Two major Myanmar armed ethnic groups that have shunned talks to enter into a nationwide ceasefire agreement with President Thein Sein’s government have agreed to sign a peace deal that could be clinched as early as next month.
The United Wa State Army (UWSA), the country’s largest armed rebel group, and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) from eastern Shan State this week agreed to be included in a cease-fire accord in the final stage of negotiations between the government and an alliance of rebel organizations.
The UWSA and NDAA are not members of the National Cease-fire Coordination Team (NCCT), an alliance of 16 armed ethnic groups which has been negotiating the cease-fire deal with the government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC).
“We support NCCT and UPWC’s discussion as they are both working for the country’s peace,” NDAA representative Kham Maung told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
But both the armed ethnic groups have individual cease-fire agreements with the government, which now wants a collective nationwide cease-fire pact with all groups before forging a political dialogue aimed at granting greater autonomy to ethnic states.
“We have already signed a state-level and union-level [agreement],” Kham Maung said. ‘We will join the political talks after the nationwide cease-fire.”
A senior official of the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) said the UWSA and the NDAA would sign the nationwide cease-fire agreement when completed.
"Both of the ethic armed groups will sign the nationwide cease-fire deal. They will not secede from the Union," the official said, according to the Myanmar Eleven newspaper.
Meeting in Naypyidaw
Leaders from the two groups and the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army met with Thein Sein this week in the capital Naypyidaw to discuss demands made by the ethnic groups and prospects of amending the constitution to incorporate greater ethnic rights.
They also met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces; Shwe Mann, lower house of parliament speaker; and Aung Khin Myint, speaker of the upper house.
The government and the NCCT plan to meet in September in a bid to wrap up the long running talks and draft a single-text cease-fire accord, officials have said.
Following talks last week, the two sides had said the majority of the draft of the seven-chapter accord has been approved by both sides.
About 25 percent of the draft of the agreement’s text requires revision and the definitions of up to 30 words need to be finalized, according to The Irrawaddy online journal.
The government, which is eager for a comprehensive cease-fire in order to speed up political and economic reforms, anticipates that such an agreement will be signed next month followed by political talks early next year.
Meanwhile, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of a dozen armed groups which spawned the NCCT, is holding two days of official talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and other pro-democracy groups beginning Friday in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The conference will focus on democratic and ethnic equality issues, Nyi Pu, an NLD central executive committee member, was quoted saying by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) media group.
The UNFC’s main members are the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), New Mon State Army-North, Karen National Union, Karenni National Progressive Party and Chin National Front.
Ethnic groups in Kachin State have urged the rebel KIO, which exerts influence over much of the state, to sign the nationwide cease-fire and participate in political talks.
Myanmar’s ethnic groups have been seeking a federal system since the country’s independence after World War II, but the country’s former military government resisted their efforts, because it equated local autonomy with separatism.
The government of progressive President Thein Sein has pushed for the cease-fire so it can pave the way for talks to grant the ethnic groups more say in the country’s ongoing political reforms and transition to democracy.
More than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups set up the NCCT in November to coordinate discussions with the government on the cease-fire deal, which could lead to political dialogue on forming a federal union giving the groups greater powers in ethnic states.
Reported by Nay Rain Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.