Govt Invites Ethnic Reps to Rangoon in Push to Confirm Ceasefire Date

By Nyein Nyein 18 September 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burma’s government has invited representatives from 15 ethnic armed groups to meet in Rangoon on Sunday, with the intention of setting a date to sign an elusive nationwide ceasefire pact.

President’s Office Minister and chief peace negotiator Aung Min signed a letter sent to the groups on Thursday inviting them to attend the meeting on Sept. 20.

Of the 15 ethnic armed groups, 14 have concluded bilateral ceasefires with the government—the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) being the sole outlier.

Ethnic armed groups plan to meet in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand on September 28-30 to hash out their position on the nationwide ceasefire agreement that has been in the works for almost two years.

During a meeting in Naypyidaw last week, government and ethnic negotiators had pledged to form a joint committee to negotiate the arrangements for a signing ceremony tentatively earmarked for early October.

Hla Maung Shwe of the Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC) said it wasn’t yet clear if all groups would attend the meeting.

Nai Hong Sar, a spokesperson for the ethnics’ Senior Delegation, told reporters after a meeting in Chiang Mai on Friday that each group could make their own determination on whether to attend.

“We also replied to the UPWC [Union Peacemaking Working Committee] that such an invitation should be sent to the Senior Delegation instead of each group [individually],” he said.

KIO deputy chief-of-staff Gen. Gun Maw could not confirm the Kachin group’s attendance, saying the decision was up to the group’s Laiza-based leadership.

The government has pledged that those armed groups that sign the NCA will be officially removed from the list of unlawful associations—a fact it is apparently pressing home in seeking to finalize a deal.

Kyaw Wan Sein, a central executive committee member of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), claimed Aung Min had referred to the law during a meeting with the group’s representatives in Rangoon on Wednesday.

“Aung Min said at our meeting that if we did not sign the NCA on the day President Thein Sein arranged, we would be declared an illegal armed group. He said he would use existing laws in the country,” Kyaw Wan Sein said.

The Unlawful Association Act has been invoked by Burma’s current and former rulers to arrest and imprison any group or individual deemed to have links with an organization designated illegal.

While the government continues to push for a ceasefire signing ahead of the country’s Nov. 8 general election, ongoing clashes in Shan and Kachin states, coupled with Naypyidaw’s refusal to broaden the deal to include non-ceasefire ethnic armed groups, continues to shroud the process in doubt.

Additional reporting by Lawi Weng.