. “The government should bring all ethnic armed groups to the table in order to solve this conflict.”