Myanmar's armed ethnic rebel groups called for caution Wednesday over a government proposed nationwide cease-fire plan, saying previous pacts to end fighting had collapsed due to a failure to resolve political problems.
Launching a three-day Ethnic Armed Organizations' Conference in Kachin state, top representatives from 17 rebel groups said the government must hold 'genuine" political dialogue and respect ethnic rights for any successful implementation of the planned national cease-fire agreement.
After their meeting in the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) stronghold town of Laiza, they will discuss the accord with government peace negotiators in Kachin's state capital Myitkyina on Nov. 3 and 4.
Though Myanmar’s government has been trying to build trust by inviting concerned groups to work together toward peace, the conference must look beyond the forging of a nationwide cease-fire, KIO vice chairman N’ban La Awng said.
“For this process, the major goal is to solve political problems,” N’ban La Awng said.
“I want to warn all of you not to forget the lessons of the process that ended with the signing of cease-fire agreements in the 1990s” that later collapsed, he said.
Ethnic organizations must also continue to push for ethnic rights as Myanmar builds a peace settlement and undertakes political reforms, he said.
Among those absent from the talks were Myanmar's largest armed ethnic group, the United Wa State Army, and the National Democratic Alliance Army, a group based in eastern Shan State.
Some reports have suggested that the United Wa State Army backed out following pressure from China.
Ahead of this week’s conference, two groups—the Karen National Union (KNU) and Restoration Council of the Shan State (RCSS)—met in Thailand and released a joint statement urging conference participants to demand in any cease-fire proposal that the government begin political dialogue within four months of the signing of an accord.
Members of all ethnic armed groups, political parties, civil society organizations, lawmakers, and military and government leaders must be part of the process, the statement said.
Differences on some points of the proposal remain unresolved, though, according to Naing Han Tha, the joint general secretary of the leading ethnic umbrella group, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).
“The KNU and RCSS explained their paper, and we, the UNFC, explained our stand,” Naing Han Tha told RFA's Myanmar Service, adding, “We haven’t reached a final decision yet.”
Speaking at the conference, KNU Chairman Gen. Saw Mutu Sae Po acknowledged that though differences exist, “unity is important for all ethnics to get what they want.”
“It is difficult to have the same point of view, as we have different stands and live in different geographical locations.”
“We must build unity in any way we can,” he said.
Speaking to RFA, Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) secretary Shew Myo Thant said that his organization will submit its own views on the peace plan at the meeting, “as every armed group must.”
“All ethnic armed groups are responsible for working toward a cease-fire,” he said. “We have to discuss these things together to get a policy on which everyone agrees.”
President Thein Sein, whose administration has inked peace deals with 10 out of 11 major armed groups in Myanmar, hoped the ethnic groups could agree to a nationwide cease-fire pact that could pave the way for political dialogue.
“I believe that the decisions, agreements and frameworks resolved in the conference will facilitate the nationwide ceasefire agreement, laying a framework for political dialogue and peace building to restore peace,” he said in a message to this week's meeting.
Reported by Sai Tun Aung Lwin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.