Govt ‘Exaggerating’ Significance of Accord With Ethnic Groups: NCCT Leader

By Lawi Weng 9 April 2015

RANGOON — A leader of the ethnic armed groups that comprise the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) has accused the Burmese government of exaggerating the significance of an agreement made last week that was hailed in state media as a “historic” breakthrough in peace negotiations.

On March 31, the NCCT and government negotiators signed declarations of support for a draft nationwide ceasefire accord long-sought by members of both sides. The draft agreement has not been made public, but several contentious issues that have deadlocked negotiations for months were reportedly omitted from the document and will be taken up instead during a political dialogue to following the nationwide ceasefire’s signing.

No date has been set for that event, with ethnic groups saying they will first convene a summit to discuss the proposed peace deal among themselves.

Asked by The Irrawaddy if he thought the government was manipulating the substance of last week’s signing, Khun Okkar, an NCCT leader, said on Thursday that Naypyidaw was “trying to exaggerate” in conveying its importance.

His comments resembled a statement of caution released by the Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (ENAC) on Saturday. The ENAC said the nature of the agreement reached last week had been “misunderstood.”

“Many news agencies, stakeholders, and the international community have misunderstood that the parties signed the NCA. This is not true. Five representatives each from the NCCT and UPWC [Union Peacemaking Working Committee, the government’s negotiating body] signed a joint statement affirming the completion of the draft NCA text,” said the statement.

The concern over potential misunderstanding may have been prompted in part by rallies since last week’s signing in Dawei and Mon State, which saw civil servants take to the streets in support of the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

The ENAC said the signing of an accord would be “unlikely” in April, citing four challenges that would make May the earliest possible month for a signing.

Those challenges included a timeframe that was too short, particularly given the lengthy holiday afforded in Burma for Buddhist New Year celebrations; continued fighting between the Burma Army and Kokang rebels in the country’s northeast; and disagreement over who would serve as signatories and witnesses at the signing ceremony.

According to the statement, UNFC chairman Gen. N’Ban La “welcomes the finalization of the draft NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement], however, he cautions that the Ethnic Armed Organization [EAO] Leadership Summit will decide whether or not to sign the NCA.”

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has offered to host the summit at its headquarters in Panghsang, a town in Shan State located on the Burma-China border, but Khun Okkar said a location had yet to be determined.

“We are grateful to the Wa for welcoming the hosting of a meeting there, but we have not discussed with them yet whether we can have the ethnic summit there,” he said.

This article was edited on April 21, 2015, to correct an error of attribution. A statement cited in the article was authored by the Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (ENAC), not, as previously reported, by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).