Rebel Coalition Leader Says Myanmar Cease-Fire Could Come in March

myanmar-peace-talks-sept-2014.jpg Members of armed ethnic groups meet with government representatives for cease-fire talks at the Myanmar Peace Center in Yangon, Sept. 23, 2014.

The head of a coalition of armed ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar said Monday that a “top-level” meeting with the government on the country’s Union Day next month could pave the way for a nationwide cease-fire agreement in March, though a peace deal would not be signed at the talks.

Khun Okkar, chairman of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represents more than a dozen rebel groups, confirmed that he had received an invitation to attend a Feb. 12 Union Day meeting from President Thein Sein and that “all ethnic leaders” were likely to attend.

He told RFA’s Myanmar Service that he expects real progress will be made in negotiations during the meeting with the government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) next month, which could usher in a peace deal in March.

“This is a top level meeting with decision-capable leaders and if there is something concrete at the top level, it’s much easier to work at the lower levels, so the signing could come faster,” the NCCT chairman said.

“The signing might come in March—that would be the earliest, but we hope to get a promise … to build a federal union.”

In the meantime, he said, various obstacles remain which will prevent the signing of any cease-fire deal at the Union Day meeting.

“I know we cannot sign an agreement for a nationwide cease-fire on that day as we [armed ethnic groups] are even unable to meet with one another to discuss it right now, let alone with the UPWC,” Khun Okkar said.

He said ongoing clashes between Myanmar’s military and rebel troops must also end before any deal could be made.

Khun Okkar said an earlier invitation from the president for a meeting on Jan. 4 for Myanmar’s Independence Day had contained “some weaknesses” and not all ethnic groups would have been present, but said this request was “very proper” and placed importance on bringing all factions together.

“Thein Sein in the invitation said that Union Day celebrates Myanmar’s efforts to achieve independence from the British through the solidarity and unity of ethnic races, so it would be very appropriate for all ethnic leaders to meet with each other,” he said.

“I think all the ethnic leaders will be present.”

Unresolved issues

Last week, General Gum Maw, deputy commander-in-chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the country’s armed insurgent groups, said the parties involved would not be able to sign a countrywide peace deal on Union Day, despite Thein Sein’s request.

Gum Maw, who is also deputy leader of the NCCT, claimed he was speaking on behalf of the rebel coalition when he said it was impossible to sign an agreement by Feb. 12, without first meeting with the UPWC to discuss some of the points of a nationwide cease-fire in greater detail.

The UPWC and the NCCT have already met several times to discuss a cease-fire deal.

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 Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

Thein Sein, however, wants the country’s ethnic, military, and political groups to sign a nationwide cease-fire deal on Feb. 12, so Myanmar can move forward with political dialogue soon afterwards.

Last September, the NCCT and UPWC failed to reach a nationwide cease-fire agreement after five days of talks following disagreements over military issues and a format for talks on providing greater power to ethnic states, although they agreed in principle to a new draft accord.

Sporadic attacks by armed ethnic groups and government forces in various hotspots around the country have also prevented significant progress in the ongoing talks between government and rebel negotiators.

Myanmar’s ethnic groups have been seeking a federal system since the former British colony known as Burma gained independence after World War II, but the country’s former military rulers have resisted their efforts because they equate local autonomy with separatism.

Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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