RANGOON — President Thein Sein and Burma Army chief Min Aung Hlaing held separate meetings with ethnic armed group representatives in Naypyidaw on Monday, and the president said he hoped that a nationwide ceasefire accord could be reached in Burma next month.
Leaders of several groups embroiled in current fighting with the Burma Army were absent from the meeting, however, and it remains to be seen whether the stalled ceasefire process can be revived in such a short period time.
Minister of Information Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy that the representatives were invited to the meetings after they had observed an army parade to mark Burma’s 67th Independence Day on Sunday.
Thein Sein told the representatives that he wanted to sign a nationwide ceasefire accord (NCA) on Union Day, Feb. 12. The day marks the signing of the Panglong Agreement by Gen. Aung San and ethnic representatives in 1947, a power-sharing agreement that failed to prevent Burma from sliding into civil war.
“The president urged the NCA to be signed on the upcoming Union Day to be able to move forward to the political dialogue,” said the minister, who attended the meeting. He added that Minister Aung Min, who leads the government ceasefire negotiations team, would meet with ethnic representatives soon to resume the negotiations.
Ye Htut said the president had also urged the ethnic armed groups to collaborate with authorities in order to provide security during the general elections that are tentatively scheduled for late October or early November.
It was the first joint meeting between the president and a number of ethnic representatives; previously he had held bilateral meetings with leaders of the various groups. In a separate meeting on Monday, the representatives met with Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
Representatives of twelve of the 16 groups represented in the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an alliance of ethnic armed organizations, were present during the meetings. The Karen National Union, the New Mon State Party, the United Wa State Army, the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) and the Shan State Army-North and Shan State Army-South were among the groups that met with Thein Sein and Min Aung Hlaing.
ABSDF Vice Chairman Myo Win said, “During each of the two-hour meetings with the president and the commander-in-chief we shared our opinions. Such meetings could build up mutual trust. We didn’t reach concrete agreements but we exchanged views.”
Myo Win said the president had appeared eager to complete the nationwide ceasefire process before his term ends and establish the conditions for starting a dialogue that is supposed to bring a political solution to Burma’s long-running internal conflict.
Representatives of leaders of Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Karen National Progressive Party and Chin National Front did not join the meetings.
The ceasefire process has stalled since September and there have been regular clashes between the Burma Army and the KIA, TNLA and Kokang ethnic rebels in northern Burma, groups that do not yet have a bilateral ceasefire with the government.
KIA leaders, who have been angered by a deadly surprise attack by the army on a cadet training school on Nov. 19, said they declined to join the meeting as it had been announced only shortly before the parade and lacked a clear agenda.
“We were not informed about the aims of these meetings at the military parade,” said Gen. Gun Maw, the KIA deputy chief of staff and an important leader within the NCCT. “It is not an appropriate time to have such a ceremony due to the recent clashes,” he said, referring to ongoing tensions and fighting in northern Burma.
“Whether the NCA could be signed or not next month depends on how much progress we could negotiate on [drafting] the single [ceasefire] text,” added Gun Maw.
Nyan Win, a spokesperson of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said the party did not expect a quick breakthrough in the ceasefire process due to the ongoing tensions. “But if it comes, we would welcome the news,” he added.