Landmark talks between the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and government peace negotiators ended this afternoon with the promise to engage in a political dialogue after 60 years of civil war in Burma.
“This is the beginning,” said Aung Min during a brief press conference following the talks at Chiang Mai’s Holiday Inn in northern Thailand. “Only when there is a beginning, there will be an end.”
According to a statement released after the meeting, the day’s discussion focused on establishing an agenda for future political dialogue with the ethnic council.
“The armed conflict in our country has been raging on for over 60 years. Ethnic nationalities have constantly been calling for a political dialogue – saying the problems are based on politics,” said Aung Min.
“They see that a political dialogue must be facilitated in order to solve these problems. But we didn’t manage to make it happen under the previous governments.”
During the talks, the two sides also discussed a timeline and venue for future political dialogue, although no concrete details were established of when or where the talks would be held. Representatives from Burma’s armed forces were also absent from the meeting.
At the press conference, the UNFC and government representatives said they would likely meet again in two months to follow up on the points agreed today.
“I see a bright future for our country today when our representatives and the government’s – two arch-enemies in the civil war – come together in a meeting,” said UNFC Secretary and New Mon State Party General Secretary Nai Hongsa.
“Our country has suffered under civil conflict for 65 years now and it will never end unless a political solution is sought. Metaphorically, we can now say we can see the dawn’s light.”
In January, the UNFC announced that the group would act as the sole negotiating body with the government concerning comprehensive ceasefires and peace talks with member organisations.
The country’s quasi-civilian regime, led by President Thein Sein, has signed tentative ceasefire deals with ten out of eleven major armed groups fighting for greater ethnic rights and autonomy in Burma.
But the army is still locked in a bloody battle with the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) in northern Burma, where they recently stepped up a massive offensive using heavy artillery and air strikes against their rebel stronghold in Laiza.
The UNFC delegation included KIO General Secretary Dr La Ja along with leaders from the 11 ethnic armed groups that make up the council including the Karen National Union, New Mon State Party, Kachin Independence Organisation, Karenni National Progressive Party and the Chin National Front.