Updated at 7:00 p.m. ET on 2013-11-25
Myanmar’s government and armed ethnic rebel groups failed to hammer out details of a nationwide cease-fire accord at the end of landmark peace talks Tuesday, putting off further discussions until next month.
The government delegation and representatives from more than a dozen rebel groups will hold their next meeting in southern Myanmar’s Kayin (Karen) state capital Hpa-An in December, the two sides said in a joint statement after a two-day meeting in Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin state.
The statement said however that the two sides have agreed to sign a nationwide cease-fire, after which they will draw up a framework for and hold a political dialogue. But it gave no time frame for doing so.
The government, which is racing to end conflict with ethnic rebels to speed up reforms after decades of military rule in Myanmar, had aimed to hammer out details of the cease-fire at the meeting this week in order to have an agreement signed this month.
Proposal for federal army
Reports suggested that this week’s talks, the first the government has held inside Myanmar with rebel groups collectively in decades, stalled after the government delegation rejected the rebels’ demands for a federal army and rebel representatives insisted on having more time to review the government’s proposals.
Government delegation member Lieutenant-General Myint Soe, commander of Myanmar military forces in Kachin state, said the government could not accept the idea of breaking up the army as reports suggested that the rebel groups had proposed an army combing all ethnic communities, including those who have been fighting Burman-dominated government troops for decades.
“The army must not be broken up and it must not be destroyed. It can’t be changed either,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service after the meeting.
“Every country has only one army. Nobody would accept having the army broken up [into a federal army],” he said.
Myanmar’s current constitution, drawn up in 2008 under military rule, dictates a “one nation, one national armed forces” policy and reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military.
Ethnic groups want the constitution revised or completely rewritten to reflect a federalist system.
The talks in Myitkyina came after rebel leaders discussed plans among themselves for a nationwide cease-fire at a conference in the Kachin rebel stronghold of Laiza last week.
The main points of the “Laiza Agreement” they drew up included political dialogue with the government, a move toward a federal union in Myanmar when dialogue begins, and an agreement to form a federal army.
More time needed
During this week’s meeting, rebel leaders say they needed more time to discuss government proposals for the nationwide cease-fire.
Col Sai La, a spokesperson for the Restoration Council of Shan State rebel group, told the Irrawaddy online journal that the national ceasefire agreement would “take some time” yet because ethnic leaders need more time to consider the government proposal.
The government’s 15-point proposal included instructions to the rebel groups to give up their armed resistance, according to the journal.
Earlier this year, the government had said it wanted to host rebel leaders in Naypyidaw to sign the nationwide cease-fire at a ceremony in November.
Hla Maung Shwe, an adviser from the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center, said the peace process between the two sides was progressing despite the failure to nail down plans for the nationwide cease-fire at this week’s talks.
“After 60 years of conflict, the government held negotiations with each group individually first and now has held talks with all groups together,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We have made progress and will reach a better situation if we keep going at this rate.”
The sooner the rebel groups sign the nationwide cease-fire, the sooner the two sides can move toward discussing broader issues in their political dialogue, he said.
“We need to sign the cease-fire agreement first before moving on to the framework,” he said.
International observers including United Nations special envoy Vijay Nambiar and Chinese special envoy Wang Ying Fan attended the meeting.
Last week’s conference in Laiza, which marked the first time so many rebel groups had met within Myanmar’s borders in decades, was hosted by the Kachin Independence Organization, the only major rebel group that has yet to sign its own individual cease-fire with the government.
At the conference, the ethnic leaders formed a 13-member joint peace negotiation team that will represent the ethnic armed groups in negotiations with the government peace delegation.
Ethnic rebel groups individually signed numerous ceasefire agreements with the former military regime in late 1989 and early 1990. But some of those agreements with many ethnic rebels, including the KIO, broke down in 2010 and 2011.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translate by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.
Correction: This story has been corrected to say the talks were the first the government has held within Myanmar with rebel groups collectively in decades.