More than a dozen Myanmar ethnic rebel groups are set to begin talks Tuesday on forging a common strategy to end decades of armed conflict with the government ahead of a landmark meeting with President Thein Sein’s officials that could result in the signing of the country’s first nationwide ceasefire agreement.
Top representatives from the groups arrived in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state on Monday for three days of talks starting Wednesday to discuss whether they should sign a government-proposed peace pact.
Following this week’s conference in the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) stronghold town of Laiza, the representatives will travel to the Kachin state capital Myitkyina on Nov. 3 and 4 to discuss the accord with government peace negotiators.
The Myitkyina meeting will be attended by international observers, including United Nations special envoy Vijay Nambiar and Chinese special envoy Wang Ying Fan, according to reports.
Some of the 19 rebel groups invited to the Laiza conference have committed to joining the accord, which the government has said it wants all rebel groups to sign at a joint ceremony sometime in November.
But a number of rebel groups have resisted because of concerns about the framework for subsequent political dialogue with the authorities.
Ahead of this week’s conference, two key rebel groups, the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), have proposed including a demand that the government agree to hold political dialogue with ethnic rebels within four months of any nationwide cease-fire.
Signing the accord
Sun Aung, a member of the Kachin-based Peace Talk Creation Group (PCG) which observes peace negotiations, said he expected the groups would not sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement at next week’s meeting with government negotiators in Myitkyina, but that they would likely do so at a later meeting in the Myanmar capital Naypyidaw.
“These talks on the nationwide cease-fire are important because we will write a plan agreed on by all ethnic groups and submit it to government,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Monday.
“Then, we are going to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement in Naypyidaw,” he said.
The KIO has said 16 groups have confirmed their attendance at this week’s meeting, but has not named all of the groups.
Aside from Kachin, Karen, and Shan rebels, the invitees also include Karenni, Chin, Mon, Rakhine, Wa, Pa-O, Palaung groups—many of them part of the key United Nationalities Federal Council alliance.
“It is important that we come to a decision that all the ethnic groups agree or over 80 percent of them agree to submit the government for signing on the nationwide cease-fire,” UNFC co-secretary Khun Okka told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“As we all are ethnic groups, we will be able to achieve this if we discuss it with unity, I hope,” he said.
Government observers and observers from the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center are not invited to the conference, which follows a new bout of fighting between government troops and Kachin forces in recent days.
The KIO is the only one of Myanmar’s major ethnic rebel groups that has not signed its own individual cease-fire with the government, which is racing to end decades of fighting with ethnic groups in a bid to speed up political and economic reforms after decades of military rule.
The recent fighting has prompted concern from the U.N., which said Monday that over a thousand displaced people trapped in the conflict zone in Mansi township in Kachin state’s Bhamo district are thought to be running short of food.
Civil society groups and members of opposition political parties across the country welcomed the conference of the ethnic rebel groups as a step toward establishing stability in Myanmar, which has grappled with civil war with ethnic groups for decades since its independence.
“We hope to get from this conference a decision for the peace of the whole country,” said Nyan Win, a senior member of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party.
“If they can produce good, practical results from this conference, that could help us build a nation with a standard of human rights and democracy,” 88 Generation Students’ Group leader Ko Ko Gyi said.
Ahead of this week’s conference, the KNU and RCSS/SSA met in Thailand and released a joint statement proposing the ethnic rebel groups demand in their proposal for the nationwide cease-fire agreement that the government conduct political dialogue within four months from when the pact is signed.
Members of all ethnic armed groups, political parties, civil society organizations, lawmakers, and military and government leaders, must be part of the political dialogue process, the statement said.
Ethnic groups must have right to manage this political dialogue together with the government, it said.
Nyan Win said civil society groups and political parties not in the government would welcome participation in the political dialogue process.
“If we discuss with all, we can move in the direction of what’s in the interest of all organizations and ethnic groups,” he said.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min, Nay Rain Kyaw, and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.