Myanmar government’s has urged armed ethnic groups to sign a cease-fire pact before general elections scheduled for early November, the ruling party’s chief peace negotiator said during the resumption of talks with ethnic leaders on Wednesday.
“If we can’t get a firm agreement before the elections, the signing of a final nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) would depend on the next government, and the process with all ethnic armed groups would have to be started again anew,” said Aung Min, vice chairman of the government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) and minister of the President’s Office, during the two-day meeting at Myanmar Peace Center in the commercial capital Yangon.
“I hope we can reach an agreement so we can sign the NCA during this meeting,” he said.
Aung Min and other government representatives, including President Thein Sein, met with leaders from more than a dozen ethnic minority groups for the eighth time in the past 18 months of negotiations to try to end decades of fighting before the Nov. 8 election, which will see the emergence of a new president.
Other government representatives included Union minister Lieutenant General Thet Naing Win, Lieutenant General Myint Soe of the Defense Ministry and lawmaker Thein Zaw.
Previous talks stalled in June when ethnic leaders formed a special negotiation team during a summit and requested that the government include three other groups — the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the ethnic Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA) — in a draft NCA.
The government wants to exclude three ethnic groups from the final deal because its army has engaged in recent clashes with them. The fighting in Kokang has claimed hundreds of soldiers’ lives.
“Since the government started talking with ethnic armed groups, we told them our policy, such as which armed groups will be included when we sign the NCA,” Aung Min said. “We have to discuss how we should include the armed groups that are to sign the NCA. During the peacemaking process, we have opened a door for political dialogue. We have to try to include all political forces in the political dialogue.”
Naw Zippora Sein, vice chairperson of the Karen National Union and leader of the special negotiation team, said it is important to include all armed ethnic groups when the final peace accord is signed.
The delegation that she leads wants the final agreement to include all 16 members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), the original negotiating body of the armed ethnic groups. The NCCT signed the draft NCA with the UPWC on March 31.
“We have learned lessons from unsuccessful efforts for peace from decades ago,” said her delegation colleague, La Jar. “We will have a win-win situation by forgetting our old mindsets and creating new ones.”
Voter list to be updated
In a related development, the Union Election Commission (UEC) announced Wednesday at a press conference in Yangon that more than 32 million citizens of the country’s population of roughly 54 million would be eligible to vote in the November elections.
“But I’m still concerned about how many errors there are on the voter list,” said Tin Aye, chairman of the commission. “I will upload an up-to-date voter’s list in the main sever so people can see it online, and then I will update it every three months. By doing this, the voter list will always be updated.”
Tin Aye also said elections would be held in the volatile Kokang region in the northern part of Shan state, where ethnic Kokang troops had clashed with army soldiers earlier this year, although he was not sure if polls would be open in six townships of the Wa special region in northern Shan state.
The UEC said previously that the election would not be held in areas such as northern Shan state and parts of Kachin state, where ethnic armies were engaged in hostilities with government troops.
United Wa State Army (USWA) spokesman Aung Myint told RFA’s Myanmar Service earlier this week that about 600,000 people living in northern Shan state under his group’s control were not likely to vote because immigration officials were unwilling to go to the area to provide them with election identification.
People who are not on the voter list can add their names to the final document that will be issued at the end of August, Tin Aye said.
He also said the commission would not change the election date because of errors on the voter list and urged collaboration from other political parties and civil society organizations to help update it.
By Thiha Tun, Kyaw Lwin Oo, Kyaw Thu, Aung Theinkha and Moe Kalyar Oofor RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.