UNFC, Burma Govt Prepare for Political Talks

By Saw Yan Naing 10 July 2013

A delegation from the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a major alliance of ethnic minority groups, will meet a delegation from the government’s peace negotiation team this weekend on the Thai-Burma border to set an agenda for future political talks.

During the meeting on Saturday, technical teams from both sides will consider which issues to discuss during future political talks, in addition to choosing a venue and timeframe for those talks, according to Mahn Mahn, head of the UNFC technical team.

He said both sides would also select international observers to attend future talks.

“It’s just a meeting of the technical teams in advance, for preparation,” he said. “And if we have time, we will talk about how to move forward with our current ceasefire procedure. We will also talk about social development, aid, rehabilitation and cooperation with international support.”

He said the resettlement of internally displaced persons and Burmese refugees on the Thai-Burma border would not be considered for discussion until a durable ceasefire agreement was established.

“We have only reached an early stage of the ceasefire agreement,” he said. “We have to continue to work toward a durable ceasefire. And as soon as we reach a durable ceasefire, we will need to agree how to move on politically.”

The Burmese government has signed ceasefires with most of the country’s major ethnic armed groups, and it recently signed a tentative peace deal with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in north Burma’s Kachin State. However, clashes between armed rebel groups and the government’s army continue there and in east Burma’s Shan State.

The government recently vowed to work toward a nationwide ceasefire agreement with all ethnic armed groups and to hold an inclusive meeting with ethnic groups this month in Naypyidaw. However, the meeting will likely be delayed, according to sources from Parliament.

The Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) which previously said a nationwide ceasefire conference would be held in the last week of this month, has also predicted delays.

“The nationwide ceasefire conference might be postponed to another date if meetings [with the KIO] are delayed,” Hla Maung Shwe, a special adviser for the MPC, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. He said the Kachin rebel group would meet with the government’s main peace negotiator, Minister Aung Min from the President’s Office, after July 20.

The potential delay in the nationwide ceasefire conference comes amid reports of disagreement among Burmese officials regarding the peace process.

Last week, the speaker of Burma’s lower house of Parliament, Shwe Mann, said he believed lawmakers should get more involved in peace deals between President Thein Sein’s peace delegation and ethnic rebels.

Parliament is dominated by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was backed by the former military regime, and 25 seats are also reserved for military appointees.

“During the peace process, negative consequences could arise if we try to achieve peace agreements that are not in accordance with law,” Shwe Mann told lawmakers on July 2. “It could affect the safety of citizens and cause the government to fail in its protection of citizens.”

Some observers, including lawmakers, say Shwe Mann’s questioning of Thein Sein’s peace program signals a developing political rivalry between the two leaders. Shwe Mann has made it clear that he wishes to run for president in the next election in 2015.

Earlier this month, the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North), an ethnic rebel group that has clashed recently with the government’s army despite a ceasefire, criticized Thein Sein’s government for a lack of control over the armed forces.

The rebel group’s political wing, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), released a statement following a meeting with the government in Naypyidaw in early June, saying that some officials from government did not agree with the president’s path of reform.