Leaders of ethnic armed groups in Burma and the government will meet to discuss the drafting of a single text laying out the terms of a proposed nationwide ceasefire agreement this weekend in Rangoon.
The leadership of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) and other ethnic groups who are not represented in the NCCT plan to meet with the government at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in the former capital, according to a special advisor to the MPC.
Nai Hong Sar, the head of the NCCT, told The Irrawaddy that the ethnic coalition has its draft in hand and will present it to the government for further discussion.
“We will have to negotiate with the government’s proposed draft to create a single text for the nationwide ceasefire” during the weekend meeting, he said en route to Rangoon via Tachileik Township in Shan State. “But it [the meeting] could take longer than two days.”
The NCCT and the government-affiliated MPC agreed last month to invite other ethnic armed groups that are not NCCT members, including the Shan State Army South, and ethnic Wa, Kokang and Naga rebel groups, to join the meeting.
Hla Maung Shwe, an MPC advisor, wrote on his Facebook that five non-NCCT ethnic armed groups—the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), United Wa State Army (UWSA), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), Democratic Karen Buddhist
Army (DKBA) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khapland (NSCN-K)—would also attend the gathering.
These groups will act as observers to the meeting, RCSS spokesman Col. Sai La told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.
The ethnic leaders will meet with the government’s chief peace negotiator, President’s Office Minister Aung Min, as well as parliamentarian Thein Zaw and the top commanders of Burma’s military, Hla Maung Shwe said.
Prior to the upcoming meeting, NCCT leaders gathered in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai on Wednesday to discuss the principles of their draft ceasefire accord, Nai Hong Sar said.
The NCCT and the government last month agreed to form a joint committee to draft a single text for a nationwide ceasefire agreement, which President Thein Sein has pushed to have signed since mid-2013. The government has maintained that a ceasefire would have to precede political dialogue to address the ethnic groups’ various concerns and demands.
The joint committee of the NCCT and the government’s peace team is to be comprised of 18 members, with equal representation for both sides. The NCCT says it has already selected its representatives for the committee.
In a speech to Parliament marking the three year anniversary of his administration last week, Thein Sein warned that the longer it took to ink a nationwide ceasefire, the more a sense of hopelessness would set in among ethnic minority populations. Previously, the president has given assurances that the army, which plays a key role in Burma’s politics, is backing the peace negotiations.
But some ethnic leaders are skeptical of a process that has already dragged on for longer than some government officials had predicted, and continuing clashes between the Burma Army and ethnic rebel fighters has fed into the distrust that has existed between the two sides for decades.
In the three years since Thein Sein’s administration initiated peace talks with the various ethnic rebel groups, the government has signed separate ceasefire agreements with 14 of 16 ethnic armed groups in Burma. Only the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) have yet to ink an accord.
The NCCT was formed in November 2013 at a conference held by the ethnic armed groups in the KIA stronghold of Laiza. Its formation was followed a few days later by a meeting with government negotiators in Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital, which resulted in only a joint statement between the two sides expressing a mutual commitment to the eventual signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement.
Both sides have agreed to meet again in Hpa-an, the capital of Karen State, to set up a date for the signing of a nationwide ceasefire in Naypyidaw, but the meeting has been repeatedly delayed and the government has said any gathering will have to wait until after the Thingyan water festival in late April.