Ethnic stakeholders convened in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Tuesday to discuss the third and perhaps final draft of a nationwide ceasefire agreement, which is expected to be reached in September.
The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), a 16-member group of ethnic peace negotiators, began their three-day congress shortly after a heated meeting of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of ethnic armed groups, shook up the peace process last week.
Col. Hkun Okker, an NCCT spokesperson, told DVB that despite setbacks, negotiators are well on the way towards reaching an agreement.
“This is the last draft of the agreement that needs to be approved. We just need to polish it,” he said. “We worked out the problems during the Laiza ethnic summit and our meeting in Rangoon. We will polish the agreement based upon the points of contention raised in those meetings.”
NCCT leaders met in late July at the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) in Laiza, near Burma’s border with China. After reaching some agreement on the second draft, the NCCT met with the government’s negotiating team, the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) in Rangoon in August.
Some NCCT members said the August meetings were positive and that the two sides had “managed to reach agreement on terms that we could not agree on previously”, notably the government’s announcement that they would be open to implementing federalism.
Burma’s peace process has had ups and downs over the past three years as negotiators try to end decades of civil war between the central government and the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups.
A meeting of the UNFC in Chiang Mai on 31 August ended with one of the biggest ethnic armed organisations, the Karen National Union, walking out and suspending their membership of the alliance.
While government-backed facilitators have expressed optimism that a nationwide ceasefire agreement will be reached in September, some ethnic stakeholders still have hold-ups.
The nationwide accord, once signed by negotiators, will be submitted to parliament and signed into law. Those armed groups unwilling to sign the agreement will be given the option to ratify at any later date as they see fit.