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In his monthly radio address to the nation on Tuesday, Burma’s President Thein Sein said a firm political agreement had been reached with ethnic armed groups to establish a federal union in the country.
“As for the peace-building effort, although there have been skirmishes between troops, fundamental agreements with regard to the peace process have been achieved,” he said. “All ethnic armed groups have agreed to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord [NCA] and the Union Peace-making Work Committee [UPWC] is continuing negotiations.
“A firm political agreement on forming a federal union, which is vital to the peace process, has been reached,” the president continued. “Furthermore, an agreement has also been reached to discuss all other issues – except for secession and anything that might harm the sovereignty of the nation.”
The speech was broadcast across the country on state radio on the morning of 2 December.
The government’s UPWC and ethnic armed groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) have to date negotiated as far as the third draft of what would be a single-text NCA. However, talks foundered in September when the UPWC suggested revising certain agreements that are already ticked off.
The NCCT are UPWC are meeting on Tuesday in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where negotiations will continue.
Responding to the president’s remarks about a federal union, NCCT spokesperson Hkun Okker said, “If the president’s comments can be taken word for word, then we welcome them. However, the wording [in the NCA draft] is a little different from what he apparently said. Therefore we hope the NCA is updated to match the president’s announcement.”
Asked to elaborate, Hkun Okker said, “The NCA includes a clause that all sides agree ‘to form a union with a federal system’ in accordance with the results of political dialogue. It does not specify a ‘federal union’, but rather ‘to form a union with a federal system’. And it is only a contingency clause.”
In an interview with DVB this weekend, the Kachin Independence Army’s (KIA’s) Vice-chief of staff Gen Gun Maw accused the government delegation of backtracking on agreed points and of “not telling the truth” or twisting the truth in its dealings during the peace process.
Some days earlier, NCCT Vice-chairman Nai Hongsa said it would now be “completely impossible” to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement by the end of this year following the Burmese army’s deadly assault on a boot camp near Laiza, headquarters of the KIA, which killed 23 cadets.
He said the fatal shelling has effectively brought negotiations to a standstill.
DVB reported in August that Burma’s central government had agreed to the principle of establishing a federal union in the country, citing Hla Maung Shwe of the Myanmar Peace Center, among others, after negotiations in Rangoon.