Myanmar authorities and armed ethnic groups will resume negotiations over a nationwide cease-fire agreement following deadly clashes between the military and ethnic insurgents that have threatened to disrupt the peace process.
The government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the rebels’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an umbrella group that represents several ethnic groups, have agreed to meet on Dec. 22 to discuss a cease-fire deal, Hla Maung Shwe from the Myanmar Peace Center, which coordinates all peace initiatives, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We will mainly talk about signing the nationwide cease-fire agreement and other topics that the NCCT members want to discuss,” he said.
The decision to hold the meeting was a result of progress made during talks between UPWC’s technical team and NCCT leaders in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Monday, according to a report by the Myanmar Eleven news group.
At the talks, the NCCT is expected to raise the military’s Nov. 19 attack on a Kachin rebels’ training camp on the outskirts of Laisa, capital of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), on the border with China in northern Myanmar’s Kachin State.
Government forces said the attack, which killed 23 cadets, was meant to be a “warning” strike, but the rebels maintained it was deliberate and posed a threat to peace talks.
Last week, ethnic Kokang rebels launched an “unprovoked” two-day attack on an army camp near Kunlong, around 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the Chinese border, in northeastern Myanmar’s Shan State.
Hla Maung Shwe said even if the two sides reached an agreement on Dec. 22, they would have to wait for at least two more weeks to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement.
We are working to sign a nationwide cease-fire in January and begin political dialogues in February or March, but this depends on the results of the Dec. 22 talks,” he said.
“It is certain that our peace process will be getting much better, and the conflicts will be fewer if we can begin political dialogues in February or March.”
After the two sides sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement, they must hold talks for policy making followed by political dialogues with people who should be included in the process, Hla Maung Shwe said.
“It is important to hold political dialogue,” he said. “We are trying to get the political dialogues done during President Thein Sein’s term. If we can do this, we will have the peace that everyone wants in our country.”
Most of Myanmar’s ethnic groups have been fighting for decades but have temporary, bilateral cease-fire agreements with the government, except for the KIA and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
Still, sporadic attacks by armed ethnic groups and government forces in various hotspots around the country have prevented significant progress in the ongoing talks between government and rebel negotiators.
The armed ethnic rebel groups and the government failed to reach a nationwide cease-fire agreement in September after five days of talks following disagreements over military issues and a format for talks on providing greater power to ethnic states.
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 have resisted their efforts because they equate local autonomy with separatism.
Reported by San Maw Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.