A two-year effort to end Burma’s six-decade civil war has been scuppered by the Burmese government’s unwillingness to include all warring parties and by continuing fighting in the country’s north, according to a statement by delegates from 19 rebel armies involved in the peace process.
On Wednesday a three-day meeting in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai came to an end, with only seven of the 19 attending Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) registering their intent to sign on to the pre-drafted ceasefire accord. No further meetings to discuss the ceasefire have been scheduled, although the EAOs may hold another summit in October to discuss political and military issues in armed groups’ territories.
In a declaration printed late on Wednesday night, the delegation confirmed that all members would continue to seek peace and a new political landscape for Burma. However, the statement confirmed that this would not come in the shape of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), the draft of which was finalised in Naypyidaw in August.
“Due to the developing political and military situations, not all EAOs are able to sign the NCA as it is. However, the EAOs were able to establish mutual understanding on further cooperation between the EAOs on matters concerning the drafting of a political framework and military code of conduct, the formation of a joint monitoring committee and the implementation of political dialogue,” the statement reads.
The seven groups that will accede to the ceasefire are set to ink the deal with Min Aung Hlaing’s Tatmadaw midway through this month, although it is uncertain whether the groups will be invited to do so in the same session. Indications are that Naypyidaw will invite the groups to sign the document separately.
Burma’s oldest and largest rebel army, the Karen National Union (KNU) is among the seven that will sign on to the deal. The group’s general secretary, Saw Kwe Htoo Win, said:
“While all of the groups had agreed on the NCA text, the government expressed a wish to sign the deal only with some certain groups and leave out others. Some of the groups accepted by the government decided to go ahead and sign it hoping to negotiate and make effort for inclusiveness in the accord while some others decided to not sign it until everyone can join.
“Essentially every group has agreed to the NCA and that a political dialogue ahead can only be facilitated when every armed group is included in the ceasefire. However there is a division regarding views on inclusiveness and how to achieve it. But no matter how each of us decides, the cooperation between us will continue one way or another as we have an established a channel of communication.”
Fierce fighting continues
Earlier this year Naypyidaw blocked the Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Kokang rebels the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army from signing the NCA document. The three groups had been party to the bloodiest episode in Burma since the country’s reform process began in 2011. Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands were forced to flee when war broke out in the Kokang region of northern Shan State in February.
Fierce fighting has again erupted in Kachin and Shan states in the past weeks. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the TNLA say Burmese army troops sought out gun battles this month in Kachin State’s Mansi area and the Kyaukme and Kutkai areas of Shan State. Both rebel armies have refused to sign the NCA.
Reflecting on the violent tension, Wednesday’s statement by ethnic groups read:
“Ethnic Armed Organisation delegations also raised concerns about the government’s ongoing military offensives and the military tension faced by citizens and EAOs in Kachin State and Shan State. The EAOs were particularly concerned that such offensives and tension have become the main obstacle for the achievement of a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and the implementation of political dialogues.”
General Gun Maw, second-in-command of the KIA, explained why the Kachin force would not sign the ceasefire deal.
“We accepted all points of the ceasefire draft, except the point that ensured lack of inclusiveness, even though we weren’t fully satisfied with the text. That was because we believed that we could be strong in the subsequent political dialogue if we could all speak with one voice. But now there is a huge question regarding unity, now that only some of us are going to sign.”
NCCT tying up loose ends
The ethnic armed groups’ Senior Delegation, which formed on 31 March to discuss amendments to the draft ceasefire, was disbanded at the summit as it has delivered its mandate. The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) formed prior to the Special Delegation to draft the document alongside the government will continue. The NCCT has been issued the new task of negotiating with the Tatmadaw on a military code of conduct and the formation of a joint committee to monitor the ceasefire on behalf of the seven groups that plan on acceding to it.
The Chiang Mai meeting ended with leaders agreeing to continue the struggle to achieve a federal union in Burma by different approaches.
In the closing address to the summit, Nai Htaw Mon of the New Mon State Party said:
“While we have been able to maintain our unity in the conclusion of the summit, I see that we should consider ways to strengthen this unity and put it in a practical use. Without effort in all political and military aspects, the federal democratic union that we long for will never materialise. We have a lot to struggle for and I would like to urge everyone to make their best effort while focusing on maintaining our unity.”
The seven groups set to sign the NCA are: Karen National Union, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council also known as the Karen Peace Council, Arakan Liberation Party, Chin National Front, Pa-O National Liberation Organisation and All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front.
The other 12 groups that decided to not sign the NCA are: New Mon State Party, Shan State Progressive Party, Kachin Independence Organisation, Karenni National Progressive Party, Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Arakan National Council, Wa National Organisation and the Lahu Democratic Union.
Two major armed groups were not at this week’s meeting – the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K). Both groups had previously announced that they had no intention of signing the NCA.