Ethnic armed groups discuss ‘stabilising’ peace negotiations
A FIVE-DAY meeting involving members of signatories and non-signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) kicked off yesterday in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
On September 25, a United Nationalities Federal Council delegation met with government negotiators in Chiang Mai to discuss preconditions for future steps in Myanmar’s peace process. The UNFC, whose members are now meeting with ceasefire signatories this week in Thailand, is an alliance of seven ethnic armed groups that have not yet signed the NCA.
Strengthening the NCA and “stabilising” political negotiations are the main concerns of the Delegation for Political Negotiation, a bargaining body of the UNFC, according to government peace team aide U Min Zaw Oo.
He said the ethnic armed organisations and the government shared a vision for the future of the country’s peace process, and that differences were largely on matters of approach.
Prior to the 21st-century Panglong Conference’s conclusion earlier this month, the UNFC demanded that the government consider an eight-point proposal the coalition had put forward, which it said would accelerate its decision to more fully commit to the National League for Democracyled peace process.
“Strengthening the ceasefire agreement and stably holding the political dialogue are the main purposes of their demands. The government too has the same perspective,” U Min Zaw Oo said.
Leaders of the UNFC previously told The Myanmar Times that they would first like to negotiate the eight-point proposal before taking the important step of signing the NCA. UNFC leaders, however, have said meeting the proposal’s demands was not a “must do” to secure their signatures.
Among other proposal terms, the ethnic bloc is seeking a bilateral declaration of a genuine nationwide ceasefire by the government and ethnic armed groups; a commitment to including all ethnic armed organisations in the peace processes; and the inclusion of international observers in the NCA’s joint-monitoring mechanism.
Asked how many of the UNFC’s proposals the government would likely agree to, U Min Zaw Oo did not offer specifics.
“We have the same goal in the peace process, which is more important than whether or not we agree on the proposals,” he said.
The government invited the UNFC to participate in a meeting to review the political dialogue framework in mid-September, but the council opted not to join, with its leaders saying they were busy with other commitments.
Members of the UNFC were not available for comment yesterday.
Though most NCA non-signatories were allowed to attend the Panglong Conference, their full participation in the political dialogue to come will require that they sign the NCA.
The government has actively courted UNFC members and some groups outside the alliance that have also withheld their signatures, such as the powerful United Wa State Army, but firm commitments to join the accord have proven elusive.
Faith in the NLD’s stated pledge to an inclusive approach to the peace process was dealt a blow when three groups that had acted in concert during fighting last year in northern Shan State – the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army – were shut out of the Panglong Conference.
The conference was largely a symbolic affair, with few matters of contention or substance up for discussion. The government has said it wants to hold a similar event in less than six months’ time, with a series of “national-level dialogues” in the interim.