Myanmar’s President Confident of Reaching Nationwide Cease-Fire ‘Soon’

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Myanmar President Thein Sein speaks at parliament in Naypyidaw on March 26, 2014.

Myanmar's President Thein Sein expressed confidence Thursday that his government will be able to strike a nationwide cease-fire accord with armed ethnic groups “soon,” despite reservations by ethnic leaders over proposed constitutional reforms and other issues.

In a speech broadcast on national radio, Thein Sein said negotiators had reached a key step in the peace process with the completion of a first draft of the agreement during negotiations in early April.

“Getting to this stage is the positive result of negotiation and detailed work by both sides, and can be viewed as bringing peace one step closer,” Thein Sein said ahead of a new round of peace talks later this month.

“Based on these results, we will soon be able to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement.”

Some reports have suggested that the government wants the agreement signed no later than August.  

After the agreement is signed, “we will then resolve armed conflict by political means,” Thein Sein said, referring to government assurances of a political dialogue with the ethnic groups that is expected to set our terms for possibly greater autonomy in their states.    

NCCT talks

The Nationwide Cease-fire Coordination Team (NCCT), which is negotiating on behalf of 16 rebel groups, agreed this week to hold the next round of talks with government negotiators in Myanmar’s former capital Yangon in the third week of May.

The two sides met in Yangon on April 5-8, announcing at the end of their meeting that they had merged their separate proposals for the pact into a single first draft.

They had previously agreed to hold high-level talks in the Karen state capital Hpa-an to set up a date for the signing of a nationwide cease-fire in the capital Naypyidaw, but the meeting has been repeatedly delayed.

Thein Sein said the government continues to prepare for political dialogue with the ethnic armed groups, but called for patience in the peace process.

“Peace building is difficult, and it is to be expected that efforts at solving decades-old problems will encounter many problems. However, I will continue to strive to achieve peace that our citizens steadfastly desire.”  

Thein Sein’s government has been racing since last year to get rebel groups to sign the cease-fire pact in a bid to speed up reforms after decades under military rule, but plans for a joint signing ceremony have been postponed numerous times.

NCCT Vice Chairman Nai Hong Sar told the Democratic Voice of Burma on Thursday that any plans by the government to achieve the nationwide cease-fire agreement by August would be “over-ambitious.”

Constitutional reform

He and other NCCT leaders have voiced reservations about a number of demands put forward by Myanmar’s military during talks this week in Yangon—including a requirement that they accept the country’s 2008 constitution, which is currently being reviewed for amendment in parliament.  

Ethnic rebel leaders say that since they are not in parliament they want to find another way to have input on proposed amendments to the 2008 charter, which they complain is undemocratic and does not give enough representation to ethnic peoples.  

“I think Parliament's efforts to amend the constitution are related to what we want. We just need to find a way to collaborate on it together,” said NCCT Deputy Leader 1 Padoh Kwe Htoo Win, who is also general secretary of the rebel Karen National Union.

“Since we can't do anything about it in parliament, we should have a forum in which ethnic people can discuss this.  We have to work on it outside of parliament, but parliament has to approve it,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Ethnic rebel leaders have also raised concerns about a requirement for ethnic groups to disband their armies ahead of establishing a proposed federal army and voiced doubts over the proposed formation of a federal union that should give ethnic states greater powers.

Fighting between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army that flared last month, forcing thousands of civilians from their homes, has also cast a shadow over the talks.

Myanmar government negotiators on Thursday accepted an invitation from the Kachin rebel leaders to meet for bilateral talks in Myitkyina ahead of planned Myanmar-NCCT talks.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.


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