Govt, Ethnic Alliance to Meet for Nationwide Ceasefire Talks

By May Kha & Saw Yan Naing 1 August 2014

LAIZA, Kachin State — Leaders of an alliance of ethnic armed groups are scheduled to meet with government peace negotiator Aung Min in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina this weekend to discuss a nationwide ceasefire accord, ethnic representatives said on Thursday.

The National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), comprising representatives of 16 ethnic groups, met in the Kachin rebel-held border town of Laiza in recent days to develop a common position for further talks with the government on a nationwide ceasefire text.

The NCCT, government and Burma Army have jointly created a second draft of a nationwide ceasefire text in recent months, but talks had stalled over the ethnics’ demands for political autonomy and a federal union, a demands made by the military.

Ethnic groups said they agreed in Laiza on a 10-point list of suggestions for changes to the draft ceasefire text, which they will bring to their upcoming meeting with Minister Aung Min and his government advisors of the Myanmar Peace Center.

Lian Hmong Sakhong, an NCCT member and a leader of the Chin National Front, said he believed the parties could make significant progress during their upcoming meeting in Myitkyina. “We think we can sign the nationwide ceasefire accord in September if things go smoothly, but it depends on our meeting,” he said.

President Thein Sein’s reformist government has signed bilateral ceasefires with more than a dozen ethnic groups and began to actively pursue a nationwide ceasefire with an alliance of groups last year, but this has proven elusive.

Government officials and some ethnic leaders have repeatedly stated that a nationwide ceasefire accord is only weeks away, only for negotiations to falter.

The Burma Army wanted a nationwide ceasefire that includes its six-point statement. This document set out demands that the ethnic groups reject, such as that all ethnic parties disarm, demobilize and reintegrate with the Burma Army.

Khun Okkar, an NCCT member, said it appeared the military is softening its stance on the six-point statement and is now willing to discuss it at a later stage. He added, however, that the ethnic groups would only want to begin discussions on disarmament and demobilization during the political dialogue.

Such a dialogue is supposed to start after a nationwide ceasefire is signed and would be a process to find solutions for complex political issues that could take years to complete.

Meanwhile, fighting continues in northern Burma, where the Kachin Independence Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army are engaged in frequent clashes with the Burma Army. Both groups are NCCT members but don’t have a bilateral ceasefire with Naypyidaw, while there are also powerful ethnic groups, such as the United Wa State Army, that are not part of the NCCT.

Saw Yan Naing reported from Chiang Mai, Thailand.