As the ink dries on Thursday’s ceasefire deal between Naypyidaw and eight armed rebel groups, domestic and international commentators have weighed in on the significance of the pact.
While foreign observers sent congratulatory statements, commending steps taken toward ending the world’s longest running civil war, leaders from ethnic groups that did not accede to the accord expressed skepticism that the ceremony would be little more than symbolic.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon welcomed the move in a statement issued by his spokesman on Myanmar, commending the acknowledgement by the government and rebel groups that the people of Burma long to end the “long years of conflict and live together in peace”. Ban’s advisor on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, signed the document on Thursday after attending many of the 300-plus meetings held by the Burmese government and ethnic rebels over the past two years.
“The United Nations recognises that the consolidation of a nationwide ceasefire and the commencement of a comprehensive political dialogue will open the way to a new path of sustainable peace after decades of civil war that have cost numerous lives, uprooted hundreds of thousands from their homes and robbed successive generations of their dignity, tranquility and normalcy, not least by preventing their access to proper levels of health care, education and livelihoods.
“The public commitment made by the Government to work for a federal union based on democracy and equality is a milestone. The negotiation process that resulted in this agreement has built greater confidence among all stakeholders. It needs to be followed up and made more inclusive during the coming months.”
In the same statement, the UN recognised that the nationwide deal is not yet truly ‘nationwide’, and urged for further work toward inclusiveness.
“The Secretary-General urges all stakeholders, signatories and non-signatories, to work together for a peaceful future in a constructive and forward-looking spirit. This will require cooperation, determination and a commitment to reinforce trust and overcome the grievances of the past. He underscores that only an inclusive and structured political dialogue as well as non-recourse to military action in all areas will help build the basis for sustainable peace on the ground.”
United States State Department spokesperson John Kirby echoed the UN sentiments, praising the signing but called for further engagement with excluded armed groups.
“The United States commends all sides for their ongoing efforts to bring an end to the longest-running civil conflict in the world. The signing of the text of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) by the government and eight ethnic armed groups is a critical first step in a long process of building a sustainable and just peace in Burma. We recognize that some groups were not able to sign today, and we understand and respect their concerns.”
The US further implored all signatories and non-signatories to honour the spirit of the accord by ending ongoing fighting.
“Dialogue among all parties will be essential to ensuring continued progress toward national trust-building and lasting peace. We urge all parties to continue to engage with each other and civil society representatives in the spirit of unity and compromise, particularly in the process to finalize a political dialogue framework and the conduct of the political dialogue itself.
“We expect all groups that continue to pursue peace through dialogue to be allowed to do so without exception or threat of penalty. We remain concerned by reports of continued military offensives in Kachin and Shan states and the lack of humanitarian access to many of the more than 100,000 internally displaced persons in those areas. We strongly urge all parties to honor their commitment to ensure unfettered access for humanitarian assistance to all those in need, without exception or delay.”
Despite largely positive international reviews of the 15 October signing, rebel leaders left out of the deal had differing evaluations.
Maj. Sai La, a representative of the Shan State Progressive Party, and its armed wing, Shan State Army-North, told DVB that while the ceasefire was signed in Naypyidaw, gunfire continued in several townships, including Monghsu and Tangyang in Shan State.
“On [Thursday] morning, 12 trucks carrying heavy weapons were sent to Tasumpu from the village of Kali. What is being said in Naypyidaw and what’s really happening on the ground do not reflect each other, we would like to say the ceasefire that is being signed is not genuine,” Sai La said.
New Mon State Party representative and deputy chair of the United Nationalities Federal Council, Nai Hongsa, pointed to the ongoing conflicts with the Kachin, Shan and Palaung.
“Essentially, I don’t think a ‘nationwide ceasefire’ signed with a handful of groups can have real meaning … what we have here is more like a regional ceasefire agreement and we don’t believe it will effectively cease all hostilities in the country.
“However, it is hard to say for now how this will affect other groups but in the meantime, the Burmese army in the past week has stepped up offenses against Kachin, Shan and Palaung groups and this led us to thinking whether [the NCA] actually meant to serve their divide and conquer strategy.”
Inclusivity was a key issue leading up to the final roll-call for signatories to the agreement. Several groups declined a chance to join, citing the governments’ decision to exclude groups such as Kokang rebels Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Ta-ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army, all of whom have fought bloody battles with Naypyidaw’s troops this year.
Speaking on behalf of the Karenni National Progressive Party, Aung San Myint said they stand by the “principle of inclusiveness”, which led the group to abstain from signing the accord.
“We stand by the principle of inclusiveness but the government decided gone ahead with signing the NCA with a handful of groups that reached compromise. In my opinion lack of inclusivity will make it hard to move forward to the political dialogue. The agreements on code of conduct and joint monitoring of the ceasefire can only be implemented when all ethnic groups are on board. Nothing will come out of signing the agreement with just eight groups. These groups cannot represent all ethnic groups and nationalities in Burma. Also, the recent increase in fighting has made me question the significance of the NCA.”
The British Embassy in Rangoon applauded the signing, and called for next stage of ‘political dialogue’ to include not only the excluded groups, but to place a focus on improved representation of women.
“It is welcome that the text is open for other organisations to sign in due course. It is only through political dialogue, and the agreements that will follow it, that lasting peace can be achieved. It is important that the dialogue is inclusive of all the major ethnic and political groups, reflecting the great diversity of the country, including a fair representation of women.”
Although not actively involved in the negotiations leading up the signing, UK officials confirmed their intention to monitoring the dialogue process in partnership with the international community, with the hope that the accord will attract more signatories as compromises are made “from all sides”.
“Even with a National Ceasefire the risk of renewed fighting remains. The terms of the NCA must be observed, as must the guarantees that have been offered both to signatories and to non-signatories. Equally all armed parties must refrain from violence. It is also important that international humanitarian assistance is given free access to those that need it most wherever they may be.
“The UK will continue, with other colleagues in the international community, to monitor closely the situation on the ground. We will also continue to be active in support of the process, both politically and through our development work – to help ensure that the benefits of peace become increasingly tangible for all of the people of the country.”