RANGOON — The head of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), a coalition of 16 ethnic armed groups, said on Tuesday that if his delegation gets a “good compromise” with government negotiators this week, the group would agree to sign an elusive nationwide ceasefire accord.
Members of the NCCT and the Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC) gathered for a seventh round of peace talks on Tuesday, when they planned to discuss issues including how to reduce ongoing fighting in Burma’s ethnic border regions and resolve remaining sticking points that have for months held hack the signing of a nationwide peace deal.
“We took a lot of risk in making this trip,” said NCCT leader Nai Hong Sar in opening remarks on Tuesday. “We need to reduce the fighting. It is not a good sign for achieving peace in the country as fighting has escalated in the north of the country. We need to stop it.
“The issues of Kachin, Palaung and Kokang should be the focus of talks at this meeting as it is important in order to reduce conflict,” he said, referring to the three biggest ethnic armed groups that still lack a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government.
Nai Hong Sar said that within the NCCT, members had discussed at length the remaining disagreements between the group and government negotiators relating to the proposed nationwide ceasefire. Previous attempts to draft an agreement have foundered over differences on the structure of Burma’s military in a post-ceasefire situation; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration arrangements; and a code of conduct for both government and ethnic armies.
“We are already prepared to sign a NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement] if we get a good compromise at this meeting,” Nai Hong Sar said.
The ethnic Mon leader urged the government to refrain from using force to address political issues with the country’s ethnic minority groups and instead rely on political dialogue to bridge the differences, an approach that he also advocated in dealing with protests staged in recent weeks by students, farmers and laborers in Burma.
Gen. Gun Maw, the deputy chief of staff from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), said negotiators should enter this week’s talks with an open mind.
“I want to ask that we not blame each other, not make problems when we discuss the issue of how to reduce fighting. We should have full understanding, and we should keep our tolerance when we discuss this issue,” Gun Maw said.
There were many reasons for why the two sides had been unable to meeting for five months, he said without elaborating. The NCCT and UPWC last met for official talks in September.
The KIA previously asked the government to meet in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State, a request made to discuss the Burma Army’s shelling of a KIA military academy, which killed 23 cadets in Laiza on Nov. 17. That request was not honored by the government, and the shelling incident could be among the agenda items at this week’s talks.
Hla Ja, who is secretary of the KIA political wing known as the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), and Gun Maw led a delegation that met bilaterally with commander in chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and President Thein Sein on Monday in Naypyidaw, with both sides speaking positively of the exchange.
“We found this meeting to be very important and special. We achieved some understanding from the meeting yesterday with the KIA, and these are good points to make peace,” said Lt-Gen Myint Soe, commander of the Burma Army’s Bureau of Special Operations-1, which oversees military operations in Kachin State.
“I will not say that we can stop all fighting, but we could reduce fighting with this understanding. Permanent peace nationwide will come if we sign an NCA,” he said.
Tuesday marked the seventh official meeting between the NCCT and UPWC, and comes with high hopes even as some of the fiercest fighting in years rages in northeast Burma between the government and Kokang rebels of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). Two Burmese officers and five other soldiers were wounded in fighting on Monday, according to a report from state radio on Monday evening, adding to a casualty count of scores on both sides of the conflict.
Aung Min, the government’s chief peace negotiator, said that his government was ready and eager to sign a nationwide peace deal.
“Our president already told us [the NCCT and UWPC] that it is up to us to achieve peace in the country. Our government intends to make peace,” Aung Min said.