Ethnic Peace Team Meets in Thailand Before Govt Talks

By Nyein Nyein 3 July 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — In the lead-up to a meeting with the Burmese government’s chief peace negotiator, ethnic leaders convened in northern Thailand on Thursday to discuss the nation’s peace process.

A Special Delegation team, formed at an ethnic leadership summit in Karen State last month, has stepped in as the negotiating bloc of Burma’s ethnic armed groups during peace talks with the government.

The governemnt’s negotiating body, the Union Peace-making Working Committee (UPWC), has yet to formally accept the group as its counterpart, but will send its chief liaison, Aung Min, for initial talks in Chiang Mai on Friday.

The UPWC and the now-defunct Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which was replaced by the delegation, agreed to a preliminary draft of a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in late March, but the newly formed body takes issue with several parts of the accord.

Last month’s surprise shake-up triggered fears among analysts that the 17-month process could be prolonged further due to lingering disagreements about the document.

Naw Zipporah Sein, leader of the delegation and vice-chairperson of the Karen National Union (KNU), told reporters on Thursday that the new team is committed to finding an acceptable path to peace.

“We will discuss with the government about how to continue the peace process, to find a way forward in the nationawide ceasefire process and achieve peace,” she said.

Several issues are outstanding in talks between union peacemakers and the new bloc, but Zipporah Sein said this week’s conference will be an initial meeting focused mainly on setting a timeframe for further discussions.

“We will share [with the government] our aims for the Special Delegation. It was formed by decision of high-level ethnic leaders, and [our goal] is to be able to move forward with talks toward achieving the NCA,” she said.

Thursday’s meeting was joined briefly by outgoing Swiss Ambassador to Burma Christoph Burgener, who was in Thailand for a brief visit. Switzerland is the current chair of the Peace Support Group (PSG), an international donor coordination network.

Addressing the delegation members at the end of the meeting, Burgener said he came to pay respect to players in the nation’s peace process as he was leaving his post.

“I would like to pay respect to all the stakeholders… so I came here to Chiang Mai to say goodbye to the ethnic leaders,” he said, “to assure all the stakeholders, the ethnic minority groups as well, that Switzerland will support them in the peace process.”

Burgener said he had witnessed “huge progress” toward peace throughout his tenure.

“I hope the dynamics will go on. The worry is that these dynamics will come to a standstill and would be the worst [outcome],” he said.

Remarking on the current state of negotiations, the delegation’s second-in-command, La Ja of the Kachin Independence Army, reiterated the group’s commitment to picking up where the NCCT left off.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on the sidelines of Thursday’s meeting, La Ja expressed optimism.

“We hope for the best,” he said. “We, both sides, can find a way to overcome the current deadlock.”