Myanmar Military Wants All Ethnic Rebels Groups in Cease-Fire Agreement

Myanmar government officials (R) and representatives of the Karen National Union (L) shake hands after peace talks at a hotel in Yangon, April 6, 2012.

Myanmar’s military chief wants all armed ethnic groups to strive hard to join a proposed nationwide cease-fire agreement, saying unity was critical for development and democracy, according to the leader of a Karen political organization.

During a meeting Wednesday with leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU), the armed forces commander in chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said that “he doesn’t want any group missing from signing the nationwide cease-fire agreement,” KNU leader Mahn Nyein Maung told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

The KNU and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), also met Myanmar President Thein Sein, who Mahn Nyein Maung said told the groups that he “wants to implement the cease-fire agreement as soon as possible.”

The military is willing to collaborate with all ethnic rebel armies to achieve the “unity, stability and development that are so important to creating a democratic country,” Mahn Nyein Maung quoted the military chief as saying.

Seventeen ethnic armed groups are currently involved in peace talks with the government which have dragged on for months following various demands pushed by some of the groups, including their role in a federal army.

The talks had also been bogged down by clashes between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the military in recent months.

Wednesday’s meeting marked the sixth time the KNU has discussed the cease-fire with Min Aung Hlaing since 2013, though the two sides had not held talks since March 7. The group said its regular meeting with the general had been delayed while it took part in talks over a draft of the cease-fire agreement with other ethnic rebels last month.

Mahn Nyein Maung said that the KNU had “the same perspective on the peace process” as President Thein Sein “to continue working until we achieve peace.”

“The KNU urged the president to promise that we would try to sign the agreement before the [late] 2015 [general] election so that it is done within his term of office and we don’t slide backwards in our efforts for peace,” he said.

“If we can be assured [by the government] that we will hold a dialogue to solve political differences, we can get a guarantee [from the rebels] to work towards a cease-fire.”

Last month, Myanmar government peace negotiators and representatives from a coalition of armed ethnic rebel groups completed the second draft of a cease-fire agreement based on an initial draft the two sides approved during the first round of talks in Yangon in early April.

Both sides have pledged to work towards a final agreement in the hopes of staging a formal signing as soon as possible and progressing to political dialogue the ethnic groups say is necessary to ensure them greater representation in Myanmar’s parliament.

Mahn Nyein Maung said that Wednesday’s meetings had helped the two sides “build a closer relationship and more trust,” and that the president made clear that he “wants to hand over a stable and peaceful country to the next generation.”

Charter amendments

The KNU leader also expressed hope that ethnic concerns over Myanmar’s 2008 junta-drafted constitution could be addressed if all of the country’s political interests were represented in an all-inclusive dialogue that would consider how to amend the charter.

Thein Sein said during his monthly radio address on Monday that constitutional reform should be initiated once the government has signed a nationwide ceasefire agreement with all 17 ethnic armed groups currently involved in the peace process, according to a report by the Democratic Voice of Burma.

Ethnic groups have sought a federal system since Myanmar won its independence after World War II, but the former military government, which handed over power to Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration in 2011, had seen local autonomy as tantamount to separatism.

Decentralizing power from areas of Myanmar that are home to some of the country’s largest minorities would likely require amending the constitution, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and rights groups have criticized as “undemocratic.”

A parliamentary committee is currently reviewing proposals to amend the charter, which include reducing the military’s role in politics and removing a restriction that bars Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president in elections slated for next year because her sons are foreign nationals.

While some ethnic groups have backed a campaign by the NLD and the 88 Generation students group to push for amending the constitution, the topic has not been included in ceasefire negotiations.

The KNU and the government have been on good terms since signing a ceasefire agreement in Jan 2012.

Hla Maung Shwe, a negotiator from the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), called the KNU “the most hardworking and most advanced group on peacemaking,” adding that he was “very pleased” by Wednesday’s meetings.

Peace agreement

Meanwhile, a group of smaller political and ethnic parties on Wednesday met with officials from the MPC at their headquarters in Yangon to urge the government team to “move forward with the cease-fire agreement” based on talks with the 17 ethnic groups involved in the peace process.

Representatives from the 11-member Federal Democratic Alliance (FDA) group of parties, the National Unity Party (NUP) and the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS) asked the MPC to move ahead with the agreement without ethnic groups that are not currently negotiating with the government.

“Seventeen groups have signed now, but there will be more groups [that will participate] and there will be others that are not going to sign,” said Myo Nyunt from the Democracy and Peace Party, one of the 11 parties represented by the FDA.
“We told them to press ahead with the cease-fire without a few groups.”

Myo Nyunt said that the MPC expressed willingness to “go ahead [with the cease-fire agreement] if most groups agree” and would leave the door open for others that have not yet come on board.

Reported by Khin Khin Ei and Kyaw Htun Naing for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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