Peace talks to resume amid fighting, tension

Friday, 19 December 2014 22:19

By Ei Ei Toe Lwin/ Myanmar Times   |   Friday, 19 December 2014

Peace talks between the government and ethnic leaders will resume this week despite escalating clashes in southern Shan State, sources in a peace facilitation group say.

The Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which is negotiating on behalf of 16 armed ethnic groups, will meet at the Myanmar Peace Center in Yangon on December 22 and 23

They will seek to build on months of work by technical teams from both sides that have resulted in informal agreements on many contentious points in a draft nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). The signing of the ceasefire would pave the way for political dialogue and, ultimately, the end of Myanmar’s long-running ethnic conflicts.

Besides the draft agreement, the parties will also discuss a Tatmadaw artillery attack on a Kachin Independence Army military academy at its Laiza headquarters, and related issues proposed by ethnic leaders.

“The government has agreed to meet the NCCT on December 22 and 23 to finalise the draft,” said U Hla Maung Shwe of the Myanmar Peace Center.

Since the end of 2013, the government and ethnic leaders have held six rounds of talks toward a nationwide ceasefire accord, but a final agreement has proven elusive. The most recent formal talks, held in Yangon in September, ended inconclusively. Still on the table are questions such as the establishment of a union peace talks committee, the introduction of a federal system, the reorganisation of the military in line with federal principles, a framework for political dialogue and the introduction of a military code of conduct.

Since then technical teams have held several informal meetings and reached agreement in principle on a number of points, but these have yet to be ratified in formal talks.

“To finalise the draft, only 16 points remained to be approved. Now our technical teams have reached agreement on more than 10 of them, but these points will have to be discussed again officially before they are approved,” said U Hla Maung Shwe.

He did not specify the points on which agreement had been reached.

NCCT leader Naing Han Thar said the NCCT had received the draft from chief government negotiator U Aung Min on December 2. “They told us they had agreed to our points after discussing them with the president. The text is acceptable to both sides,” he said, adding that he did not know whether the military had agreed.

“The military's attitude is very important. If they don't want peace, they can disturb it in various ways,” he said, referring to the November 19 attack on the KIA academy, which has prompted fears of a renewed outbreak of fighting following months of relative calm in Kachin State.

Twenty-three trainees were killed in the shelling and about 20 people wounded. However, the Tatmadaw said it had only fired a “warning shot” after repeated requests were sent to the KIA not to attack Tatmadaw soldiers or civil servants.

Fighting also broke out between Tatmadaw and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) from December 10 to 12 around Nant Kyun, Waw Chong, Mone Si and Mone Lay villages in Kunlong township, northern Shan State. Seven Tatmadaw soldiers were killed and 20 wounded, state-owned media reported on December 15, adding that remnants of the Kokang insurgent group had ambushed an army patrol. The fighting reportedly also involved KIA and Ta Aung National Liberation Army troops.

TNLA spokesperson Mai Aik Kyaw blamed the Tatmadaw for reinforcing its units near TNLA-controlled areas, and accused the army of planning an offensive in Shan State.

Ethnic armed groups have insisted they will not sign a nationwide ceasefire accord if the government tries to force them to the table through military means. “If the government wants genuine peace, the military must stop reinforcing its positions,” said Naing Han Thar, casting doubt on the military’s desire for an end to the conflict. “If we sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement, the government must hold a political dialogue. When that dialogue starts, we will try to change the undemocratic 2008 constitution to reduce the military’s power in parliament. I don’t think they want to give up their political power.”

U Hla Maung Shwe of the MPC insisted that the military did want genuine peace, and that President U Thein Sein wanted a ceasefire agreement signed as soon as possible in order to launch political dialogue in early 2015.

“The main reason for the recent fighting is that we can’t build trust with each other. Therefore, we have planned to resume peace talks to finalise the nationwide ceasefire. After signing it, political dialogue will begin next March as per the president's schedule. I’ve heard of no other plan,” said U Hla Maung Shwe. “We will try to get genuine peace despite the challenges. The country’s future is at stake.”