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Burma’s peace process appears to be inching closer towards the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement after both sides – the government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) and the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) – emerged with positive messages from three days of peace talks.
The Rangoon meeting from Friday to Sunday was the fifth official round of negotiations between the Burmese government and the ethnic alliance, which represents 16 armed ethnic groups, and follows on from an NCCT conference held in Laiza, headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), in July. Both sides of the now six-decade divide have reported that the weekend’s meetings yielded breakthrough agreements.
Ethnic hopes of a federal union were buoyed when the government agreed to the idea in principle. However it remains unclear as to the government’s vision of a federally partitioned Burma, or whether it will consider elements of the historic 1947 Panglong Agreement.
The NCCT’s Kwe Htoo Win said the NCCT and the government are finding common ground. “Through negotiation, we managed to reach agreement on terms that we could not agree on previously,” he said. “The one remaining stumbling block is the issue of forced recruitment, but we can say we agreed on the other issues.”
The NCCT and the government have acceded to each other’s needs on refugee resettlement, the positioning of armed troops, and the possibility of a joint peacekeeping force.
Ethnic armed groups have long refused to turn in their arms, whether a ceasefire has remained or not. Groups such as the KIO and the Shan State Army-North cite government backflips on peace deals signed under previous military regimes. Salai Lian H Sakhong, a Chin representative on the NCCT, said that the ethnic groups have now struck a tentative balance on the vexed issue, which has constantly hampered the opportunity for peace.
“We have reached an agreement in principle on points related to the positioning of troops,” he said. “However, there are various technicalities in different areas.”
We are looking to form working groups to formalise the agreements, he added.
Monday marks exactly three years since the Thein Sein government extended an olive branch to the ethnic resistance, calling for a sustained peace effort based on multilateral negotiations. Monday also saw Burma’s political parties join the discussion.
The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, were present at the Myanmar Peace Centre, to be briefed on the discussions and arrangements made over the weekend.
While the peace process is undoubtedly moving forward, peace still hinge on the success of political dialogue, which is scheduled to begin after the signing of a nationwide ceasefire. The government, through the UPWC, has assured ethnic groups that the political dialogue they demand will be initiated within 90 days of a ceasefire being signed.
Sources close to the process claim that the document could be finalised after the next round of ceasefire deliberations, scheduled for September. That means political talks could begin as early as January 2015.