RANGOON — In a ceremony overseen by President Thein Sein on Tuesday morning, government negotiators, Burma Army commanders, ruling party lawmakers and ethnic armed group representatives signaled their support for a draft nationwide ceasefire, which if endorsed and signed could bring an end to Burma’s decades-old ethnic conflict.In recent days, Minister Aung Min’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee met with the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Committee (NCCT), which represents an alliance of 16 ethnic groups, and the sides were able to iron out remaining differences on the content of a single text for a nationwide ceasefire accord that included more than 100 points. On Monday evening, the sides announced they agreed in principle on the text and on Tuesday morning Thein Sein observed a ceremony at the Myanmar Peace Center in Rangoon, during which NCCT leaders Nai Hong Sar, Kwar Htoo Win, Gen. Gun Maw, Khun Okkar, and Lian H. Sokhong signed a document expressing support for the draft ceasefire text. The members of Aung Min’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee, which includes the army’s Lt-Gen. Myint Soe and Lt-Gen. Thet Naing Win, and Union Solidarity and Development Party lawmakers Thein Zaw and Khet Thein Than, also signed the document supporting the draft ceasefire. A copy of the draft ceasefire text was not immediately available on Tuesday morning. Difficult political issues—such as disarmament of rebels, creation of a federal army and issues relating to federal autonomy—which proved sticking points in previous negotiation rounds have been left out of the draft text. These will now have to be addressed in a political dialogue that is supposed to follow the signing of a nationwide accord. The ethnic armed groups in the NCCT will now hold a conference in the Karen State capital Hpa-an to discuss the nationwide ceasefire text and endorse it before the signing of the agreement by the various groups can take place. “After signing the NCA [nationwide ceasefire accord], our country will open the door for a political dialogue. There will be some difficulties along the road of having political dialogue, but we will continue to do it. This will be a new historical era for Myanmar,” Thein Sein said at the ceremony. Nationwide ceasefire talks first began in mid-2013 and appeared to be progressing well until in September last year, the talks hit a deadlock as key differences could not be bridged. Since then, heavy fighting has become increasingly frequent between government forces and Kachin and Palaung fighters. In mid-February, a full-scale conflict erupted in northern Shan State between the Kokang rebels and the Burma Army, displacing tens of thousands of civilians and leaving dozens of soldiers and rebels dead. The Kokang rebels are members of the NCCT, but the government refuses to recognize the group, along with several other NCCT groups, as potential signatories to a nationwide ceasefire.
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