The Burmese government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UWPC) and ethnic rebel groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) met to discuss the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement in Rangoon last week.
The two sides have since announced that they will convene again next month to continue efforts to draft a single-text ceasefire accord that would bring Burma one step closer to national reconciliation after decades of civil war. Following the meeting, The Irrawaddy spoke to Nai Hong Sar, the head of the NCCT, to discuss the current state of peace negotiations and future prospects for a nationwide end to hostilities between government troops and armed ethnic rebel groups.
Question: Some say the peace process has bogged down in recent months. Can you tell me what difficulties negotiators are facing and why progress appears to have slowed?
Answer: Every chapter from the single-text [ceasefire] requires a thorough discussion. It wasn’t very easy to get this far either. I know what the people are saying and I understand why. I want to ask them to be patient. At this point, we don’t have many difficulties left in the process.
Q: What do you think of the government’s peace efforts?
A: It has been great, but the ethnic people have identical points of view, and the government side doesn’t have the same opinions. It is formed of the military, Hluttaw [Parliament] and the government, so yes, I understand there could be different views. However, I have found that the recent meetings have been much improved.
Q:What were some of those differing opinions?
A: For example, the military didn’t want to approve use of the word ‘federal,’ just as they were not fond of wording like ‘equal rights’ and ‘self-determination.’ They didn’t seem to feel like amending these things.
Q: But now the UWPC has accepted the federal framework. Do you mean to say the military is not fully in support of this?
A: We will only know whether they accept this or not at the upcoming meetings.
Q: I’ve heard that some are worrying that the ethnic rebels will declare a revolution once the military has stopped firing. What can you say of such speculation?
A: If we don’t discuss, the shots will continue to be fired. If the meeting goes well, we do not have to fight anymore. It’s already been over 60 years [of conflict]. We are negotiating to cease the fire. We can ensure our word, and the government also needs to give us some guarantee [that it will honor a nationwide ceasefire].
Q: The government says everything is on the table, except anything that might compromise the integrity of the Union. How do ethnic minority groups view the issue?
A: Our ethnic rebel forces haven’t asked for secession, but rather federalism and equality. If we can’t have them, we will need to remain as armed rebel forces. If needed, we will secede. None of the ethnic rebel forces are looking to secede if they can get what they ask for. That’s the truth.
Q: Among the government, military and Hluttaw, which party has been most difficult to negotiate with?
A: Of course, it’s the military. All of them [military representatives] come here along with orders from their commander in chief. Things are a little bit more difficult since they have those orders from their superiors.
Q: Do you think a ceasefire would be durable, given that you’ve just now said it has been hard to negotiate with the military?
A: The Army is one of the three parties discussing it, along with the government and Hluttaw. Because they can’t be divided, I think they will accept this in a very short time.
Q: Then why is there still no response from the military?
A: It’s because they need time. We have a lot of things to go through precisely and thoroughly. What we have discussed so far has been very general.
Q:Do you honestly think that a genuine ceasefire can be achieved?
A: I can say that it will happen this year. But still, we haven’t decided who will join and be the witnesses yet.