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A multi-ethnic conference kicked off on Wednesday in the Kachin rebel headquarters Laiza, where representatives from Burma’s ethnic rebel groups are gathering to discuss a government proposed nationwide ceasefire.
The three-day Ethnic Armed Organisations Conference aims to hash out a mutual agreement between rebel groups on how to approach government plans for a nationwide ceasefire in November.
Attendees, who include members of the leading ethnic umbrella group, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), as well as the Shan State Army – South (SSA-S) and other smaller groups, will all get the opportunity to voice their views.
The UNFC is also due to give a presentation on an agreement reached among their membership, while the Karen National Union and the SSA-S’s political wing the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) will debrief the conference on their discussions with the government.
“The objective of holding this conference is to lay out the initial procedures to facilitate political dialogues and we are hopeful that we can work out mutual agreements by gathering and discussing the opinions of all ethnic nationalities, Lanyaw Zawng Hra, chairman of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), told DVB on Wednesday.
“As each of the resistant groups already have so much experience and have constantly been hearing opinions from relevant ethnic populations, we believe that the right decisions will be made.”
Mutu Say Poe, chairman of the KNU, said that his group is standing by the principle that the country’s political problems should be resolved through political means and that it can be achieved by building unity among ethnic groups.
“In order to implement unity, all ethnic groups should be given an equal role and I believe that we will be able to reach our goals through comprehensive discussions,” he said.
The KIO’s general and the current chairman of the UNFC, N’Ban La, said: “In the past, we’ve experienced a false ‘union’ and it would be impossible for us to go through that again – we need a genuine federal union based on the principles of equality and fairness.”
“We would like to urge to all, including the members of the Tatmadaw [Burma’s armed forces] to work together to build a unified federal union.”
President Thein Sein, who has been credited with inking peace deals with 10 out of 11 major armed groups in Burma, also delivered a message to the conference.
“I believe that the decisions, agreements and frameworks resolved in the conference will facilitate the nationwide ceasefire agreement, laying framework for the political dialogue and peace building through the political dialogue to restore peace in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar,” he said.
The KIO, who is hosting the meeting, is the only group that has yet to reach a formal peace deal with the government and clashes continue to rattle southern Kachin state. At a meeting in Myitkyina earlier this month, government and rebel negotiators reached a fresh peace deal that aimed to reduce fighting but stopped short of a full ceasefire.
The Kachins, who have repeatedly pushed for political dialogue as the cornerstone of any agreement, said they must first consult other ethnic groups before deciding weather to join the proposed nationwide ceasefire planned for November.
Burma’s largest armed ethnic group, The United Wa State Army, as well as the Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Mong La-based National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State, are not attending the conference. Some reports suggest the Wa backed out following pressure from China.