Myanmar’s armed ethnic rebel groups and the government failed to reach a nationwide cease-fire agreement Friday after five days of talks following disagreements over military issues and a format for talks on providing greater power to ethnic states.
The government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), representing more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups, said in a joint statement, however, that the two sides had agreed in principle to a new draft accord.
“The two sides have agreed, in general, to a fourth draft of the nationwide cease-fire agreement,” said the statement.
It said that certain points related to the fourth draft would require discussion internally before the two sides meet again in October.
The statement did not provide any details on how they arrived at the new draft during the talks in the commercial capital Yangon.
Lian Hmung Sakhong, a representative from the NCCT’s Chin National Front, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the Sept. 22-26 talks had been bogged down by details and fell short of expectations because negotiators could not see eye-to-eye on issues of “army placement” and “troop recruitment,” without providing details.
Observers have suggested that Myanmar’s government wants rebel armies out of strategically sensitive areas of the country’s ethnic states to make way for development projects, but rebels resent the idea of not being able to move freely within their own territories.
The military has also demanded that ethnic armies give up recruiting new members after signing the nationwide cease-fire agreement, but rebel groups insist that while they will end forced recruitment, volunteer soldiers will be accepted into their ranks.
Lian Hmung Sakhong said that other sticking points included which rebel armies would take part in political dialogue to explore greater representation for their ethnic groups in parliament following the cease-fire and how the dialogue would be held.
“We still haven’t achieved the results we want because we had to discuss completing the nationwide cease-fire agreement,” he said.
“We also had to discuss agreements from previous talks. The results from these talks were not what we should have had.”
Without elaborating, he said that the government’s negotiating team had “proposed two new points on the road map that we didn’t expect,” which the NCCT would need to consider and report to its group leaders.
Government minister Aung Min, who leads the UPWC delegation, also suggested that the talks had made less progress than the government had hoped.
“Although we had some agreements on certain topics early on, the discussion of details took a long time,” he said.
“More discussion can usually build more trust and understanding between the two sides, but it is normal that the last part of talks is the hardest.”
He said that despite some setbacks, the nationwide cease-fire agreement was “within arm’s reach.”
The government had hoped to sign the cease-fire accord by the end of the year and ahead of general elections slated for 2015, saying that the pact would be followed by landmark political dialogue that would result in greater powers accorded to ethnic states.
Earlier this week, Myanmar government negotiators refused to discuss a proposal by ethnic rebels to create a new federal, or “union,” army incorporating soldiers from their groups, leading to an early conclusion of the second day of talks, according to NCCT leader Naing Han Tha.
Ethnic rebel leaders have been pushing their plan for a Union Army in negotiations for the nationwide cease-fire accord since last year.
Myanmar’s ethnic groups have been seeking a federal system since the country gained independence from Britain after World War II, but the country’s former military rulers resisted their efforts because they equated local autonomy with separatism.
The country’s current president, Thein Sein, has signed bilateral cease-fires with more than a dozen ethnic groups and began last year to pursue a nationwide cease-fire to pave the way for further talks as the country enacts political reforms and transitions to democracy.
But while the Myanmar government agreed in talks in August to establish a federal system of government granting ethnic states increased autonomy, senior Myanmar military leaders may still oppose the move, Naing Han Tha said.
On Saturday, the UPWC, NCCT, and representatives of political parties are set to hold tripartite talks for the second time when they meet at the Myanmar Peace Centre in Yangon, according to a report by Myanmar’s Eleven news media.
Invitation letters provided little information about the agenda for the talks, but Eleven cited Zo Zam, the chairman of the Chin National Democracy Party, as hinting that the meeting might discuss the final draft of the nationwide cease-fire agreement.
Reported by Myo Zaw Ko for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.