RANGOON — The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society said it sent a letter to President Thein Sein and the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) on Tuesday expressing their concern over the recent escalation in fighting in northern Burma and the lack of progress in the nationwide ceasefire talks.
The activists discussed Burma’s ethnic conflict with the government chief peace negotiator Minister Aung Min on Tuesday at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), an institute in Rangoon that advises the government on reaching a nationwide ceasefire.
“We heard about uncertainties regarding the peace talks and we don’t want those talks to stop. Meanwhile, the fighting is escalating so we are concerned,” Mya Aye, ethnic affairs Officer of the 88 Generation activist, told The Irrawaddy by phone.
He said 88 leader Min Ko Naing sent a letter to Thein Sein and the UNFC, an alliance of 12 ethnic armed groups, urging both sides to reduce the fighting and make progress at the negotiating table. Mya Aye added that the letter’s content would not be made public at this stage.
“During the meeting the MPC explained the difficulties they face. They also promised that they will keep pushing for peace talks and a nationwide ceasefire and asked for our help,” he said.
“It is important to negotiate and bridge different points of view. A ceasefire agreement should be a fair arrangement for both sides, it’s important we find a way to achieve this,” Mya Aye said. “It could lead to political dialogue and we will try our best to talk to both sides.”
The group said it wants to get involved in the peace process.
“We don’t want harm the peace process the government has been carrying out, while we also want to see the demands of the ethnic people are fulfilled. We understand that as long as they (ethnic people) don’t have what they want, there will be no peace,” Mya Aye said during a press conference.
“We are here today to officially ask the MPC how we could be involved in nationwide cease fire process,” he said.
Hla Maung Shwe, a representative of the MPC, said the center had agreed to hold a monthly meeting with the 88 Generation group to inform them of the peace process and seek their input.
Aung Min said during a press conference that, “The 88 Generation students have been working on their own for peace. So, we think it’d be better for both of us to meet, discuss and share each other what we know. I’m pleased with the meeting.”
Mya Aye stressed that a reduction in fighting in Kachin State and northern Shan State was a prerequisite for success in the nationwide ceasefire talks between the government, Burma Army and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represents the ethnic armed groups.
“The army’s deployment [of troops] is important because it is not good to have intense fighting while discussing peace. Talks must not end because of fighting,” he said.
After a year of relative calm, fighting has escalated in Kachin and northern Shan states in recent months and in April the Burma Army launched an offensive that led to numerous clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Shan State Army-North, while displacing about 3,000 villagers.
The KIA, which does not yet have a bilateral ceasefire with Naypyidaw, is scheduled to meet with Minister Aung Min in the Kachin capital Myitkyina on May 13-14. After these talks the NCCT is expected to meet with the government for further nationwide ceasefire talks.
Talks between the NCCT, Minister Aung Min and Burma Army commanders entered a new phase in March when both sides announced they would try to jointly draft a single text for a nationwide ceasefire.
The new approach, some participants believed, could lead to a breakthrough, but soon after talks began the Burma Army insisted on including a statement in the single text that called on ethnic armed forces to respect the military-drafted Constitution and come under central army command.