Govt Summons Ethnic Peace Team, Defends Ceasefire Draft

By Lawi Weng 23 June 2015

RANGOON — Peace negotiations between the Burmese government and the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups hit a major roadblock on Monday, as the government’s chief negotiator reiterated his position to stick with the current draft of a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).

Following an ethnic leadership summit in eastern Burma’s Karen State earlier this month, the established ethnic negotiating bloc—the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, or NCCT—ceded to a new group viewed by government as “hardliners.”

The new bloc, which does not yet have a distinct moniker, agreed to amend several of the existing 15 points of the draft and add one new provision, causing upset among government negotiators, who believed the long-awaited document had more or less been put to bed.

Chief government negotiator Aung Min, Lt-Gen Thet Naing Win and Immigration Minister Khin Ye on Monday hosted talks with NCCT members Nai Hong Sar, Kwe Htoo Win and Htun Zaw at the Myanmar Peace Center in Rangoon, where they delivered a stern reminder that the government did not approve of the sudden change of tack, according to Nai Hong Sar.

“They asked us why we formed a new committee, and said that they did not envision this,” Nai Hong Sar said at a press briefing on Tuesday. The government delegates could not immediately be reached for comment and made no public statements about the closed-door meeting.

Nai Hong Sar said the government’s peace team, called the Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC), did not want to alter the draft agreement and would deliberate whether or not they would agree to continue negotiations with the newly formed ethnic bloc.

The ethnic team defended its right to request amendments to the document, which both sides provisionally agreed to in late March, stating that it was only a “draft” and therefore unfixed. Nai Hong Sar said the UPWCs warnings betrayed a desire to fast-track the peace process before elections likely to be held in November of this year.

“The government told us the country will have an election soon, and they would not be able to pay much attention [to the peace process] after July because they will be preparing for elections,” Nai Hong Sar said, adding that peace in Burma has long been a goal of the country’s ethnic groups, but that they only want a transparent deal that guarantees security and is fully agreed upon by all parties, whenever that may be.

Kwe Htoo Win, general secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), took a slightly softer stance, claiming the recommended changes to the draft—made by the new bloc, of which he is also a part—are minor and could be easily implemented.

“We don’t want to change whole paragraphs, we just added a few words to the agreement,” he said, explaining that some terminology should be made more specific to avoid confusing during a phase of political dialogue that should commence within 60 days of signing the accord.

“Our wish is to sign the NCA,” he assured reporters. “We want to have peace.”