Troop Repositioning, Code of Conduct Important for Nationwide Ceasefire: Ethnics

By May Kha & Saw Yan Naing 31 July 2014

LAIZA, Kachin State — An alliance of ethnic armed groups wrapping up a meeting in Laiza said they had agreed to make troop repositioning and joint monitoring of a future national ceasefire agreement a priority in their negotiations with the government.

The National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), comprising representatives of 16 ethnic groups, met in the Kachin rebel-held border town of Laiza in recent days to develop a common position for further talks with the government on a nationwide ceasefire text.

An agreement to reposition rebel and Burma Army units, a code of conduct on how troops should behave following a nationwide ceasefire and a joint monitoring committee comprising rebels and the army to enforce this code would prevent violence after the ceasefire, the NCCT believes.

“We think that government, ethnic groups, civil society organizations, and international community should get involved in studying this issue. Concerned military units from both sides should also be included in this stage. We also proposed it to the government,” said Salai Lian Hmong Sakhong, an NCCT member and a leader of the Chin National Front.

“Concerned military officials from both sides who are involved in the situation on the ground will need to negotiate military repositioning,” he said.

Tar Aik Bong, chairman of Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), one of two major ethnic groups that does not have a bilateral ceasefire with the government, said repositioning of troops would be key to establishing and maintaining a ceasefire deal.

“They [government] need to discuss troop reposition seriously. We [ethnic groups] and the government can move forward only when we ensure troop repositioning. Unless we ensure it, we can’t reach a ceasefire agreement,” he said.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the emphasis on a code of conduct and troop repositioning will make a difference during the negotiations on a nationwide ceasefire. The Karen National Union signed a bilateral ceasefire with Naypyidaw in 2012 and enjoys a relatively good relationship with the government, yet an agreement for a code of conduct and a joint monitoring committee has yet to be implemented.

President Thein Sein’s reformist government has signed bilateral ceasefires with more than a dozen ethnic groups since taking office in 2011, and last year his government began to actively pursue a nationwide ceasefire with an alliance of groups, but this have proven elusive.

Many sticking points are waiting to be resolved during the faltering nationwide ceasefire negotiations.

The NCCT, government and Burma Army have jointly created a second draft of a nationwide ceasefire text in recent months, but talks have stalled over the ethnics’ demands for political autonomy and a federal union.

“By demanding a federal system, [the government] thinks that we, ethnic minorities, will secede from the union. They doubt our intentions, but we want to assure them that is not the case,” said Nai Hong Sar, the NCCT chairman.

Another key point of contention is the Burma Army’s demands for the inclusion of its six-point statement into the nationwide ceasefire text.

The text includes demands that ethnic armed groups come under central command of the army and that all parties respect the 2008 Constitution—a military-drafted charter that is viewed as undemocratic and puts ethnic regions under centralized authority of the government in Naypyidaw.

Ethnic leaders at the Laiza meeting said they had left the issue of the Burma Army statement unaddressed and decided they would discuss it during the political dialogue that is supposed follow a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

“The government’s demands such as disarmament, resignation from military service and reconciling [with the government] by becoming civilian organizations, are what we have to do right after we sign a ceasefire,” said Nai Hong Sar. “We didn’t accept it since we began talks with them. But the government is trying to find many ways to include what they wanted to include [in the ceasefire].”

Bertil Lintner, a veteran journalist and author of several books on Burma and its long-running ethnic conflict, said he was not surprised to see nationwide ceasefire talks were stalling.

“The government is not and has never been interested in establishing a federal union. The purpose of talks… was always to lure the ethnic groups into accepting the present order based on the 2008 Constitution,” he said.

Saw Yan Naing reported from Chiang Mai.