Peace Efforts Persist, But a Nationwide Ceasefire Remains Elusive

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By WAI MOE Monday, January 30, 2012

In the month of January, the Burmese government successfully concluded some form of ceasefire agreement with the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) and the Karen National Union (KNU), but was unable to do so with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and New Mon State Party (NMSP).

On Tuesday and Wednesday, a delegation from the NMSP and the government’s peace building committee will meet for “peace talks” in Moulmein, the capital of Mon State and the headquarters of the Burmese army’s Southeast Regional Military Command, according to Nai Hang Tha, the general secretary of the Mon armed group.

“Nai Rot Sa, the vice chairman of the NMSP, is leading the Mon delegation to Moulmein, and the government delegation will be led by Railway Minister U Aung Min,” Nai Hang Tha told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

“Within the policy of the UNFC (the United Nationalities Federal Council, an alliance of ethnic groups), the Mon delegation will raise the issue of a ceasefire across the country,” said Nai Hang Tha.

“I do not think there will be any signing ceremony in Moulmein since the meeting is the beginning of the process,” he said.

Although the NMSP is small compared to other ethnic armed groups, it is politically significant and has maintained its policy of demanding a nationwide ceasefire. This position particularly supports the Kachin Independence Organization, which has been engaged in armed conflict with government forces since June 2011.

The SSA-North and its political wing, the Shan State Progressive Party, also held recent talks with the peace building committe, meeting with the team led by Aung Thaung and Thein Zaw in Thaunggyi, Shan State on Saturday.

At the meeting, the SSA-North officials raised the issue of a nationwide ceasefire as well, saying that the government should not enter into ceasefires with some groups and offend others.

After the meeting, however, the SSA-North reportedly signed an agreement with the government negotiators.

According to the state-run-newspaper The New Light of Myanmar, the government and the SSA-North signed a five-point ceasefire agreement on Monday.

The agreement reportedly allows the SSA-North to maintain a base in the Wanhai area of Shan State and to have temporary bases in other locations. It also provides for the opening of liaison offices in Thaungyi, Lashio and Kholan.

Despite the requests of their fellow ethnic armed groups for a nationwide ceasefire, fighting continues in Kachin State between government forces and the KIA.

“Government troops still attack our troops, particularly in the northern Shan State area,” said Awng Jet, a KIA officer in Laiza.

“There was a public assembly in Laiza, where Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) officials explained what is happening in talks with the government delegation,” he said.

A delegation from the KIO, which is the political wing of the KIA, met with the government peace delegation led by Aung Thaung in China’s border town of Ruili on Jan.18-19.

The meeting did not result in a ceasefire agreement, however, and the government troops even attacked KIA bases during the talks.

Aung Thaung told the KIO delegation that the peace process could take three years.

“But the talks between the KIO and the government will continue, probably in the second week of February,” said Awng Jet.

The other major ceasefire agreement signed by Naypyidaw in January was with Burma’s longest-operating insurgent group, the Karen National Union (KNU).

The ceasefire with the KNU was signed on Jan.12 in Hpa-an, the capital of Karen State, by a government delegation led by Aung Min.

During its talks with the government, the KNU delegation proposed an 11-point agreement that included issues such as the halting of human rights violations and forced labor.

As part of the ceasefire agreement that was signed, the government negotiator agreed to include the 11 points as part of future discussions.

After signing the ceasefire, both the government and the KNU will reposition their troops. The KNU held a central committee meeting on Jan.23-25 to discuss the repositioning of troops and the next round of talks with Naypyidaw.

“For building trust in the interest of a ceasefire, dialogue and discussion will be undertaken on the matter of reduction/pulling out and positioning of Burmese government troops in the KNU areas,” the KNU announced in a statement on the day following the central committee meeting.

David Takapaw, the vice chairman of the KNU, said the repositioning of troops would be difficult for the government army since more than 200 government outposts are in KNU areas, but he said he “hopes for the best.”

“The ceasefire agreement is a good step, but it is also a small step in the whole picture of the peace process in Burma,” said Takapaw.

“The KNU has met the regime five times. Like in previous talks, they also spoke about the development of Karen State, but there were no words about a federal union, which is very important for all ethnic minority groups.”

“They [the government officials] have often said that the root of ethnic problems is the lack of development. But this is the wrong concept of them. The conscious of ethnic struggles in Burma are more than that, we are also fighting for equal rights,” he said.