The body brokering an end to Burma’s six-decade civil war said the country has moved closer to achieving an historic ceasefire, as three days of formal negotiations wrapped up in Rangoon on Friday.
The two sides have agreed to reconvene in the first week of August.
The government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee and ethnic armed groups’ Senior Delegation have locked horns since Wednesday, moderated by the Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC). The meet was the first formal sitting of the two sides since delegates signed a draft nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in March.
According to the MPC’s Hla Maung Shwe, three points of contention remain from a list of 13 amendments to the draft proposed by ethnic armed organisations. In early June the rebel groups met at Lawkheela in Karen National Union held territory to appraise the draft document as signed by their negotiators, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT).
“Delegations from both sides of the talks have discussed the 13 amendment points suggested to the NCA by the Lawkheela summit and we can say that we managed to finalise an agreement on 10 of the 13 points,” said Hla Maung Shwe.
“Moreover, leaders from both sides have also provisionally agreed on two of the three remaining points, so actually there is only one point left to discuss.”
The amendments yet to be agreed upon include the seemingly crucial notion of security sector reform, which the Burmese government refers to as ‘DDR’ – the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of non-state armies. The ethnic side views security sector reform as a movement towards the establishment of a federal army, as well as a course for reform in national security policy, policing, immigration and the judicial system.
Also remaining among the three pending amendments is the issue of natural resource and infrastructure sharing, another potential stumbling block. This month, deadly fighting has flared in eastern Karen State, where ceasefire party the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army has vied for control of sections of the Asian Highway, a vast, UN-backed trade and infrastructure project set to link Thailand to India upon completion.
A third point refers to the affirmation of a future NCA by Burma’s Union Parliament, including questions over which organisations would act as observers to the signing of the treaty.
With Union Parliament set for a facelift come November’s general election, time would appear to be running out for the Thein Sein administration’s stated goal of peace before the possible end of its tenure.
September and October will likely be consumed by campaigning for the election, set for 8 November.
Pu Zing Cung, deputy leader of the Senior Delegation said he hoped to come to agreements on the remaining NCA amendment points in the next meeting.
“We reached some principal agreements on the remaining points, including security related reintegration as well as the point about getting affirmation from the parliament,” he said.
“We will now brief our command centres and discussion [with the government] will continue based on their decisions.”
Despite the relative swiftness in which negotiators appear to have moved through the list of thirteen amendments this week, one seemingly intractable point of disagreement remains.
Ethnic negotiators insist they will not sign a peace agreement without the inclusion of ethnic Kokang armed group the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army, nor with Palaung armed group the Ta’ang National Liberation Army or the Arakan Army. The three allies have been engaged in fighting with Naypyidaw’s troops this year, most fiercely in the Kokang region of northern Shan State.
The bloody fighting has left the government unwilling to negotiate with the groups, despite their previous involvement in what is now 18 months of talks.