RANGOON — Leaders of Burma’s ethnic armed groups will hold a side meeting with government peace negotiators in Rangoon early next month ahead of the long-awaited next round of official talks, scheduled to take place in the Karen State capital of Hpa-an.
Renewed fighting in Kachin State this month has cast doubt on the Burma government’s claim it can get a nationwide ceasefire signed in April, and ethnic leaders say the current demands of the government side, led by President’s Office Minister Aung Min, are not acceptable.
Khun Okkar, the joint-secretary of the ethnic alliance group the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), told The Irrawaddy that he had received a letter this week from Aung Min saying a “pre-negotiation” meeting would take place in the first week of March.
The Hpa-an meeting, at which government officials hope a date for a nationwide ceasefire agreement will be set, has been repeatedly delayed since it was first scheduled in December. Ethnic groups twice requested more time to study demands from the government side in a draft agreement handed over in November by Lt-Gen Myint Soe, the commander of a government’s bureau of special operations that oversees military operations in Kachin State.
However, Khun Okkar said the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), a group representing 14 ethnic groups in the talks toward a nationwide ceasefire, had been trying to meet with government negotiators—for a side meeting ahead of the Hpa-an meeting—for some time.
“We are ready to meet them. We have even selected our representatives already who will join the meeting,” he said. “We asked them to meet two times already, but they could not meet us.”
A key sticking point appears to be a demand in the government’s draft agreement that calls for the ethnic armed groups to come under Burmese military command, and to submit to the government a full account of the troops, arms and munitions under their control.
Nai Man, a community leader in Moulmein, Mon State, said that in meetings this week the head of the NCCT Nai Hong Sar, who is also the joint chairman of the New Mon State Party, told Mon leaders that the demands were too much for the ethnic groups. The ethnic negotiators are asking the government to compromise before the peace process can progress, Nai Man said.
“The meeting in Hpa-an can’t happen unless the ethnic side gets the result they want,” he said.
The United Nations human rights rapporteur for Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, met with Aung Min and visited Kachin State during his last visit to Burma, which concluded this week. During a press conference Wednesday, Quintana said Aung Min told him that the nationwide ceasefire would be signed in April.
However, Quintana reported that Kachin leaders told him they had doubts about the peace process, and that human rights abuses by the Burma Army were ongoing in northern Burma.
The UN envoy said he had “received allegations of more recent human rights violations following military clashes in Kachin State and northern Shan State, including cases of rape, arbitrary detention and torture during interrogation.”
On Feb . 12 the Burma army made an incursion into rebel territory, seizing a Kachin Independence Army outpost in Bhamo Township. The attack has sparked doubts among Kachin leaders about the government’s sincerity in the peace process.
San Aung, who is a peace broker from KIO side it was vital that trust is not damaged between the Kachin and the Burma Army during the peace negotiations.
“I am worried the attack from the government troops to his Kachin could make the peace process fail,” he said.