Myanmar President Thein Sein's top peace negotiator and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have underlined the importance of political dialogue between the government and armed ethnic groups on conclusion of a proposed nationwide cease-fire agreement in March, saying it would be a major test for peace and democracy in the country.
Minister Aung Min, the government's chief negotiator, say they hope the political dialogue process to be launched "within a couple of months" after the signing of the cease-fire agreement in March will lead to a durable peace that has been elusive for decades.
"The political dialogue can result in permanent peace," Aung Min told RFA's Myanmar Service on Thursday from Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai, where he had discussed with armed ethnic groups over a draft cease-fire agreement. "Without political dialogue, democracy will not prevail in Myanmar."
"Only when we achieve permanent peace can we have a fully democratic state which many have been clamoring for," he said, stressing that a nationwide cease-fire agreement is within reach.
"The developments taking place towards a cease-fire agreement are positive."
Aung Min's meeting with armed ethnic groups included those who signed a draft framework for a nationwide cease-fire at the end of their talks last week in Laywa in southeastern Myanmar’s Kayin (Karen) state.
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said a crucial period in the process to forge peace between the government and the ethnic groups would come after they sign the cease-fire agreement and get down to talks on meeting the groups' political demands.
"Political agreements [between the ethnic groups and the government] are more important and more lasting than a cease-fire agreement, which can be shattered anytime," she told RFA's Myanmar Service's “Hard Road To Democracy” exclusive bi-weekly program.
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. One of the contentious demands by the groups is for an all-inclusive federal army.
Aung San Suu Kyu said the political dialogue process should be based on "sincerity" and "compromise" and attended by all ethnic groups.
"What is very important is that all concerned parties or individuals should be involved in the political discussions," said Aung San Suu Kyi, who is leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).
She said she had been informed that she would be invited for the final round of negotiations in Hpa-An in Kayin state between the government and the ethnic groups in March before the signing of the cease-fire agreement in the capital Naypyidaw..
"I have been informed that they will invite me but I have not received the official invitation," she said. Government sources confirmed that she would be invited for the Hpa-An talks.
The Myanmar government had wanted all of the rebel groups to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement at a joint ceremony in Naypyidaw way back in July last year, but the event has been postponed several times.
Shan group agrees to sign
Minister Aung Min said that the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), among a handful of groups that did not participate in the Ethnic Armed Organizations Conference attended by 17 groups in Laywa in Kayin state last week, has agreed in principle to sign the nationwide cease-fire agreement.
He said the assurance was given by SSA-S leader Lt. Gen.Yawd Serk, who is also head of its political wing, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS).
"The major point we discussed today is how to collaborate together [for the implementation of the nationwide cease-fire agreement). Sai La, spokesman of RCSS/SSA-S), told RFA.
According to Hla Maung Shwe, special adviser to the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), the government intends to hold the nationwide cease-fire agreement signing ceremony in the third or last week of March in the capital Naypyidaw.
The government will invite representatives of the international community, including leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and leaders of local political parties to witness the agreement signing, he said.
Reported by Khin Maung Soe and Aung Moe Myint for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Soe and Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.