CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Ethnic leaders will not sign on to a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) if it excludes certain armed groups, senior ethnic representatives reiterated Wednesday after four days of talks on the draft text in northern Thailand.
Meeting ahead of the next round of talks with government negotiators in Rangoon beginning on August 5, ethnic representatives discussed the remaining obstacles to signing the NCA in talks which began on Sunday in Chiang Mai.
At present the government doesn’t recognize six ethnic armed groups that are part of the ethnics’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), reconstituted as the Senior Delegation in June, according to Nai Hong Sar.
These groups include the Arakan Army (AA), the Arakan National Council (ANC), the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), the Wa National Organization (WNO) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
The Ta’ang National Liberation Army that along with the AA and MNDAA has recently been in conflict with the government army, would also be excluded from the prospective pact.
“[These groups] have been with us since the NCA process began and we feel that these six allies should participate until the process ends,” Nai Hong Sar, spokesperson on behalf of representatives at the four-day Ethnic Armed Organizations Senior Leaders meeting, told reporters on Wednesday.
“It’s just like the divide and rule strategy. If [these armed groups] are left out, civil war could break out again as there is no government army guarantee not to attack these smaller groups.”
The issue of all-inclusiveness has been debated back and forth over several rounds of peace talks between government and ethnic negotiators, without resolve.
Nai Hong Sar said that ethnic negotiators would press on with dialogue, even if the NCA is not signed in the near future, and would continue to advocate for all groups’ participation.
Other concerns of the ethnics’ center on what government or military representatives will officially sign the NCA and which countries and international bodies will be able to send observers to the signing.
Ethnic negotiators have requested that representatives from the UN, ASEAN, EU, US, UK, Japan, India, Thailand and Norway be present while the government will only allow the US, ASEAN and China, according to Nai Hong Sar.
Security sector reform is another point of friction, with the ethnics’ seeing such reform as a crucial counterweight to the Burma Army’s insistence on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ethnic rebel groups.