(From Radio Free Asia)
Talks held between Myanmar’s President Thein Sein and leaders of the country’s armed ethnic groups Wednesday ended with a tentative agreement to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) next month, according to sources and state media.
Hla Maung Shwe, senior advisor of the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), told reporters after the meeting in the capital Naypyidaw that the government had agreed to rebel demands for an “all-inclusive” NCA, but wants to proceed in stages.
“The government wants to sign an NCA with 15 groups [that it already has bilateral peace agreements with],” he said.
“The government will also invite groups that don’t sign the NCA for framework meetings and political dialogue. The government will not take action against these groups [under the Unlawful Associations Act] when they attend framework meetings and political dialogues.”
Ethnic leaders have demanded that at least six other rebel groups—some of which are currently fighting government troops—be invited to sign the NCA, but the government has only agreed to include the Lahu Democratic Union, Arakan National Council and Wa National Organisation in political dialogue.
Separate talks are expected to be held with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), while the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—which has fought the military alongside the MNDAA since February in Shan State’s Kokang self-administered zone—is reportedly likely to sign the NCA if it inks a bilateral peace deal with the government, according to Hla Maung Shwe.
The president also expressed hope for a merging of the country’s three Arakan groups—the Arakan National Council (ANC), Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) and the Arakan Army (AA), which also supported the MNDAA in Kokang—in the interest of signing a single agreement with the government, he said.
Date of signing
Hla Maung Shwe said that a date for signing the NCA with the 15 groups will be set at a meeting to be held shortly between Union Minister Aung Min and a Senior Delegation (SD) from the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT)—an alliance of armed ethnic groups.
Phado Kwe Htoo Win, a member of the SD, said that while Thein Sein had proposed that the pact be signed by the end of the month, ethnic representatives requested additional time to explain the process to their respective group members.
General elections in Myanmar are set for Nov. 8, and the president has made the NCA a key part of the campaign platform for his ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
“The government wants to sign the NCA on Sept. 29, but each group needs more time to discuss it with their other members,” he said.
“So we requested to sign it in the second week of October. It could be anytime between Sept. 29 and Oct. 15. The government will send invitation letters to 15 groups to sign the NCA, but each group has to first decide if it will sign or not.”
Naw May Oo, another SD member, said the government is aware that not every armed ethnic group is ready to sign the NCA and is willing to proceed on a case-by-case basis to ensure the pact benefits both sides.
“All ethnic leaders have asked for an all-inclusive NCA, as we all want a firm agreement with every group’s signature,” he said.
“The president said the government accepts an all inclusive agreement as a policy, but all groups have to work on it step-by-step … As there are different conditions and situations, we can’t say how or when the groups which are not ready will sign the NCA , but we all are working to include them.”
Political dialogue after the initial signing will first include security issues, according to Naw May Oo, but disarming will be a gradual process.
“We believe that both sides will abolish all weapons one day, but not immediately,” he said.
While talks took place on Wednesday, fighting continued in northern Shan state between government troops and the TNLA, as well as the Restoration Council of the Shan State and Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA)—the dominant armed ethnic group in southern Shan state.
According to Mine Ike Kyaw of the TNLA, his group had battled government troops for the last three days nearKutkai and Kyuakme townships, with injuries suffered on both sides.
Sai Main, RCSS spokesman, told RFA that clashes between his group and the military on Sept. 7-8 in Kyuakme township had reportedly killed seven government troops, including a major, and injured three. No one was killed or injured from the RCSS/SSA, he said.
“There should be no attacks while the government and ethnic leaders are holding peace talks,” he added.
Reported by Win Naung Toe, Thinn Thiri, Kyaw Myo Min, Kan Tha, Nay Rein Kyaw and Aung Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
Copyright Radio Free Asia