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Potential Exists for Dialogue Towards Nationwide Ceasefire but Concrete Action Needed

By Burma Partnership  •  September 5, 2011

On 31 August Burma’s parliament approved the creation of a peace committee aimed at ending the conflict that has been going on for decades in Burma’s ethnic states. The committee has been named the “Committee for Eternal Stability and Peace in the Union of Burma” and will have a mission to mediate between the regime and ethnic armed groups currently engaged in conflict with the regime.  The committee members have not yet been identified but Dr. Aye Maung, chairman of Rakhine Nationalities Development Party and a member of parliament, suggested that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should serve on the committee. However, at this point “it was not clear whether Suu Kyi will be allowed to participate in the committee or even whether Suu Kyi herself wanted to join or not.”

Ethnic leaders welcomed the establishment of the committee and also requested the inclusion of Daw Suu in the committee, but remained cautious about its potential to end the conflicts and ensure equal rights to ethnic nationalities. Naw Zipporah Sein, the General-Secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU) said, “If the government honestly forms a peace committee to hold talks with us, it would be a good sign. But we have to wait and see the condition and rule of the committee.” La Nan, the Secretary of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) which is currently engaged in heavy fighting with the Burma Army, has stated that any negotiations which use the 2008 constitution as a starting point cannot be expected to lead to peace. Several ethnic leaders also requested the inclusion of Daw Suu in the committee.

In late August the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of the ethnic armed groups, formed a negotiating committee to participate in peace talks with the regime. UNFC secretary Nai Hang Tha has insisted that “[t]he government should not divide groups to have peace talks individually because our country’s problems are not down to only one group. They need to talk with the UNFC as we represent all the ethnic groups.” Thus, for the efforts of the peace committee to be successful the committee must engage with the UNFC towards reaching a nationwide ceasefire rather than continue the regime’s practice of piecemeal talks with individual ethnic groups.

The creation of a peace committee by the parliament could be a positive step towards reaching a resolution to the decades long armed conflicts in Eastern Burma.  However, the establishment of this committee is far from sufficient to end the human rights abuses perpetrated against civilians. Even as the parliament discussed the issue, the Burma Army continued its assault on Kachin state with the number of individuals displaced as a result of this conflict now reaching 40,000. It is time for the regime to engage in genuine dialogue and establish the national reconciliation that Burma so desperately needs.

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