KNU to Sign Nationwide Ceasefire, Other Groups Continue Deliberations

By Nyein Nyein 17 August 2015

A Karen rebel group announced its intention to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement on Saturday, as other ethnic armed groups this week consider their own positions on the long-awaited pact.

Secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), Padoh Kwe Htoo Win, said KNU leaders had decided on Saturday to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).

“We will also try to find a way for all other ethnic groups to be able to participate in the process,” he said, echoing a statement issued by the ethnic armed group following a two-day meeting which ended on August 15.

“For the organizations that are not able to sign the NCA due to different reasons, the KNU will attempt to gain a guarantee for them politically, militarily and with the right to humanitarian assistance,” the statement read.

The idea of all-inclusiveness in the process has been understood in two different ways, according to Padoh Kwe Htoo Win.

“The government has still not accepted [the principle of] all groups signing at the same time,” he said. Instead, Naypyidaw is pushing for an ‘open book policy’ where the majority of groups would sign initially, with others to follow when ready.

“We have to negotiate… to keep the guns silent in as many parts of the country as possible. We have to go step by step,” Padoh Kwe Htoo Win said.

Ethnic leaders will convene in northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai on August 21-23 to discuss a “collective consensus” towards signing the nationwide agreement ahead of a meeting involving the senior leaders of five ethnic armed groups and Burma’s president next week.

These five groups are the KNU, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N), the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), according to a spokesperson for the ethnic negotiating bloc known as the Senior Delegation, Nai Hongsar.

“In the upcoming meeting with the President, our senior leaders will include how to incorporate other ethnic groups in the process, in addition to setting the date to sign the NCA,” Padoh Kwe Htoo Win said.

Following the last round of talks between the Senior Delegation and government negotiators earlier this month, President Thein Sein said in a letter to ethnic armed groups, dated August 11, that the government was ready to sign the unchanged draft ceasefire.

“The military does not have any intention to [engage in] any military operations except on issues undermining sovereignty,” Thein Sein wrote.

“The government will work for the participation of all in the political dialogue. The government will pragmatically implement all-inclusiveness principles step by step.”

Along with the KNU, at least three other armed groups have expressed their readiness to sign the NCA in recent days, including the SSPP/SSA-N, the Restoration Council of Shan State and the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF).

The ABSDF’s decision was made after a three-day executive committee meeting which ended Monday.

Than Khe, chair of the armed group, welcomed the president’s letter which invited groups to sign the NCA, but said further discussions on how to include groups which did not yet have bilateral ceasefires with the government needed to be engaged in.

The Kachin Independence Organization also held a public consultation in Laiza on Monday to discuss whether to sign the nationwide agreement, according to the group’s deputy chief of staff Gen. Gun Maw.

Khu Oo Reh, general secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that ethnic groups’ maintained the Senior Delegation’s stance on all-inclusiveness.

“The government should conclude bilateral agreements with the remaining three armed groups,” he said, referring to the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, all of which have been engaged in recent fighting with government troops.

Khu Oo Reh, who is also the vice chair of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), said KNPP leaders would hold a meeting on Tuesday to decide their position on the NCA.