The Irrawaddy

Holidays to Likely Delay Burma Ceasefire Talks

Ethnic armed groups sit down for a conference in late October in Laiza, Kachin State. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

The second meeting between the Burma government and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), a group representing ethnic minority rebel groups, is unlikely to happen this month as planned.

After the first meeting in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina early last month, leaders of both sides planned to meet for a second time in December in Pa’an, Karen State.

The NCCT was formed during a four-day conference of ethnic armed groups in October in the Kachin town of Laiza, a stronghold for the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). It is tasked with communicating with the government over a proposed nationwide ceasefire accord.

Last month, the NCCT and government exchanged draft proposals for the ceasefire accord. Last week, NCCT members also held a meeting in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

The Burma government has already negotiated individual ceasefire deals with most but not all major armed rebel groups. A nationwide accord would consolidate these ceasefires.

Before the second NCCT-government talks in Pa’an, ethnic armed groups will come together again in Karen State, in an area controlled by the Karen Nation Union (KNU), another rebel political group. This conference of ethnic groups would be similar to the Laiza conference and could come in the next three weeks, according to Col. Khun Oakkar, who leads a major ethnic alliance known as the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and is a member of the NCCT.

“The KNU secretary, Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win, said the conference could likely be on Dec. 20,” he said. “But we can say exactly only when we receive an invitation letter from the KNU.”

The conference in Karen State will likely require less time than the Laiza conference. “When we first met in Laiza, every ethnic leader had so much to talk about. I think we can shorten the time,” Khun Oakkar said.

“We will be able to meet with the government, led by Minister U Aung Min of the Myanmar Peace Center in Pa’an, following the ethnic groups’ meeting in KNU areas,” he added.

But the Pa’an meeting is unlikely to happen this month because government ministers will not be able to attend after Dec. 23, the beginning of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

“We have not received any formal word yet from the ethnic leaders for the Pa’an meeting,” Hla Maung Shwe, a special adviser to the government-backed Myanmar Peace Centre, told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “I understand the ethnic leaders are holding meetings, and we are waiting for information from them.”

“December 23 to January 5, 2014, is the Christmas and New Year’s holidays here. It would be difficult to arrange the meeting during that time,” he added.