MYITKYINA, Kachin State — Representatives of Burma’s ethnic armed groups have emphasized that sincerity in negotiations is the key to building peace between the government and the ethnic armed groups who have been fighting for more than 60 years.
At the opening of peace talks between the government delegation led by Minister Aung Min and ethnic rebel leaders in Myitkyina on Monday, Saw Mutu Say Poe, chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the oldest ethnic rebels in Southeast Asia said the talks were the best hope for peace in Burma.
“None of us won on the battle field. So, we believe [political] conflicts must be solved at the negotiating table, not on the battle field,” he said.
“But, we must not be dishonest. We must not have the mindset of beating each other. I emphasized this every time I have met with government delegations. I told President [Thein Sein] when I met him. I told
armed forces chief [Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing] when I met him. We must not build internal peace by using dishonest tactics.”
At the meeting at Majoi Hall in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina, Lt-Gen Thet Naing Win, Burma’s minister of border affairs, and Lt-Gen Myint Soe, commander of the government’s bureau of special operations for Kachin, gave speeches. Lt-Gen Thet Naing Win also read out letters from Thein Sein and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
Thein Sein’s letter, which sets out the government delegation’s negotiating position, listed four points: the nationwide ceasefire agreement the government is seeking to sign this year, the need for a framework for political dialogue with the ethnic armed groups, holding political dialogue under the framework and holding an inclusive political conference with all groups.
Ethnic rebel groups individually signed numerous ceasefire agreements with the former military regime in late 1989 and early 1990. But some of those agreements with many ethnic rebels, including Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), broke down in 2010 and 2011. Ethnic leaders are hoping the government side will not repeat itself by breaking its promises.
Nai Hong Sar, the general secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council, an alliance of ethnic groups, said a lasting peace was vital for Burma, a country with vast natural resources, to develop.
“All know that our country is behind other countries due to the civil wars. I want to give the example of Singapore. In Singapore, even water is supplied from others countries, but it is a developed country. Our country is poor. It is because of war,” he said.
Col Sai La, spokesperson of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), said that government delegation led by Aung Min proposed to the ethnic groups to form an ethnic technical team with representatives from all ethnic groups and foreign experts, in order to plan negotiations before talks with the government.
The ethnic leaders formed a 13-member joint peace negotiation team at a conference for rebel groups in Laiza last week. The group will represent the ethnic armed groups in negotiations with the government peace delegation.
“The government’s peace delegation passed its draft proposal about political framework and nationwide ceasefire agreement to us,” Col Sai La said. “We will need to learn about it and negotiate again later.”
The meeting between the ethnic leaders and the government peace delegation in Myitkyina started Monday and is set to end Tuesday. Representatives from all Burma’s ethnic armed groups, except for the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and its ally the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), also known as the Mongla militia, attended the meeting.