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Ethnic military leaders urged to sign ceasefire accord

Originally appeared in Myanmar Times

June 3, 2015

By Wa Lone

Leaders of armed ethnic groups meeting yesterday to debate the closing stages of the national ceasefire process were urged to lay down their arms and take up political negotiations.
Karen National Union chair Saw Mutu Say Poe called on the leaders to approve the draft ceasefire agreement text provisionally approved in March between government and ethnic negotiators. China and a UN envoy also pressed them to move quickly and sign.

The leaders are meeting, under international scrutiny, at the KNU stronghold of Law Khee Lar, Kayin State, in what could be among the final rounds of the 18-month-long peace process. If it is successful, it could bring to a close some of the world’s longest-running conflicts.

“We have been trying to resolve our differences through fighting for more than 60 years. After we have signed the ceasefire agreement, we can continue to fight at the negotiating table,” he said.

Saw Mutu Say Poe stressed the strong points of the draft agreement, including the re-deployment of forces so as to avoid fresh outbreaks of fighting and anxiety for the public, and the need to proceed to draw up a framework for political talks.

Over the next four days, ethnic leaders will review the draft agreement and the guidelines proposed for the framework.

In his opening remarks, the KNU leader said, “I believe this conference is important for our ethnic armed groups and for the future political landscape of our country.”

In addition to the armed groups themselves, international observers present include the UN special envoy on Myanmar, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Nippon Foundation and several representatives of civil society.

Vijay Nambiar, the UN special representative, told participants they had a limited time to act. “Myanmar’s peace is in your hands,” he said, calling on them to put their trust in the process.

China’s Asian affairs expert Sun Guoxiang said the armed groups should move on from the signing of the provisional agreement by taking further steps. “There is a Chinese saying: Grasp opportunity when it appears, because it will not appear again,” he said.

One obstacle to signing may lie in the absence from Law Khee Lar of the leaders of the three armed groups still fighting the government: the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA). All are engaged in the clashes that have rocked the Kokang region since February, and have threatened to leave the armed groups’ umbrella organisation, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), if they are not invited to sign the draft. The government has proposed a two-speed peace process which would involve signing the current draft first, and negotiating with those three parties later.

Ko Aye Tun, liaison officer for the Arakan Army, said, “We’d like to be united in signing the NCA. I can’t accept that any group should be excluded, not just our own.” However, the risk that the signing could be delayed by opposition from the three fighting groups appears to have receded over the past few weeks.


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