Myanmar’s government and a coalition of armed ethnic groups inked a tentative nationwide cease-fire agreement Tuesday ending six decades of conflict, with President Thein Sein suggesting a final deal could be signed as early as next month.
“This draft agreement is the strongest push to sign the final agreement,” Thein Sein said during the meeting at the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center in the commercial capital Yangon.
“I would like to say that we could definitely sign the final cease-fire agreement in April. After we sign it, the door for political dialogue will be open.”
The signing of a final deal will set the stage for talks to resolve political and military issues so the country can proceed with its democratic development.
Earlier on Tuesday, five government representatives from the Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) led by minister Aung Min and five representatives from the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), representing 16 armed ethnic groups and led by Naing Han Thar, signed the agreement establishing a tentative framework for the peace pact in front of the president.
The signing ceremony took place on the final day of the seventh round of nationwide peace talks between the UPWC and the NCCT since the process began in 2013.
Myanmar has seen unrest since it gained independence from Britain in 1948, when insurgencies erupted among ethnic groups seeking autonomy.
Thein Sein, whose quasi-civilian government took power from the former military junta in 2011, has advocated the signing of a nationwide cease-fire agreement before general elections scheduled for later this year, so Myanmar can move forward with a political dialogue.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the president praised ethnic leaders for reaching a draft agreement, but said there would be some difficulties and challenges during political talks.
But such a move is necessary for the country to put its decades of civil war behind it, despite continuing unrest in the northern part of the country where ethnic Kokangs have been battling government forces in northeastern Myanmar’s Shan state.
Naing Han Thar said the tentative agreement was “the first and very important step to stop the 60-year civil war.”
Besides discussing the peace deal, leaders from the two sides also talked about the fighting in some ethnic regions and suggested that those involved end the hostilities, he said.
“It is absolutely not good,” Naing Han Thar told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We all are worried about whether this fighting could present a barrier to the nation’s peace process. That’s why we would like to request the president or the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces to ask other military leaders and lower-ranking soldiers to stop fighting with ethnic groups and collaborate with all of us for peace.”
Groups yet to sign
Naing Han Thar said groups involved in the fighting in the Kokang region could sign the final nationwide cease-fire agreement.
“The fighting is still going on because we have not signed the nationwide cease-fire agreement yet,” he said. “These ethnic groups will sign it when we do, so that not only the recent fighting, but also the 60-year civil war will end.”
The government has signed individual cease-fire agreements with 14 of the 16 major armed ethnic groups.
The parties can only sign a final agreement after further consultation and a conference of the armed ethnic groups, for which no date has been set, Agence France-Presse reported.
Both the United Nations, which was involved in the early rounds of the talks, and the United Stated welcomed the news of the draft peace deal and praised it as a significant achievement.
Vijay Nambiar, the U.N. secretary-general's special adviser on Myanmar, called the agreement “a historic and significant achievement” and “a first step towards a larger dialogue for settling the political and military issues that will pave the way for an inclusive and harmonious future” in the country.
“Today’s agreement is a signal that new levels of trust, confidence and cooperation are possible between former enemies and that the seeds of change in Myanmar are beginning to sprout," Nambiar said in a statement.
Reported by Thiha Tun of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.