Ethnic Groups Vow to Reach Ceasefire When Talks Resume Next Week

By Nyein Nyein 23 March 2015

RANGOON – Peace talks geared toward reaching a nationwide ceasefire agreement will resume on March 30, negotiators said on Sunday after six days of discussions in Rangoon, vowing that the long-awaited pact is finally on the horizon.

Representatives of the ethnic block Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) told reporters that the two sides are close to reaching an accord, just before early reports of renewed conflict in Burma’s troubled northern Kachin State began to surface late on Sunday.

MPC adviser Hla Maung Shwe said the current, seventh round of peace talks is the longest to date, and is “yielding better results than previous talks because of the leaders’ commitments and ambitious discussions.”

He said the negotiations have achieved agreement on six of seven points of contention in the current draft of a nationwide peace pact.

The last remaining point of discussion will be a program for the transitional period after signing the nationwide agreement. All other points of contention have been resolved since talks commenced last Tuesday, Hla Maung Shwe said.

Head of the NCCT Khun Okkar said ethnic participants are committed to finalizing a peace accord when discussions resume next week.

“We vowed to reach a nationwide ceasefire during this seventh round of talks,” said Khun Okkar. “All of the NCCT leaders joined [these discussions], as well as a delegation from the Kachin Independence Organization from the north, which had a meeting with the president and the commander-in-chief prior to the Rangoon meetings.”

Khun Okkar added that the process of achieving peace is ongoing, and that all ethnic participants, “want to make a happy ending.”

Once a draft is complete and agreed upon by both sides, he said, negotiators can move on to determining which ethnic armed groups would be eligible as signatories. At present, five NCCT members are not recognized by the government as legitimate political organizations and have not reached bilateral ceasefires.

One such group is the ethnic Kokang force, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), which has been engaged in devastating and ongoing conflict with the Burma Army in eastern Burma since Feb. 9.

In a similar quandary is the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which is also actively engaged in combat with government troops and has not reached a bilateral ceasefire.

Khun Okkar said that if the government wants to achieve a lasting peace it will need to adjust its approach to Burma’s smaller ethnic armed groups, who in the past had been marginalized by government peacemakers.

“The government must acknowledge the existence of those minority groups which have their own race, area and language,” he said.