RANGOON — Since Saturday, senior government officials, military commanders and ethnic leaders have held the first discussions on jointly drafting a single text for a nationwide ceasefire accord, which would draw from ethnic groups’ ceasefire proposal and from the government’s proposal.
But as discussions entered into a third day on Monday, it became clear that the initial plan to merge these two different proposals has been complicated by demands by the Burma Army for the incorporation of its own six-point statement into any future nationwide ceasefire deal, ethnic leaders said.
The statement repeats demands the army has made earlier, such as that all ethnic armed groups come under central command of the military 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.
Nai Hong Sar, who heads the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) which represents 16 rebel armed groups, said the ethnic groups found that the initial plan to draft a single ceasefire text from the NCCT’s proposal and the proposal of Minister Aung Min’s peace negotiation team had become more difficult due to the military’s demands.
Nai Hong Sar said he believed that President Thein Sein’s team, led by Aung Min, was carrying out a joint strategy with Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing’s military officers towards the ethnic groups.
“They brought two drafts. I found that they have a strategy by doing this. One strategy from President Thein Sein is to engage as much as they can with ethnic armed groups, while the side of Min Aung Hlaing uses his troops and threatens our ethnic groups to sign this ceasefire agreement,” he said.
“[But] we cannot accept that our armies will come under their command,” Nai Hong Sar added.
About 200 delegation members joined the discussions at the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Rangoon, which will carry on for a fourth day on Tuesday.
Previously, NCCT members had said they were optimistic about the new plan to draw a single ceasefire text from the alliance’s 30-page proposal and that of Minister Aung Min. A leading NCCT member said top military commanders were becoming directly involved in the talks and had indicated willingness to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement before August 1.
The government advisors at the MPC have said they were confident a ceasefire could be signed before the start of the Water Festival on April 13.
On Saturday evening, more than a dozen Burma Army generals, including Lt-Gen Myint Soe who heads the Bureau of Special Operations that oversees military operations in conflict-torn Kachin State, attended the negotiations. Lt-Gen Thein Htay, who has been placed on a United States government blacklist for allegations of arms dealing with North Korea, was also at the meeting.
There are about six ethnic armed groups that are not represented in the NCCT, most important among them, the Shan State Army-South, the heavily-armed United Wa State Party (UWSA) and its smaller ally, the National Democratic Alliance Army.
UWSA members were in attendance as observers during the talks at the MPC.
In breaks in the negotiations, ethnic leaders spoke to reporters, but military commanders shunned the assembled media.
Ethnic leaders said despite complications with the ongoing ceasefire talks at the MPC, they remained optimistic that some progress could be made towards drafting a nationwide ceasefire during this round of talks.
“President Thein Sein and Gen Min Aung Hlaing have said that they will change policy if that is required for reaching a peace agreement. I do not think the army will keep its stand on these six points [position]. They will change some points through negotiation. From our side, we will try to negotiate about this,” said Gen Gun Maw, the deputy army chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
The KIA and the Ta’aung National Liberation Army (TNLA) are members of the NCCT, but have not signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement with Naypyidaw—unlike the other 14 members of the ethnic alliance.
“There are more things to be discussed because they brought their army six-point position,” said Mai Aie Phone, a senior leader with the TNLA.
Gun Maw said much of the current discussions focused on how the conflict areas could be managed after a nationwide ceasefire is signed.
A ceasefire would be followed by the start of a political dialogue between the government, army and ethnic groups. This dialogue is expected to take years and as the sides try to resolve complicated political issues such as the ethnics’ long-standing demands for cultural rights, political autonomy under a federal union and control over natural resources in ethnic areas.
Ethnic representatives have said they want guarantees that they can administer their own areas while this dialogue is carried out.
“We are discussing at meeting mainly about [the period] after we have a ceasefire agreement,” said Gun Maw.
“We do not think just after signing a ceasefire agreement, our area will have peace. There are many things to do in order to have peace in our area. If we could reach an agreement soon, that will be great. If not, this will take more time,” the KIA deputy leader said.