Armed ethnic insurgents in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state have agreed to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the government next week, becoming the eighth group to accept the terms of the pact, a rebel spokesman and state media said Wednesday.
The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) said Wednesday that its armed wing—the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S)—will lay down its weapons as part of the NCA, which is expected to be concluded during a signing ceremony with the government on Oct. 15.
“We have considered our past promises to work towards peace and after discussing the situation with our central executive committee, we decided to sign the NCA,” RCSS spokesman Sai La told RFA’s Myanmar Service, following a meeting at the group’s headquarters near the border with Thailand.
The RCSS will hold a press conference and release an official statement outlining its decision on Thursday, he said.
The group’s decision to sign the NCA, which President Thein Sein’s government has been pushing for ahead of general elections scheduled for Nov. 8, was confirmed in a report by the official Global New Light of Myanmar.
“The Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army, during its central committee meeting yesterday, agreed to be a signatory to the nationwide cease-fire accord along with seven other groups,” the newspaper said, citing
Hla Maung Shwe, a senior adviser at the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in the commercial capital Yangon.
He said a letter confirming which leaders from the RCSS will attend the signing ceremony would arrive “in days to come.”
The government has extended an offer to sign the accord to 15 armed ethnic groups, but at a meeting last month in Chiang Mai, Thailand, only seven of the 19 groups in attendance agreed to ink the deal because of the government’s refusal to make the NCA all-inclusive.
Three groups—the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Arakan Army (AA)—are still engaged in fighting with government troops and have been excluded from the NCA.
‘Still not perfect’
Khun Sai, an advisor to the RCSS and editor of the Shan Herald News Agency, told RFA that since signing a bilateral peace deal three years ago, government troops and the SSA-S had clashed around 100 times, and he expressed hope that the NCA would put an end to the fighting once and for all.
“We can’t guarantee that fighting will come to a complete stop if we sign the NCA but, according to the agreement, we will establish joint monitoring committees at the state and union levels, as well as other rules and regulations,” he said.
“If we can implement these, it is basically a guarantee [to stop the fighting].”
Khun Sai said that even though only eight groups plan to sign the NCA next week, other stakeholders will be permitted to participate in the joint monitoring committees, and he expressed hope other rebel armies could be convinced to lay down their weapons.
“Political experts have said that signing the NCA will be like a honeymoon period—if this period is difficult, there will be additional problems in the future,” he said.
“We will have to be patient, prepare for political dialogue, and try not to break promises. It won’t be easy, but we have to do it.”
He also acknowledged that the NCA “is still not perfect,” adding that his biggest concern lies with how political dialogue will proceed after the signing.
“Discussing issues only amongst armed ethnic groups is already difficult—we can imagine how tough it will become when we include political parties,” he said.
Leader of the 88 Generation student democracy movement Min Ko Naing, who has been invited to next week’s ceremony, told RFA that no rebel army should be blacklisted for refusing the sign the NCA, as “every group has its own difficulties.”
“The government should open its doors when these groups want to participate in the NCA … but it shouldn’t be by force,” he said.
“We believe that the best way to solve our country’s political problems would be to invite every group to sign NCA … It is as important as the election is, and both things are connected.”
The RCSS decision to sign the NCA came as fighting broke out in Kachin state’s Hpakant township between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—another armed ethnic group which has refused to sign the NCA.
The firefights began at around 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, with two clashes occurring in Hpakant’s Nam San Chaung Phyar village and another two in nearby Jayayang village, KIA Major Tan Sant told RFA.
“The government’s Infantry Battalion 336 attacked KIA troops,” he said, adding that the military had used “heavy weapons,” such as 120 mm artillery, in the fighting.
The number of casualties from the engagement was not immediately known, though reports said at least one artillery explosion had sent villagers fleeing for safety.
In June and July, fighting between government troops and the KIA in Hpakant also displaced scores of villagers.
The fighting in Kachin follows reports of government troops launching an attack Tuesday against the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N)—the armed wing of the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP)—which rebels suggested was retribution for the group having refused to sign the NCA.
The clash was the first since the military shelled areas near the SSA-N’s headquarters in Loilen district two months ago and came days after the SSPP snubbed an invitation to a meeting between government negotiators and other armed groups in Yangon, which set the date for the NCA signing ceremony.
Reported by Aung Moe Myint, Kyaw Kyaw Aung, Khin Khin Ei and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.