Chiangmai meeting: Both sides caught off guard in Myitkyina

One of the revelations that came out of yesterday’s meeting between representatives of political parties and the non-Burman ethnic armed groups was that both the Burmese military and the ethnic delegates that met on 4 November in Myitkyina were “ambushed” by each other.

“The military representatives were so disturbed by the NCCT’s proposal that there should be a federal union armed forces that they had decided, without consulting U Aung Min (head of the Naypyitaw delegation) to respond with a stiff draft nationwide ceasefire agreement,” said one of the participants. (NCCT: Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, formed by the Laiza conference, 30 October-2 November, by the 17 armed groups)

He added that the government had prepared two drafts: one that was presented to the armed groups just before the Laiza conference and the other which was delivered in Myitkyina later.

The first draft is considered conciliatory “soft” and the second downright uncompromising “hard”. It calls for the armed opposition groups to “totally abandon the armed struggle” and that only previous ceasefire agreements that do not “overstep existing laws” would be ratified.

To which another participant had commented: “If the President’s 8 point guidelines could be considered a veiled call for a ‘negotiated surrender, this one is a blatant demand for ‘forced surrender’.”

“If the government is serious about peace, it should not give us one draft today and another (totally different) one tomorrow,” he added.

U Aung Min, Minister for President’s Office and Vice Chairman of the Union Peacekeeping Work Committee (UPWC), had tried to placate both the military and the ethnic armed organization at the Myitkyina meeting by saying, “Apart from secession and infringement of national sovereignty, everything is on the table.”

The Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), another Laiza participant, later called for “pruning” the drafts from both sides down so only the essentials for a ceasefire agreement acceptable to both sides remain.

“The most important thing is to begin the framework as well as the political parley as soon as possible,” Yawdserk, the RCSS/SSA leader, explains. “We should not misspend our time by debating over matters which are better discussed later. Because President Thein Sein is not going to be with us forever.”

His suggestion is that each side agrees to discuss the other’s proposed talking points that are non-military during the second phase.

President Thein Sein, in his message to the Laiza conference, had proposed a 3 phase process:

Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (between armed groups and the government)
Framework for political dialogue negotiations (which will also include political parties and civil society organizations)
Political Dialogue (government, armed organizations, political parties and civil society organizations)

“The President, through U Aung Min, has asked us to assure all the armed groups that the framework for political dialogue negotiations (second phase) and political dialogue (third phase) are going to take place without fail, after the nationwide ceasefire has been signed,” said Nyo Ohn Myint, Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) officer, who acted as the facilitator for the meetings in Chiangmai.

The political parties delegation arrived on 21 November. They are due to return to Burma on 24 November.


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