The Myanmar government will sign a nationwide cease-fire accord with armed ethnic groups during the first week of October, paving the way for political dialogue among the participants to start in January, the government’s chief peace negotiator said Monday.
At a meeting with representatives from more than 70 political parties, including the ruling Union Solidarity and Development (USDP) and opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) parties, at least nine armed ethnic groups agreed to sign the nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) early next month, said Aung Min, a minister of the President's Office and chairman of the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center.
Those at the meeting at the Myanmar Peace Center in the commercial capital Yangon discussed developing a common framework for political dialogue, which according to the NCA, must take place within one to three months of the accord’s signing, he said.
“We have seven groups, including the government, parliament, military, political parties and other appropriate groups to be included in the political dialogue,” said Aung Min, who is also vice chairman of the government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC).
A Joint Implementation Coordination team will hold a meeting 14 days after the NCA is signed, and a Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee will be set up within 15 days, The Irrawaddy reported.
Last Wednesday, talks between President Thein Sein and leaders of the armed ethnic groups ended with a tentative agreement to sign an NCA in October.
At Monday’s meeting, Thein Sein offered to sign the NCA on September 29, but ethnic leaders wanted to do it on October 15, Aung Min said.
The meeting came just days after Aung Min and USDP lawmaker Thein Zaw held discussions about the peace process with representatives of the United Wa State Army and National Democratic Alliance Army in Kengtung, Shan state, The Irrawaddy reported.
The groups have signed bilateral cease-fire accords with the government, but are not members of the bloc of armed ethnic groups negotiating a peace deal, the report said.
Still excluded from the process
The government has yet to hold talks with three ethnic armies it so far has excluded from the process because of ongoing fighting with government forces — the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), also known as the Kokang army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA).
It also wants to exclude three smaller groups — the Wa National Organization (WNO), Lahu Army and Arakan National Council (ANC).
The TNLA and AA have supported the military alongside the MNDAA since February in Shan state’s restive Kokang self-administered zone in northeastern Myanmar.
Aung Min said because the MNDAA was not one of the 16 armed ethnic groups to which the government had extended a peace invitation in 2011, it had not been invited to participate in the NCA talks.
As for the TNLA, he said the government tried to ink a bilateral peace deal with it in 2013, but was unsuccessful because it could not meet the demands of military chief Phone Kyaw, who requested his group be given eight townships where the minority Palaung people live and that the government remove its troops from these areas.
“I told him it was impossible,” Aung Min said. “I had observed these eight townships and knew that there were 80,000 Shan people and only 20,000 Palaung people [there].”
Aung Min said the AA had been excluded from peace talks because it, too, did not exist when the government issued a peace invitation in August 2011.
“That’s why the AA was not included among the first 16 groups, but we will continue working toward including it in the signing of the NCA.”
Reported by Zarni Tun and Kyaw Zaw Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.