Ethnic Reps Remain Wary During Pause in Peace Talks

By Lawi Weng 25 March 2015

RANGOON — While government and ethnic peace negotiators catch their breath before talks on a nationwide ceasefire agreement recommence next week, various representatives from the ethnic groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) highlighted the fragility of ongoing deliberations.

Confidence was high following six days of discussions that ended on Sunday, but reports almost simultaneously emerged of Burma Army airstrikes on a Kachin rebel base in Mansi Township, according to Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) officials.

Daung Khar, head of the KIO’s technical team based in the state capital Myitkyina, said the Burma Army’s latest attack showed that the military did not value ongoing negotiations.

“They are fighting us. This shows they do not respect our leaders having peace talks with the government in Yangon [Rangoon]. For our KIA [Kachin Independence Army], we need to think how we will proceed in the future, instead of thinking about signing the NCA,” Daung Kar said, referring to the nationwide ceasefire agreement.

His superior, KIA Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Gun Maw, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that no ceasefire would be signed before the Burmese New Year, which begins on April 13. The KIA leader echoed Daung Kar’s sentiment about the detrimental impact of ongoing Burma Army hostility.

“When the peace talks are progressing … fighting operations [such as airstrikes] that are under direct high-level command can really damage negotiations,” he said.

NCCT representatives also criticized government negotiators for painting an overly rosy picture of the talks not matched by the reality on the ground.

“They tried to highlight only good points and did not mention any of the negative things from the talks,” said NCCT member Twan Zaw. “They feel having something is better than nothing.”

Twan Zaw said many important points, which could cause friction, had still not been discussed.

“It’s better to measure results on the ground instead of just saying positive things. If the Burma Army does not stop fighting on the ground, we cannot say our peace talks have been positive,” he said.

NCCT representative Lian H. Sakhong also voiced concerns over the government’s take on last week’s talks, part of the seventh round of official negotiations on a single text NCA.

He said the ethnic negotiating bloc had asked government representatives not to post misleading information on Facebook after Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) advisor Nyo Ohn Myint wrote a post on Friday indicating the ethnic groups’ had agreed to the principle of a single armed force in the country.

Ethnic leaders have proposed the creation of a federal army, a major sticking point in negotiations.

Following talks between Kachin leaders, President Thein Sein and army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw in mid-March, senior MPC representative Hla Maung Shwe told The Irrawaddy that the KIO had accepted that the country should only have one army. But when pressed on whether this army would be a federal force, in line with ethnic groups’ demands, the MPC member could not elaborate.

Some ethnic leaders and other observers remain concerned that key issues concerning federalism, troop deployments and a code of conduct will be deferred until political talks that the government insists take place after the signing of a nationwide ceasefire.

An ethnic representative and NCCT member who wished to remain anonymous told The Irrawaddy on Monday: “Our NCCT has proposed the issue of the military code of conduct, but the UPWC [Union Peacemaking Working Committee] told us that they do not dare to ask Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing to discuss the issue or even President Thein Sein. They told us, let’s discuss the issue later.”

The source said other similarly important but potentially divisive issues had been put on the backburner, describing the situation as “like a time bomb” unless both parties hashed out their differences.