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Several civic groups affiliated with ethnic groups in eastern Burma have said that the peace talks held earlier this week in Myitkyina between a Burmese government delegation and a loose coalition of armed ethnic groups produced positive signs and bode well for future rounds of negotiations.
“I see several positive signs from the meeting and we are surely delighted to see peace efforts starting to take shape,” said Mya Aye of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society. “We [88 Generation] view the main issue as the constitution, which must be amended in order to provide equal ethnic rights.”
Khon Ja, a representative of the Kachin Peace Network, said her group did not expect much from the peace talks, which involved delegations from 16 ethnic groups. “However, we are delighted to see unity among the ethnic armed groups, and their decision to work together in a collective effort is more prevailing than working individually,” she said.
Under the umbrella alliance of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) – which involves most of the major ethnic rebel forces in the country, including the Arakan Liberation Party, the Chin National Front, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, the Kachin Independence Organisation, the Karen National Union, the Karenni National Progressive Party, the New Mon State Party and the coalition United Nationalities Federal Council – the ethnic delegates came to an agreement with the government team that steps should proceed towards establishing: a nationwide ceasefire; a framework for political dialogue; and the facilitation of political dialogue.
Speaking to DVB on Tuesday after the conclusion of the two-day talks, the secretary of the Association of Shan Literature Scholars, Sai Hseng Pe, said, “I think peace is not too far away if all groups abide by the decisions agreed by the key actors at the meeting.
“I am now almost 60 years old – the civil war has been raging for over 50 years,” he said. “Now I just want to have peace in my country.”
Eugene, the special advisor to the Karenni Literature and Culture Committee, echoed his Shan counterpart’s sentiment. “I believe that our country can only become developed when there is peace,” he said. “Based on what I saw on the news, I am quite satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. I believe the peace efforts will prevail.”
The UN’s special adviser on Burma, Vijay Nambiar, who was an observer at the talks, released a statement on 5 November saying he “was encouraged by the constructive spirit that characterised the deliberations and by the fact that so many groups have been able to come together on a common platform for their dialogue with the government.”
He added that the commitment shown by all parties to bring peace to the country “was particularly commendable”.
Speaking to DVB reporter Aye Nai on Tuesday after the meeting in Myitkyina, Lt-Gen Myint Zaw, one of the leading delegates representing the government, emphasised that the Burmese army had made concessions in a bid to help the peace process move forward.
However, not every reporter in Myitkyina viewed the negotiations in such a positive glow. The Irrawaddy reporter Saw Yan Naing noted that no press conference had been held at the end of the second day, and said that “obstacles” lay ahead.
In his report, he wrote that the ethnic leaders proposed that an army be formed based on a federalist system, combining all Burma’s ethnic groups. Quoting sources at the meeting, Saw Yan Naing said that the government delegation disagreed with such a proposal and would continue to back a “one nation, one national armed forces” policy.
The Irrawaddy report quoted a Shan army spokesman for the Restoration Council of Shan State saying that any plan for a nationwide ceasefire agreement would take some time while ethnic leaders considered the government’s draft proposal.
Both sides have agreed to sit down for another round of talks in Karen state capital Hpa-an in December.