A leader of one of Myanmar’s armed ethnic rebel groups said Wednesday that it would be impossible for all the country’s insurgent organizations to agree to and sign a nationwide cease-fire and peace agreement next month, as President Thein Sein has requested.
General Gum Maw, deputy commander-in-chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the country’s armed insurgent groups, said the parties involved would not be able to sign a countrywide peace deal on Feb. 12, which is Myanmar’s Union Day.
“I am not saying this on behalf of the KIA, but if I have to say it on behalf of all of the [rebel’s] NCCT [Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team], it is not possible to have an agreement by February 12th when we have not had meetings even now when it’s already near the end of January,” Gum Maw, who is also deputy leader of the NCCT, said after a meeting between officials from the NCCT and government-backed Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
“We cannot lie to the public about this,” Gum Maw said. “We cannot give such expectations. I would like to say that under the present circumstances it is not possible to sign [a cease-fire agreement] by the 12th.”
The government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the NCCT, an umbrella group that represents several armed ethnic groups, have already met several times to discuss a cease-fire deal.
“It is not easy to proceed to the next step without being able to hold the seventh meeting," Gum Maw said.
Most of Myanmar’s ethnic groups have been fighting for decades but have temporary, bilateral cease-fire agreements with the government, except for the KIA and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
Thein Sein, however, wants the country’s ethnic, military, and political groups to sign a nationwide cease-fire deal on Feb. 12, so Myanmar can move forward with political dialogue soon afterwards.
Setting a date
But Gum Maw said because there is still a need to discuss some of the points of a nationwide cease-fire, it would be difficult to set a date for NCCT and UPWC leaders to meet for a seventh time in the commercial capital Yangon.
“The main reason being the difficulties that we had in discussing some of the topics, including that of the road map, at the meeting in September,” he said. “We cannot draw up what we will discuss at the next meeting without overcoming those issues.”
Last September, the NCCT and UPWC failed to reach a nationwide cease-fire agreement after five days of talks following disagreements over military issues and a format for talks on providing greater power to ethnic states, although they agreed in principle to a new draft accord.
“The second point is how are we going to stop the fighting that has reoccurred? And we cannot ignore the matter that it occurred at our officer cadet training school,” Gum Maw said, referring to a clash last November when government troops opened fire on a KIA training camp in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, leaving nearly two dozen cadets dead.
Although the army said the attack was meant to be a warning strike, the KIA believed it was deliberate and posed a threat to peace talks.
Further fighting last week between Myanmar government forces and Kachin rebel troops displaced nearly 2,000 villagers, forcing them to fee mortar fire and take shelter in churches and monasteries in the town of Hpakant in Kachin state, sources said.
The clashes came as the KIA released a government minister it had detained the day before, with government forces attacking despite Kachin assurances that the official would be freed.
Gum Maw said the NCCT and UPWC should move forward only after they have been able to resolve the remaining issues “in a constructive and positive manner.”
“As such, we have asked for those issues to be discussed at the beginning of the next meeting," he said.
Hla Maung Shwe, MPC delegation leader and vice president of Myanmar Egress, a nonprofit organization founded by scholars and social workers involved in various civil society activities, said there were good prospects for consent by both sides on the draft of the nationwide ceasefire agreement.
He also said UPWC vice-chairman and Union minister Aung Min would meet with NCCT leaders at the end of January in Chiang Mai.
So far, sporadic attacks by armed ethnic groups and government forces in various hotspots around the country have prevented significant progress in the ongoing talks between government and rebel negotiators.
Myanmar’s ethnic groups have been seeking a federal system since the former British colony known as Burma gained independence after World War II, but the country’s former military rulers have resisted their efforts because they equate local autonomy with separatism.
Reported by Aung Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.