Several political parties in Myanmar said Tuesday that the government appeared to be rushing to conclude a nationwide cease-fire agreement with armed ethnic groups without enabling them to adequately address the key concerns of the groups.
They made the claim after a meeting between government peace negotiators and nearly 150 representatives from 66 of the country’s registered political parties in Yangon Monday on the broader peace process.
Following the meeting, a joint statement was released saying that the political parties called on “all concerned parties to sign the nationwide cease-fire agreement as soon as possible for the sake of long and sustained peace building in Myanmar,” according to local reports.
But Sai Nyunt Lwin of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC) had released the statement without the approval of all of the political parties present.
“When the meeting was almost over, [the UPWC] asked the other parties to agree to the statement which they had already written,” he said.
Aung Min, a minister in President Thein Sein’s office, led the government team in the talks amid reports that it was racing to wrap up the cease-fire deal by next month in a bid to end decades of civil war in the country.
“After the meeting, they put the parties’ names on the statement and told us, ‘We don’t think there would be anyone who wants to reject it.’ Then they released it. When the statement was released, it included all 66 political parties [in attendance], which was incorrect.”
Nyan Win, spokesperson for Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party told RFA that the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) was not adequately prepared to facilitate dialogue at Monday’s meeting.
“During the meeting, some of the political parties discussed topics that were not included in the meeting agenda,” he said, adding that it was the MPC’s job to keep the discussion on track, with a focus on agenda items.
He said that the NLD had little time to prepare for the meeting because it had “received a late invitation” and was not informed what the topics for discussion would include.
“[In the future] I urge the MPC to submit a proposal, as it is the organization that must select the meeting topics,” he said.
“The MPC didn’t present any proposal, so we didn’t know what to discuss.”
Sai Saw Myint Than, spokesperson for the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF)—an alliance of 15 ethnic political parties—said that the MPC only informed his group by invitation that the meeting would cover the peace process and the framework for ensuing political dialogue, without providing further details.
“Most political parties couldn’t prepare enough to discuss and some didn’t even know what the framework was,” he said.
Sai Saw Myint Than said that the NBF led a discussion on the framework for political dialogue based on its own “all-inclusive” proposal, which was written to include the government, military, political parties and armed ethnic groups.
“We discussed the timeframe, such as when to begin the political dialogue and how many people from each party should be included at the beginning,” he said, adding that the NBF had also explained the results of its meetings on the issues over the past two years.
The UPWC agreed with ethnic parties at Monday’s meeting to finish drafting a framework for political dialogue within 60 days of signing a cease-fire agreement, with dialogue to begin no more than 30 days after that.
Ethnic rebels and the UPWC completed the second draft of a nationwide cease-fire agreement in May, but are negotiating the exact policies and wording to be incorporated in the final text.
According to reports, about one-quarter of the cease-fire agreement’s text still needs to be revised and the definitions of 20-30 words finalized. The government hopes to have the agreement signed in September and hold political talks with the ethnic groups in early 2015, it said.
Monday’s statement also called for “a framework for political dialogue and the [start of] political dialogue, in accordance with the cease-fire agreement.”
Sai Nyunt Lwin of the SNLD said that ethnic parties have been calling on the government to hold political dialogue “for 20 years,” and if the government agrees to do so, the move would be welcomed.
But he said that a cease-fire agreement should not be signed without the full cooperation of all stakeholders.
“After the cease-fire agreement is signed we will hold political dialogue. But all political parties have to collaborate in it,” he said.
“The government team is forcing [ethnic groups] to sign the cease-fire agreement and that is not good. It should only be signed after all political parties and the government team discuss it thoroughly and agree to it without any issues. That is how we want it to proceed.”
Local media reports cited Aung Min as saying during his opening speech that political dialogue should be held in early 2015 because general elections are scheduled for next year.
The government has signed bilateral cease-fire accords with 14 of 16 major ethnic armed groups and began to actively pursue a nationwide cease-fire with ethnic groups last year.
Government officials and some ethnic leaders have repeatedly stated that a nationwide cease-fire accord is only weeks away, only for negotiations to break down.
Meanwhile, fighting continues in northern Myanmar, where the Kachin Independence Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army are engaged in frequent clashes with the military.
The UPWC and the 16-member Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) of armed ethnic groups are set to meet to discuss the peace process from Aug. 15-17 at the MPC.
He said that the MPC hopes to schedule a meeting with armed ethnic groups and ethnic political parties on Aug. 18 to further discuss the framework for political dialogue.
The UPWC held an informal meeting with the NCCT in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina last week, during which Aung Min expressed confidence that a cease-fire agreement would be signed soon.
Reported by Yadanar Oo and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.