Last week government and ethnic peace negotiators put pen to paper on a single draft document that could lay the foundation for an historic nationwide ceasefire. Yet fighting continues in northeastern Burma.
Among the combatants is the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), represented at the recent talks by Vice Chief of Staff General Gun Maw.
DVB sat down with the general to ask just how close Burma is to ending six decades of civil war.
DVB: Fighting continues in some areas. Is it possible that all the ethnic armed groups could sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)? Could Kokang groups sign on?
GM: We have two requests ahead of the signing of the NCA. The first thing is that all the ethnic armed groups should be included in the signing of the NCA, and join in with the coming political dialogue. Another is that we do not only focus on the 16 members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT). There are other groups that are not in the NCCT. If we are going to move to a political dialogue, all groups should be united. This is one point. Another point is that the Kokang group is a member of the NCCT. So, we want all the 16 member groups of the NCCT to sign at the same time. We’ve told this to the government. Another thing is that we request not to solve the problem with the Kokang through arms but through dialogue. I believe that the government will consider these issues and find the way to solve the problem. If these problems are solved quickly, we can sign the NCA quickly. If they don’t recognise the Kokang and other NCCT members, we need to discuss back and forth and find a better solution.
DVB: Now, people are saying that after agreement on the draft, the NCA could be signed before the end of this year. What do you think about this?
GM: There is a strong foundation to the draft NCA. There are points to establish the ceasefire, points to strengthen the ceasefire, points to support the political dialogue and, finally, a point to hold a union conference with the purpose of amending the constitution. So, the foundation is solid, even though not everyone was immediately satisfied. It is important to recognise how much we successfully negotiated.
DVB: Has the KIO pledged to reduce the current fighting?
GM: Yes. [On 29 March] The NCCT made an announcement, instructing groups to reduce or avoid fighting, and to stop any future fighting. What is important is for both sides to work together on this. The KIO had signed an agreement with the government to reduce the fighting during 2013-14. But there has still been fighting up to the present day. We need to keep up the discussions.
DVB: What will happen if the fighting continues? How would that affect the NCA?
GM: The signing on [29 March] was to recognise the draft text. It was not to adhere to it. The signatures were the recognition of the single text as agreed by the NCCT and the [government’s] Union Peace Working Committee. This was not a binding agreement. But it will be the basis for working towards an NCA. The signing of a draft single text was not going to see an immediate stop to conflict. But it will build trust and hasten the process of signing a ceasefire. Of course, we should work to reduce the fighting and both sides should show respect to one another.
DVB: How will you report back to the ethnic armed groups? When do you think an NCA could be signed?
GM: We will report back to the central committee of each group with the NCA draft. Then we will have a discussion among NCCT leaders. We will discuss with the government any remaining issues. After that, it will reach the stage of signing the agreement. It is difficult to say exactly when; the process of negotiation between the two sides is very important.
DVB:Is there anything else you might like to add?
GM: Yes, what I would like to add is that the signing of the agreement between NCCT and UPWC was recognition that we have the draft of the NCA. It is a hope. But it is not yet a total success. We need to try to ratify this draft agreement. There are many processes to implement nationwide after signing a binding agreement. We will provide information to the public very soon. And we will try to be all-inclusive.