Gov’t, EAOs Agree Guidelines for Further Discussion of Key Peace Stumbling Blocks

By Nyein Nyein 16 October 2018

YANGON—The government and a group of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that are signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) concluded a two-day summit Tuesday with an agreed set of guidelines for continued discussion on two key issues that have stalled the peace process.

The contentious issues are the process of forming a unified military, and the military’s insistence that ethnic groups vow never to seek secession from the Union.

Participants told reporters in Naypyitaw after the summit that the guidelines for further discussion agreed to at the meeting aim to address the concerns of both sides.

The issues of non-secession and a single national army dominated the talks on Tuesday, with the leaders taking extra time to discuss the former, according to the ethnic leaders.

Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong, the vice chair of the Chin National Front, told reporters in Naypyitaw that, “As non-secession is a key issue, our ethnic leaders requested the government let us consult first with the non-signatories to the NCA, as we have more than 10 ethnic groups.”

The government and the EAOs agreed to meet again in November.

Padoh Kwe Htoo Win, vice chairman of the Karen National Union and a key negotiator at the summit, said, “If our constitution [established] a democracy and were a federally-based constitution, as called for by the ethnic groups, no one would seek to secede.”

He reiterated that the right to secede and the demand for self-determination are two separate issues.

However, peace negotiations have been stalled over these issues for more than a year. This week’s summit was held in an effort to overcome the deadlock.

U Zaw Htay, the director general of the Ministry of the State Counselor’s Office, said, “The leaders openly shared their concerns” on the issues but in the end they will all move forward as per the agreement. He was referring to the joint statement released by the government and EAOs on Tuesday, which stated that both sides would move forward.

In the statement, seven goals were agreed: to convene Union peace conferences before 2020 prioritizing democratic and federal principles; to break the deadlock on the peace negotiations; to simplify the current political dialogue; to implement any agreement made between the leaders; to begin discussion on security sector integration; to seek to include the remaining ethnic armed groups who have not yet signed the NCA; and to continue discussions on strengthening the ceasefire.

Regarding the issue of forming a unified army, Padoh Kwe Htoo Win, the vice chairman of the Karen National Union who has been a key negotiator at this summit, said the EAOs “agree to the principle of having a single army, but will have to continue discussions on how to form a multiethnic army.”

U Zaw Htay added, “Before, we did not know where to start on the issue [of the single army, which forms part of broader security concerns]. Now we have got a specific topic [for discussion].” He said a timeframe had been set to continue these discussions.

Padoh Kwe Htto Win was optimistic that “future negotiations will be smoother” thanks to this week’s gathering for informal but high-level negotiations to break the impasse in peace negotiations.

On the government side, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and deputy military commander-in-chief Vice Senior General Soe Win led the talks on Tuesday, while all 10 EAO leaders were there for the second day of the summit.

Army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing joined the peace summit on Monday morning to outline the Tatmadaw’s stand on the ongoing process and the non-secession issue.

Also on Monday, the Army chief, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and General Saw Mutu Sae Poe of the KNU, accompanied by Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win, met separately to discuss their concerns.