LAIZA — Representatives of 17 ethnic rebels attending a conference in Laiza, Kachin State, officially signed an agreement on Saturday, in which they conditionally supported a government-proposed nationwide ceasefire agreement. Only one group, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), did not sign.
Nai Hong Sar, general secretary of the UNFC said, “Those who didn’t sign the common agreement wanted to consult with their respective leaders or fellow [organizations] before signing the agreement. But, they agreed with the common agreement in principle.”
RCSS spokesman Col Sai La said the group needed time to consult Shan political parties and community-based organizations about the ethnic conference agreement. After briefing these fellow Shan organizations, the RCSS will sign the common agreement, he said.
Ethnic representatives of 18 armed groups attended the four-day conference in Laiza, a Kachin rebel stronghold located on the Burma-China border. The powerful Wa rebel group and their ally, the Mongla militia, did not attend, however.
The ethnic leaders agreed to form a 13-member committee that will be in charge of the nationwide ceasefire negotiations with the government, said Khun Okkar, joint secretary 2 of the United Nationalities Federal Council, an alliance of 11 ethnic armed groups.
He said the agreement also includes a point that states that the ethnic groups demand that the Burmese military reduces its political powers in the government administration.
Salai Lian Hmong Sakhong, a leader of Chin National Front, said that signing a national ceasefire with the government could lead to political discussions over the ethnic groups’ demands for the creation of a federal union, in which their regions would gain a greater degree of autonomy.
The ethnic committee will present the agreement that was reached in Laiza at the upcoming negotiations with the government peace team in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, according to Nai Hong Sar.
The Laiza agreement includes a plan to sign the government-proposed nationwide ceasefire agreement before the end of this year, but only if Naypyidaw guarantees that a comprehensive political dialogue will commence early next year.
Burma’s ethnic groups have long demanded more political autonomy for their regions and greater control over the rich natural resources in these areas. Armed conflict over these demands has raged for decades in Burma.
The long-term significance of the Laiza agreement will very much depend on the response from the government peace team, led by Minister Aung Min, which is scheduled to meet with the ethnic leaders in Myitkyina next week.
After the ethnic conference, questions lingered about why the RCSS declined to sign the agreement on Saturday. Some observers believed that the RCSS advisors and its leaders did not want to sign an agreement in Laiza, as it would grant the Kachin rebels, who were hosting the conference at their bases, an air of leadership within the ethnic groups.