CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burma’s chief peace negotiator Aung Min said the door to inking a nationwide peace accord remained open after a two-day informal meeting between government representatives and a new negotiating bloc representing ethnic armed groups concluded on Saturday.
The scene was set for a potentially prickly dialogue when Aung Min told reporters on Friday that the government did not want any changes to the draft nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), but that the 12 amendments proposed by ethnic representatives could be added to the text’s appendix.
However, the mood appeared more upbeat following the two-day talks—the first between government representatives and the ethnic’s new Special Delegation team, formed at a summit in Karen State’s Law Khee Lar last month.
“Today’s discussion was a success,” Aung Min said in a brief comment to reporters. “We have opened a door to the next step in signing the NCA.”
He said further discussions would be held between both sides in Rangoon sometime in the third week of July, including on ethnic groups’ proposed amendments to the draft text.
The ethnic delegation also remained optimistic despite the initial reluctance of government interlocutors to accept the new negotiating team.
Aung Min referred to the new delegation as old colleagues, albeit in a new configuration, as he had worked with each of the leaders during previous bilateral ceasefire negotiations.
Zipporah Sein, the head of the Special Delegation and the vice chair of the Karen National Union, told The Irrawaddy the talks were a “positive development” and would continue.
She said both sides would continue to discuss the issue of three ethnic armed groups, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, that are locked in ongoing conflict with the Burma Army in northern Shan State.
“[Establishing] all-inclusiveness is as important as the nationwide ceasefire. We are trying to achieve it and the government should also try. The government side is also now working on it and that’s a good sign,” Zipporah Sein said.
Pu Zing Cung, the deputy leader of the ethnic bloc, said sights were set on achieving nationwide peace under the incumbent government of President Thein Sein.
“There are only a couple of amendments to actually make to the NCA draft text, which we have discussed, and [these] could be done following further meetings,” he said.
“Both sides pledged to move the peace process forward and to try to sign the NCA under this administration and finalize the framework for political dialogue.”
Aung Min also met separately with members of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South in Chiang Mai on Saturday. The Shan armed group is not a member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, now replaced by the Special Delegation, that has led ceasefire negotiations on behalf of ethnic armed groups.