Govt Ministers Meet Ethnic Leaders in Lead-Up to Ceasefire Summit

By Nyein Nyein 29 May 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A high-level meeting of government ministers and ethnic representatives convened in northern Thailand on Thursday to prepare for upcoming ceasefire talks, boding well for what has recently been viewed as a turbulent path to peace.

Members of the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), the government and ethnic negotiating blocs, met for one and a half hours in Chiang Mai to discuss preparations for political dialogue meant to follow the eventual signing of a peace accord.

The meeting was held in advance of an NCCT summit that will take place in Law Khee Lar, Karen State, on June 2, when ethnic are leaders are expected to make their final assessment of a draft nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). Political dialogue will commence within 60 days of signing the agreement, which has been in the works for about three years.

NCCT member Khun Okkar said the preliminary meeting was a success, noting that both the government and ethnic peace teams were “preparing in advance for the political framework process.” Negotiators discussed the formation of committees for ceasefire monitoring and implementation of the framework for political dialogue, representatives of both sides said.

The government delegation included chief peace negotiator and President’s Office Minister Aung Min, Border Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Thet Naing Win, Electrical Power Minister Khin Maung Soe and Energy Minister Than Htay.

NCCT chairmen Nai Hong Sar and Padoh Kwe Htoo Win led the ethnic delegation.

Aung Min met briefly with reporters after the meeting, expressing the government’s satisfaction.

“Today’s meeting was the best of all the meetings. I am happy as we came to encourage [the peace process] and we did not have to discuss many issues,” Aung Min said, adding that the government urged the NCCT to come to a definitive consensus on any further changes to the draft NCA during talks at Law Khee Lar next week.

The minister reiterated the government’s position that the UPWC is satisfied with the current draft and does not wish to make any amendments to the version agreed upon by both sides on March 30.

Khun Okkar said the NCCT is more concerned with ensuring that the current agreement can be implemented, instead of making further changes to the document.

While the NCA is intended to serve as a comprehensive peace accord, some ethnic leaders have expressed apprehension due to the exclusion of three ethnic armed groups that are still in active conflict with government forces: the Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA); the Arakan Army (AA); and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

Aung Min said that the government aims to achieve a bilateral ceasefire with the Ta’ang, also known as Palaung, but did not address the MNDAA or the AA, which are both considered unlawful organizations by the government.

The refusal to acknowledge and make peace with the two groups could become an obstacle, Khun Okkar said, as a recent ethnic leadership conference in eastern Burma’s Wa Special Region culminated with a pledge of solidarity among the nations array of minority rebels.

“We ethnics do not want to leave any group behind, so we told the government delegation to guarantee that these two minority ethnic armed groups, which are currently fighting with the government army, not be destroyed by military operations,” Khun Okkar said.