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Representatives of ethnic armed groups and government officials met for an informal discussion on Thursday to discuss how best to approach the outcome of a future nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).
The ethnic bloc’s Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) on Thursday agreed on the need for the formation of two committees to facilitate political dialogue.
The meeting in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai was attended by President’s Office Minister Aung Min, Gen. Thet Naing Oo, Khin Maung Soe and Than Htay representing the UPWC. NCCT representatives included Nai Hongsa, Hkun Okker and Saw Kwe Htoo Win. Officials of the Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC), who brokered the talks between the two groups that resulted in the 31 March signing of a draft NCA text, were also in attendance.
Aung Min told reporters outside the meeting that: “The [draft] NCA provides that after signing the nationwide agreement, two committees are to be formed, namely the Joint Monitoring Committee and the Political Dialogue Committee. The latter will be tasked with drafting a political framework.”
“The committee is yet to be formed but political parties in the country are greatly anticipating the dialogue and are already discussing their own framework, so we understand that we should also begin working on it. Likewise, the NCCT has expressed that they would like to start discussion on the framework in the upcoming talks at [Karen National Union headquarters] Law Khee La.”
The NCCT’s Hkun Okker said the armed groups suggested that informal discussions on the framework should begin ahead of the signing of the NCA.
“According to the [draft] NCA, a political framework should be drafted within 60 days of its signing. We suggested that we should begin pre-emptive informal discussions on it between our technical teams, as the time permitted may not be sufficient,” he said.
Aung Min said that three armed groups – the Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army – will not be included in the nationwide ceasefire as these groups have yet to initiate ceasefire talks with the government. He added that the TNLA will have to reach a preliminary ceasefire agreement first, as with other 15 member groups in the NCCT, in order to participate in any NCA.
Hkun Okker told reporters that despite the draft NCA signing, the text of the agreement may still be subject to changes by ethnic armed groups’ leaders at the Law Khee La NCCT summit, scheduled for 2 to 6 June.
“We want the NCA to be all-inclusive, but the government believes that certain groups must be left behind. If that is the case, we would like the government to guarantee a solution to have them on board in the future, and pledge not to crush them after signing the agreement with the rest,” he said.
A number of practicalities around a possible ceasefire signing still need to be agreed on.
“We opined that, if the NCA is signed, we would like to have as many witnesses as possible, but the government said that just a few should be enough. We are still negotiating on this and are yet to reach a compromise,” Hkun Okker said.
“Also, we are yet to agree on who from the government will sign the NCA – whether it would be the president or the military’s commander-in-chief. As for the armed groups, our group leaders and military commanders are the ones who will sign the agreement,” he added.
The ethnic armed groups’ summit at Law Khee La next month will see the NCCT submit the NCA draft text to delegates for their approval.
On Friday in Chiang Mai, the UPWC also met with representatives of the Shan State Army-South, a non-NCCT member group. The two sides last met in February with the aim of establishing a memorandum-of-understanding on the road to signing a ceasefire.