Myanmar President Thein Sein urged leaders from a dozen of the country’s armed ethnic groups on Monday to strive hard to reach a nationwide cease-fire accord with the government in five weeks.
Thein Sein told the meeting in the capital Naypyidaw that he wants to sign a peace deal with the groups on Union Day on Feb. 12.
On that day in 1947, General Aung San, father of current opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic representatives forged a landmark agreement to share power to prevent the country from plunging into civil war.
But Aung San was assassinated the same year — ahead of independence from Britain in 1948 — and the agreement was not honored.
Khun Myint Tun, chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), one of the ethnic groups that attended the meeting with Thein Sein, said the president indicated that he wanted Myanmar to be a federal union—one of the goals of the ethnic groups.
“He (Thein Sein) said peace in the nation could be developed and nurtured more successfully by the coming administrations only if the foundations were laid down properly by the present government,” Khun Myint Tun said.
“He said he wanted the peace agreement to be signed on Union Day, Feb 12, and that it was not lip service, but that he was serious about building a federal union.”
Leaders from 12 of the country’s 16 ethnic groups, represented in the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an alliance of armed ethnic organizations, exchanged views with the president at the meeting.
Among the groups who met with the president and later with military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing were the Karen National Union (KNU), United Wa State Army (UWSA), Rehabilitation Council of Shan State (RCSS), Arakan Liberation Army (ALP), and All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF).
But the leaders of groups that have had recent clashes with the Myanmar military did not attend the meetings, The Irrawaddy online journal reported.
The meetings were held a day after ethnic leaders had joined the president to attend Independence Day celebrations, which included a military parade.
The president is eager to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement before the country’s next general elections late this year.
Fighting for decades
The government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the NCCT last met on Dec. 22 to discuss a cease-fire deal and negotiators had focused on a draft ceasefire accord.
Information Minister Ye Htut said Aung Min, who is in charge of the government ceasefire negotiations team, would meet with ethnic representatives soon to resume negotiations, according to The Irrawaddy report.
Most of Myanmar’s ethnic groups have been fighting for decades but have temporary, bilateral cease-fire agreements with the government, except for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
But 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.
The armed ethnic rebel groups and the government failed to reach a nationwide cease-fire agreement in September after five days of talks following disagreements over military issues and a format for talks on providing greater power to ethnic states.
Myanmar’s ethnic groups have been seeking a federal system since the country 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 San Maw Aung of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.