Burma Close to a Ceasefire Agreement, After Years of Negotiation

Armed ethnic groups hold summit to discuss
August 26, 2015 Updated: June 27, 2016

In an attempt to find a collective approach to sign Burma’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), representatives of 15 Burmese ethnic armed organizations (EAO) met in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from Aug. 21 to 24.

The Chiang Mai summit happened a few days after Burma’s government invited the armed groups to sign the NCA individually. In response to the government’s invitation, four armed groups expressed their willingness to sign the agreement in a joint press release on Aug. 18. Similar meetings and consultations have been held amongst the ethnic armed groups themselves and with the Burmese government since 2013.

If the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement is not signed before the election, there is no guarantee that the next government will sign it.

The summit in August was crucial for a few reasons. First, there were concerns that the government’s invitation could bring disunity among the ethnic armed groups. Some worried that the government would put the blame on groups that are not willing to sign individually. There were also some apprehensions that the Burmese army may use the issue as a pretext to launch offensive attacks against some armed groups.

Second, the summit happened less than two weeks after the internal power struggle within the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) on Aug. 12, which led to the ouster of party chairman and presidential hopeful Shwe Mann. The use of police was seen by some as an indication that the government may not hesitate to use military force to overrule democratic processes.

Third, in an interview with Radio Free Asia in Nay Pyi Taw on Aug. 20, Burma’s Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing said the military will withdraw from politics when the ethnic armed groups come into the legal fold, give up their arms, and participate peacefully in building a democratic nation. The surrender of arms is not agreed upon in the NCA text.

One argument the Thein Sein administration makes to ethnic armed groups in Burma (also known as Myanmar) is that if the NCA is not signed before the election, there is no guarantee that the next government will sign it. While there is some degree of truth in this statement, it can also be argued that the government is seeking to improve its international image by declaring the nationwide ceasefire.

It can also be argued that the government is seeking to improve its international image by declaring the nationwide ceasefire.

The most significant outcome of the EAO summit is the emergence of unity among armed groups on the general principle that a nationwide ceasefire cannot happen if some groups are left out to defend themselves.

At the end of the four-day summit, the EAO agreed to send leaders from the five major armed groups—Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Karen National Union (KNU), New Mon State Party (NMSP), Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP)—plus three members of the senior delegation to meet with President Thein Sein in Nay Pyi Taw.

In the process of negotiation, ethnic armed groups have compromised on the issue of sovereignty and have agreed to adhere to the three core principles of the government’s policy—non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity, and perpetuation of national sovereignty.

The ethnic armed groups are committed to signing the NCA before the general election scheduled on Nov. 8. At the same time, they are also willing to move forward gradually in their quest to resolve the decades-old ethno-political conflicts in the country. While the continued support of the international community is essential for the success of democratic transition and in bringing stability to the country, it must also take into account the concerns of all parties with regard to the ceasefire pact.

By signing the pact, signatories will receive benefits, including the continued holding of arms for self-defense, removal from the list of unlawful organizations, joint implementation of a code of conduct, joint monitoring of the ceasefire to prevent recurrence of clashes, and a meeting for political dialogue.

Only one major issue prevents the two sides from signing the NCA.

The government does not want to sign a ceasefire agreement with six groups, including three armed groups that had recent skirmishes with Burma’s army. The three armed groups are the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the ethnic Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Arakan Army (AA).

The government is also unwilling to include the Wa National Organization (WNO), the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), and the Arakan National Council (ANC), because they have either an insignificant armed wing or no armed wing at all. The government has insisted that only groups it has already established a bilateral ceasefire with can sign the nationwide agreement.

Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen (Courtesy of Nehginpao Kipgen)
Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen

Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen is an assistant professor and executive director of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University. He is the author of “Myanmar: A Political History,” “Democratisation of Myanmar,” and “Democracy Movement in Myanmar: Problems and Challenges.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.