With only seven of 19 armed ethnic groups in Myanmar agreeing to sign a final nationwide cease-fire accord, some political party leaders on Wednesday called for an all-inclusive pact that embraces rebel factions the government has excluded or which have declined to join the deal that would end decades of civil wars.
The ethnic groups are holding a three-day summit that began on Monday in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to discuss the nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the Myanmar government.
On Tuesday, seven armed ethnic groups — the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, Arakan Liberation Party, Chin National Front, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council, Karen National Union and Pa-O National Liberation Organization — agreed to sign the pact which needs to be in place before political dialogue with the government can begin.
“We will not accept it [the NCA] if it is not all-inclusive because we want peace in the country,” said Aye Maung, president of the Arakan National Party, which represents the interests of the Rakhine people in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state and Yangon region.
“It [the NCA] will be secure if it has a good beginning,” he told RFA's Myanmar Service. “We want an all-inclusive NCA, an all-inclusive national reconciliation and an all-inclusive national conference. We don’t want any group taking advantage of the NCA [process].”
Sai Nyunt Lwin, general secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, said his party wants all armed ethnic groups to sign the NCA of their own accord, and not through force.
“As the agreement is called a nationwide cease-fire agreement, it should be signed with all ethnic groups,” he said. “I want the government to make more of an effort to have an all-inclusive NCA. It seems that the government is fixed on its limitation [to include all ethnic groups], but if we still have fighting at the time, the NCA will be delayed and won’t be the one that we want.”
Khin Maung Swe, chairman of the National Democratic Force, said the armed ethnic groups involved in ongoing clashes with the Myanmar army, which have declined to sign the NCA, have indicated that they would join the accord later.
“I assume that every group will sign the NCA one day, although not at the same time,” he said. “I heard that everybody can attend the NCA signing event and that the armed ethnic groups that are not included among the seven groups can attend when the framework for political dialogue is written. This means the door for peace is open. We don’t want to hand over a country which has many armed groups to the next generation.”
Some groups refuse to sign
Among the major armed ethnic groups that have refused to sign the NCA are the Kachin Independence Organization, New Mon State Party, Shan State Progress Party and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).
“We don’t accept the current situation because the government is ignoring some groups to include in the NCA, and fighting is still going on,” said Aung San Myint, secretary of the KNPP. “This situation is not good enough to move forward with political dialogue or peace. The KNPP will not sign the NCA under these circumstances."
Three other groups — the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Arakan Army — are still engaged in fighting with the government army and have been excluded from the NCA.
On Wednesday, two TNLA battalions clashed with government troops near Tunzan village in Kyuakme township in northern Myanmar’s Shan state, said TNLA spokesman Ta Ike Kyaw.
Although the TNLA had no casualties, two soldiers from the government army had been killed in the hostilities, he told RFA.
“They [government soldiers] have been following us every place they hear we are,” he said. “They block our way. If they continue attacking us, there will be more fighting.”
Two observer groups — the Restoration Council of Shan State and the National Democratic Alliance Army — which are not part of the Senior Delegation, the successor to the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team ethnic negotiating group, did not indicate at the ongoing summit if they would join the NCA.
The government has invited 15 armed ethnic groups to attend a meeting on Saturday in the commercial capital Yangon to discuss the NCA, according to the online journal The Irrawaddy.
Armed ethnic group leaders and government negotiators reached a tentative agreement to sign a draft NCA on Sept. 9, but disagreed on which groups to include in the final accord.
The armed ethnic groups that have agreed to sign the NCA will form a joint-committee with the government to facilitate the inking of the document around mid-October, according to a report by the Democratic Voice of Burma.
Sixty days after signing the NCA, the parties involved will draft a framework for political dialogue.
“We decided to sign the NCA because we believe we can’t have political dialogue unless we have a cease-fire,” said Kwe Htoo Win, general secretary of the Karen National Union. “We discussed the final NCA draft, and agreed to it.”
Reported by Thinn Thiri, Ye Htet and Aung Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.