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The Burmese government’s Union Peace-Making Work Committee (UPWC) on Thursday declined a proposal to sign an agreement on forming a federal union at a meeting with ethnic representatives in Chiang Mai.
The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) – a coalition of armed ethnic groups – had previously proposed that a preliminary agreement on the formation of a federal union should be signed by the government on the 68th Burma Union Day, which falls on 12 February.
In December, in his monthly radio address to the nation, President Thein Sein said that a firm political agreement had been reached with ethnic armed groups to establish a federal union in the country.
But the government’s chief negotiator, Union Minister Aung Min, told reporters that that the signing of such an agreement is unlikely, following Thursday’s meeting in northern Thailand with ethnic delegates appointed to the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT).
“Just think about it – the UNFC is made up of 16 different organisations. They haven’t even established mutual ground between themselves,” said the minister.
“The UPWC has only three member groups, so it is easy for us to negotiate. But when there are so many different [ethnic] groups, there can often be a lot of difficulty in finding agreement,” he added.
At this week’s meeting, the UPWC and NCCT did establish that talks on a nationwide ceasefire would be resumed in mid-February.
“No date has yet been specified, but we have agreed to meet with the NCCT in Rangoon within a week of Union Day to continue ceasefire talks,” said Aung Min, adding that all 16 armed groups are invited.
The previous round of nationwide ceasefire talks took place in September of last year.
The two groups at the meeting also exchanged proposed frameworks for the ceasefire process that they had each drafted. The contents have not yet been disclosed.
Representing the UPWC, union ministers Khin Maung Soe and Khin Yi attended the meeting, as well as officials from the Myanmar Peace Centre. The NCCT delegates included Nai Hongsa, Saw Kwe Htoo Win, Saw Lon Lon, Tun Zaw and Maj. Solomon.
The past year has seen a host of meetings and stalled progress on the issue of a ceasefire and nation-building, with groups in disagreement about whether a ceasefire or a federal union agreement should be signed first.
Sources close to the talks have said the main unresolved issue concerns a roadmap for political dialogue, which would be the immediate next step in the peace process after reaching a ceasefire.