Myanmar Rebel Groups Want Foreign Observers in Cease-fire Monitoring Teams

Myanmar's armed ethnic groups holding talks in the ethnic Karen National Union (KNU) group-controlled territory near the Myanmar-Thai border, Jan. 20, 2014.

Myanmar's armed ethnic rebel groups are calling for foreign observers in teams that will monitor the implementation of a proposed nationwide cease-fire agreement aimed at ending decades of conflict with the government, a spokesman for the rebels said Tuesday.

The inclusion of independent foreign representatives in the government-rebel joint cease-fire monitoring teams will be in line with previous conflict resolution initiatives overseas, said Naing Han Tha, the general secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of a dozen ethnic armed groups in Myanmar.

"There will be several representatives from our armed ethnic groups and from the government’s side in the teams. We also want to include other representatives from inside Myanmar and foreign representatives," he told RFA's Myanmar Service.

"The government has mentioned generally about joint cease-fire monitoring teams but haven't provided details," he said at the sidelines of talks among armed ethnic groups being held in the ethnic Karen National Union (KNU) group-controlled territory near the Myanmar-Thai border.

"We still need to discuss with them [the government] on it," Naing Han Tha said.

He said the rebel groups want "respected" leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the National League for Democracy (NLD), and Khun Tun Oo, leader of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, to also participate in the cease-fire monitoring process.

The meeting is in preparation for fresh talks with government negotiators in the Karen state capital of Hpa-an next month focusing on a proposed nationwide cease-fire agreement and framework for political dialogue.

The armed ethnic rebel groups had set up a Nationwide Cease-fire Coordination Team (NCCT) in November to coordinate discussions with the government on the cease-fire which had been bogged down by calls by the groups for an all-inclusive federal army to be at the center of any talks of forming a federal union.

The government had hoped to have a nationwide cease-fire agreement signed by the end of last year but the first meeting between the NCCT and government negotiators in the Kachin state capital of Myitkyina in November failed to yield any result.

Federal army

Naing Han Tha said the discussions this week would also continue to tackle the prickly proposal for a federal army.

"We have included some issues about the federal army in our draft for discussions when we broach the topic about politics," he said.

Last month, Myanmar's military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing appeared to reject the ethnic rebels’ proposal for a federal military, saying that the current armed forces are already a federally constituted institution, owing to its inclusion of ethnic minority members within the ranks.

Naing Han Tha was optimistic the meeting this week would be able to achieve consensus on a draft proposal for the implementation of the cease-fire agreement for discussions with the government.

"I believe so. We are doing our best by discussing with each other. It seems that President [Thein Sein] and Minister Aung Min [who heads the government negotiating team] are keen on adopting a nationwide cease-fire agreement," he said.

"If they really want it, I believe we can do this."

The government and the rebel groups had agreed in principle last year to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement as a first step towards permanent peace after decades of fighting. They also agreed to hold a dialogue to devise an enduring political settlement.

Standard agreement

Thein Sein’s government has signed cease-fire agreements with several ethnic rebel groups since being elected to power in 2011, and is racing to forge a standard pact covering all groups as part of a bid to speed up reforms after nearly 50 years of military rule.

In addition to forming a federal union, ethnic rebels hope that political dialogue with the government will provide their groups with greater autonomy in rapidly reforming Myanmar.

Reported by Sai Tun Aung Lwin for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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