Ethnic Ceasefire Team Concludes Laiza Summit

By May Kha & Nyein Nyein 30 July 2014

LAIZA, Kachin State — Members of ethnic rebel groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) wrapped up a summit on Tuesday after four days of discussions in Laiza, Kachin State, saying they were ready to take the results of their talks to the Burmese government and other peace process stakeholders.

Leaders of the 16-member NCCT held the conference to discuss the second draft of a single-text nationwide ceasefire agreement, with talks focusing on outstanding points of contention between the government and ethnic groups.

In the nine months since the ethnic groups formed the NCCT in November 2013, the NCCT and government peace negotiators have held a series of meetings aimed at signing an elusive nationwide ceasefire agreement.

NCCT leaders on Tuesday agreed on 10 points related to the second draft of the ceasefire that are still under negotiation with the government, and discussed “to what extent they can negotiate on these,” according Salai Lian Hmong Sakhong, an NCCT member and leader of the Chin National Front.

The ethnic participants’ agreement included points concerning their stance on federal principles, ceasefire wording and the decision-making role of the NCCT, as well as matters related to the political dialogue expected to follow an eventual ceasefire signing and technical coordination with the government, ethnic leaders involved in the talks told The Irrawaddy.

Nai Hong Sar, the head of the NCCT, said during a press conference on Tuesday evening that the nationwide ceasefire process appeared to have stalled, with the government unwilling to accept the ethnic groups’ demands for autonomy and federalism.

“We could move forward, if the government will accept [ethnic groups’ demands],” said Nai Hong Sar, adding that one sticking point between rebel groups and the government was the form that political dialogue would take.

Ethnic leaders want a tripartite framework, while the government has proposed a so-called “eight sectors dialogue.” Under the government’s preferred arrangement, dialogue would take place among the ethnic groups and Burma’s executive branch, military, Parliament, political parties, civil society organizations, academic experts and businesspeople.

The ethnic leaders are pushing for a more limited dialogue involving the government, ethnic armed groups and the country’s pro-democracy political forces, including the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society.

NCCT leader Khun Myint Htun told The Irrawaddy that the word “revolution” would not be used in the nationwide ceasefire accord’s title, but would be included within the text of document, under condition that the final agreement guarantees ethnic groups’ equality and autonomy under a system of genuine federalism in Burma.

Whether to use the word in the title has long been disputed, with the government wary of the term being accorded such prominence, but less reluctant to see it used farther down in the text of the document.

Ethnic leaders said their latest talks did not delve into the six points that the Burmese military, also known as the Tatmadaw, has asked be incorporated into the single-text draft, including that ethnic groups respect the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.

“Our leaders also have not decided yet whether to accept or not, because we have not [in the past] accepted the 2008 Constitution,” Salai Lian Hmong Sakhong said. “We talked clearly about what we want. We did not focus on it [the Tatmadaw’s six points].”

Convening on Friday, the ethnic summit was attended by the 16 NCCT member groups and was later joined by Vijay Nambiar, the UN special adviser to Burma, and Tand Ying, the Chinese envoy on Asian Affairs, who attended as observers on Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the NCCT will meet with non-NCCT members including the Restoration Council of Shan State, All Burma Students’ Democratic Front and an ethnic Naga rebel group to share the results of their discussion on the ceasefire’s second draft.

The ethnic leaders will then meet with the government’s peace negotiating team for further talks in Rangoon, but no date has yet been confirmed for that gathering.

Nyein Nyein reported from Chiang Mai, Thailand.