A ninth round of peace talks between Myanmar’s government and ethnic rebel groups ended in a stalemate Friday as the two sides remained at odds over the number of insurgent armies to be included in a proposed nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA).
Negotiators were otherwise able to finalize a draft NCA during the two-day talks at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in the commercial capital Yangon, and all that remains is to determine whether the pact will include 15 or 21 armed ethnic groups, according to government team leader Aung Min.
“There is only the matter of ‘all-inclusiveness’ left for further discussion in the draft agreement regarding which groups are going to sign in it,” Aung Min, who is also minister of the President’s Office, told reporters after the talks concluded, adding that the document would be made public soon.
“The success we’ve achieved thus far is due to the efforts and cooperation of all delegates. If we can solve this final issue successfully, we will be able to celebrate the signing ceremony for the nationwide cease-fire agreement.”
The government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) wants to sign the NCA with 15 groups and has rejected six armed groups that the recently-formed Senior Delegation (SD) of ethnic leaders say should be included in the pact, which seeks to end long-running conflicts in the former British colony.
The government does not recognize the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the ethnic Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA)—all of which have had recent skirmishes with the Myanmar army. It also wants to exclude three smaller groups—the Wa National Organization (WNO), Lahu Army and Arakan National Council (ANC).
Ethnic armed group spokesman Pu Zing Cung, a Chin delegate, said that the SD was holding to a policy that at least all of its 17 members are included in the NCA.
“But the government side will only agree to sign a first agreement with 15 out of 21 armed groups in total—that’s why negotiations did not move any farther today,” he said.
“We, the SD of armed ethnic groups … traveled down to Yangon representing the view of our 17 member groups … and we don’t have the power to change that position.”
MPC senior advisor Hla Maung Shwe said the 15 groups accepted by the UPWC were the only ones that had been involved in “all rounds of negotiations and discussions since the beginning” of talks related to the NCA, and had already signed individual bilateral peace agreements with the government.
“With the remaining groups, the government requires bilateral agreements,” he said.
“That is why it is only willing to sign with first 15 groups.”
Next round of talks
Nai Hong Sar, an ethnic Mon senior delegation spokesman, said that because the two sides could not come to an agreement at the MPC, a final meeting would be held in the capital Naypyidaw to determine whether an NCA would be signed ahead of Myanmar’s national elections, slated for Nov. 8.
“Within a month, some senior delegation members, and our top ethnic leaders will go to Naypyidaw to meet with President Thein Sein,” he said.
The government wants a signed peace accord in place by the Nov. 8 general elections, so that Myanmar can move forward with political dialogue.
The Irrawaddy online journal cited Nai Hong Sar as saying that the five groups who will attend the next round of talks in Naypyidaw will be the Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
La Ja, a senior delegation team member from the KIO, said that the only way to solve the question of “all-inclusiveness” in the NCA was for ethnic groups to meet with key decision makers in the capital.
“We are grateful that the government delegation has promised our leaders will be able to personally meet with the president in order to solve this issue,” he said, adding that the talks would also likely include Myanmar’s military chief General Min Aung Hlaing.
The official Global New Light of Myanmar cited ethnic negotiators as saying that no guarantees had yet been given against attacks by government forces on groups not included in the signing process.
In a joint statement released Aug. 5, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA) invited the government to open ceasefire talks, saying they hoped to negotiate.
The ninth round of talks marked the second formal meeting between the UPWC and the SD.
Yanghee Lee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, was also present at the meeting Friday to observe the talks, as she wrapped up her third official visit to assess the status of human rights in the country.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.