Ethnic Leaders Call on Thein Sein to Recontest Presidency

By Kyaw Kha 4 August 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A number of ethnic armed group leaders have reportedly urged President Thein Sein to seek a second term, saying it was necessary for the future of political negotiations around the government’s peace program.

The leaders of four ethnic armed groups met with Thein Sein in Naypyidaw on Monday, where the president was pressed by those present to recontest the presidency, according to Union minister Ohn Myint, who was present at the discussion.

“They urged the president to run for a second term to make sure there was continuity in the peace process and political negotiations,” he said on Facebook. “They said they believed only by him seeking a second term would there be a firm chance of the peace and national reconciliation to which people aspire.”

Monday’s meeting was attended by representatives of the Karen National Union (KNU), the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, the Karen Peace Council and Harn Yawnghwe, an adviser to some ethnic armed groups.

The same four groups signed the so-called Deed of Commitment for Peace and National Reconciliation on Feb. 12, celebrated as Union Day in Burma, reaffirming their commitment to the nationwide ceasefire process.

The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) ethnic bloc declined to sign the pledge at the time, as the government had not addressed key issues such as the ethnic demand for the establishment of a federal system of governance.

Representatives from some ethnic groups criticized Monday’s exclusive meeting, claiming that the move was a failsafe attempt to broker separate ceasefire agreements in the event that negotiations around the nationwide ceasefire process broke down.

Hla Maung Shwe, senior adviser to the government’s Myanmar Peace Center, retorted that the meeting was held to expedite a nationwide accord and begin political dialogue between the government and ethnic armed groups as soon as possible.

“The nationwide ceasefire agreement is almost finalized now,” he told The Irrawaddy. “There are only three points that need to be discussed and they will by left out of the agreement…These groups came to discuss the signing of the nationwide agreement and plan for the start of political dialogue.”

Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing also met with the four ethnic leaders in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, alongside other high-ranking army officials. The details of the meeting were not disclosed and a short message on Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook account simply said the army supports the peace process.

An ethnic summit held from July 26-29 in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai reaffirmed a commitment to only sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement when certain ethnic armed groups were included for consideration by the Burmese government.

The government has blocked six groups from participating in the accord, including the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Arakan Army, all three of which are involved in ongoing fighting with government forces. The government also insists that three other groups—the Lahu Democratic Union, Wa National Organization and Arakan National Council—do not have sizeable enough armies to warrant being considered as combatants.

The government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee and a special delegation of ethnic armed groups are set to meet at the Myanmar Peace Center on Thursday to finalize the nationwide ceasefire agreement.

Peace observers believe that if Thursday’s discussion fails, those groups represented in Naypyidaw on Monday and some other ethnic organizations are still likely to sign the agreement, even without the participation of other UNFC members.

In a recent interview with The Irrawaddy, UNFC vice-chair Nai Hong Sar warned that excluding some groups from the peace accord would leave open the risk of future internal conflicts in Burma.