Ethnic Summit Confident of Ceasefire Agreement Despite Resignations

By Lawi Weng 5 June 2015

LAW KHEE LAR, Karen State — Ethnic leaders on Friday were continuing to deliberate over the draft text of the nationwide ceasefire agreement, with those present broadly in agreement that the document would eventually be signed despite the attempted resignation of three armed groups from the ethnic negotiating team.

Nai Hong Sar, chairman of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), told a press conference on Thursday that he was not yet able to set a date for the signing of the ceasefire agreement, as further amendments and additions would be needed to create a draft text suitable to the ethnic negotiating team’s members. He was optimistic that the agreement would be signed in the future, but said the NCCT’s members had determined they would not sign if any of the group’s members were excluded.

“We will sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement when all members from the NCCT are able to participate,” he told journalists. “This is our general agreement, but we need to discuss further. We will not sign if the military does not accept the participation of the three groups.”

Nai Hong Sar was referring to the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, three groups which are currently battling the Burma Armed Forces and have been excluded from the draft text. All three armed groups submitted their resignation to the NCCT on Thursday, claiming they distrust government negotiators and feel betrayed by their ethnic counterparts, but Nai Hong Sar appeared to imply later that day that the ethnic bloc would attempt to prevent their departure.

“We could not let our members leave from the NCCT,” he said. “If we let them leave, the government will succeed in their goal to to divide and rule among our ethnic groups.”

He added that to let the three groups resign would demonstrate a lack of unity amongst the country’s ethnic armed groups and a genuine nationwide peace settlement would be unattainable.

Thursday’s attempted resignation was not the first time disunity between the various factions at the Law Khee Lar summit has boiled over into the public.

Representatives of the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) appeared to take different lines during their speeches at the conference, with the former advocating the signing of the ceasefire accord in the near future, and the latter urging a delay to consider the implications of any agreement.

Disagreements between the two ethnic groups date back to the 1990s. As a member of the National Democratic Alliance, the KIO signed a bilateral ceasefire in 1993, allowing the Burmese military to redouble its efforts against the Karen insurgents to the south. The year after renewed fighting in Kachin State broke out in 2011, the KNU signed a ceasefire agreement with Naypyidaw, allowing the military to devote its resources to battling the Kachin Independence Army in the north.

Other participants at the Law Khee Lar summit have echoed Nai Hong Sar’s call for a united front among ethnic representatives during negotiations with the government.

“If we do not have unity between us, we will not be able to find common ground on what we agree is important, which is asking the government for a real federal union,” said Arakan Liberation Party vice-chairman Khaing Soe Naing Aung during a speech on Thursday. “We should all have one voice.”

Representatives from both the KIO and the KNU insisted that all ethnic armed groups were permitted to participate in the agreement if the signing is to go ahead.

“We want to bring all members of the NCCT to sign the ceasefire agreement,” Zipporah Sein, the KNU vice-chairwoman, told The Irrawaddy. “The government doesn’t want want three armed groups to participate, but we will sign it when all members can participate. We have already made this decision. The government should stop fighting in northern Shan State if they want us to sign it.”

Arakan Liberation Party member and senior NCCT member Saw Myat Yar Zar Lin told The Irrawaddy that the Law Khee Lar meeting is expected to conclude by Saturday.