Updated at 3:00 p.m. ET on 2014-03-10
Myanmar’s military holds the key to success of a government plan to forge a nationwide cease-fire accord with armed ethnic groups, a spokesman for a major rebel alliance said Tuesday, warning that current offensives by government troops could throw the peace process off track.
“Right now, the Myanmar army is attacking and fighting with ethnic armed groups,” said Khun Okka, deputy secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a key coalition of 12 ethnic rebel groups.
“Its attitude and stance will be key in determining the prospects for a nationwide cease-fire,” he told reporters at the end of a two-day conference with civil society groups in Yangon, Myanmar's commercial capital.
Khun Okka's warning came as Myanmar's military pounded rebel positions in recent weeks in northern Kachin and Shan states even as government officials encouraged peace talks in a bid to wrap up a nationwide cease-fire accord next month.
“I found there is problem within the government, where some people did not want to recognize a nationwide peace agreement," the Irrawaddy online journal quoted Khun Okka as saying in a report.
Khun Okka, who is also a member of the Nationwide Cease-Fire Coordination Team—the group that liaises with the government on plans for ending the decades-long armed ethnic conflicts—called for a halt on all military operations to underline the government's seriousness on the peace effort.
Khun Okka said he and other ethnic rebel leaders hope to get a clarification on the military’s stand on the nationwide cease-fire plan when they meet with Myanmar armed forces commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Wednesday in Naypyidaw.
Preliminary talks between government negotiators and ethnic rebel leaders are scheduled for March 9-10 ahead of a planned cease-fire conference in Hpa-An, in eastern Myanmar’s Kayin (Karen) state.
The Hpa-an meeting, originally scheduled for January, has been postponed several times since the two sides agreed to it in November.
Thein Sein’s government is eager to get all of the country’s armed rebel groups to sign the nationwide cease-fire in a bid to speed up reforms after decades of military rule, but pledges to end the conflict have been marred by recent clashes.
On Monday, Kachinland Media reported that government troops had attacked and seized the Kachin Independence Army’s (KIA) Loi Hkam Bum Post in Shan state’s Namtu township.
It was the fifth position in a row that KIA had lost to government troops in the past five weeks, according to the news group.
Late last month, the group reported clashes had broken out near the KIA headquarters at Laiza, near the Chinese border.
Three Myanmar soldiers died in separate fighting in Shan State with Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) the same week, it reported.
The UNFC is currently chaired by the political wing of the KIA, which is Myanmar’s largest rebel group and has yet to sign an individual cease-fire with the Myanmar government. The TNLA has not signed one either.
Khun Okka leads the Shan state-based Pa-O National Liberation Organization, which is a member of the UNFC.
Reported by Myo Zaw Ko and Nay Myo Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the TNLA's cease-fire status.