Tentative Agreement Reached for Ceasefire Signing Next Month

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint & Nyein Nyein 9 September 2015

NAYPYIDAW — A high-level meeting between Burma’s president and leaders of major ethnic armed groups ended in Naypyidaw on Wednesday with a tentative agreement to sign a nationwide ceasefire pact in early October, negotiators said.

However Pu Zing Cung, spokesperson for the ethnic leaders represented at the talks, told waiting media following the dialogue that ethnic groups would meet again to confirm the signing date.

In his opening remarks, President Thein Sein said he hoped a signing could take place “before the end of September,” ahead of the country’s much-anticipated general election scheduled for Nov. 8.

“A democratic transition may not be successful without being able to build peace in the country,” Thein Sein said.

“We must grab the opportunity arising from the peace process. I’d like to invite sincere discussions for peace in the whole country.”

With Burma’s general election looming, the inking of a long-awaited ceasefire agreement is seen as a potential pre-poll boost for Thein Sein and the ruling party.

However, there was no clear indication that a key barrier to the agreement had been resolved—the inclusion of all ethnic armed groups in the accord, as insisted upon by ethnic negotiators.

The government had only invited 15 ethnic armed groups to sign the nationwide agreement, excluding the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Kokang rebels of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army, as well as a handful of ethnic non-armed groups.

Myanmar Peace Center’s Hla Maung Shwe said after Wednesday’s summit that “the president agreed in principle for the inclusion of all [ethnics groups],” but insisted on a “pragmatic approach.”

Hla Maung Shwe said negotiators agreed to include three non-armed groups, the Lahu Democratic Union, the Wa National Organization and the Arakan National Council, in political dialogue scheduled to follow the ceasefire signing.

He said that Thein Sein would also invite the MNDAA to join the ceasefire signing “as the president is directly communicating with the MNDAA leader.”

When contacted by The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, the Kokang group’s spokesperson Htun Myat Linn said they “have no direct communication with the President on the issue.” He added that the MNDAA intended to work together with all ethnic armed groups for an all-inclusive pact.

Regarding the TNLA, spokespersons on both sides said settlement had been reached on a government proposal that the group first sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement, followed by accession to the nationwide accord.

But uncertainty remains over the inclusion of the Arakan Army, which operates in part as an ally of the Kachin Independence Army, with no firm agreement reached in this regard on Wednesday.

Further fueling doubts over the finalization of a pact almost two years in the making, clashes continued this week between Burma Army troops and at least three ethnic armed groups in Shan and Kachin states.

Wednesday’s meeting was attended by Thein Sein and key government officials including chief negotiator Aung Min, military representatives and three parliamentarians.

In attendance on the ethnics’ side were: Karen National Union head Gen Mutu Say Poe; Gen N’Ban La of the Kachin Independence Army; Gen Say Htin of the Shan State Progressive Party; Khun Abel Tweed of the Karenni National Progressive Party; and Nai Htaw Mon of the New Mon State Party.

The ethnics’ Senior Delegation was represented by Naw Zipporah Sein, La Ja and Pu Zing Cung as well as Padoh Kwe Htoo Win.

Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing was a notable absentee from Wednesday’s dialogue, away on an official visit to Israel.