Myanmar’s government has expressed optimism that a meeting held at the weekend with the country’s armed ethnic groups could be among the last before the two sides complete a long-awaited nationwide cease-fire agreement, according to the leader of a local political party Monday.

The government Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) team, led by Minister Aung Min from President Thein Sein’s Office, met informally with the 16-member Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) of armed ethnic groups on Sunday in the Kachin capital Myitkyina to pore over a draft of the plan.

On Monday, Aung Min met with representatives from 10 political parties Kachin-based or which have a presence in the northern state to discuss Sunday’s negotiations and the general state of progress on the peace deal, said Sipha Larlu, chairman of the Lisu National Development Party (LNDP).

“Minister Aung Min said that the peace process has progressed,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service, adding that the minister suggested Sunday’s meeting could be among the last before negotiations are concluded, bringing an end to decades of civil war in the country.

“He [said he] assumes the nationwide cease-fire agreement will be signed soon,” Sipha Larlu said.

Since its formation last year, the NCCT has organized four rounds of official talks with the government and four more informal meetings.

The two sides completed the second draft of a nationwide cease-fire agreement in May, but are negotiating the exact policies and wording to be incorporated in the final text.

Armed ethnic groups also say they are unwilling to accept demands to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate (DDR) with Myanmar’s existing military, known as the Tatmadaw.

A round of formal discussions between the NCCT and the UPWC are set for Aug. 12 in Myanmar’s former capital Yangon.

Sipha Larlu said that his party—which attended Monday’s meeting along with parties such as the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and the National Unity Party (NUP)—had called for greater public participation in the process.

“What I expressed as our party’s opinion is that all ethnic armed groups can discuss and sign the cease-fire agreement, but if we want real and firm peace, public leaders should collaborate in the process,” he said.

According to a report by the Irrawaddy online journal, Sunday’s talks also focused on which groups would qualify to sign the cease-fire agreement, with the government seeking to limit the number of signatories, while ethnic groups have expressed concern over exclusion.

Organizations that previously reached individual ceasefires with the government and ethnic armed groups which have engaged in armed hostilities with the government for their political beliefs will be included, the report said.

Those organizations based abroad that are active in Myanmar-related campaigns and advocacy work, and overseas groups critical of the government would be excluded, it said.

Currently, the government recognizes 16 ethnic armed groups and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) as meeting the criteria for signing a nationwide ceasefire accord, while the NCCT recognizes more than 20 ethnic armed groups as potential signatories.

Ethnic meetings

Sunday’s informal talks follow a July 24-29 NCCT summit in Kachin’s Laiza township to vet the second draft of the cease-fire agreement, which resolved to seek the approval and guidance of all NCCT members before moving on to the next step, according to a report by Myanmar’s Eleven news media.

Eighteen non-NCCT ethnic armed groups also held a meeting in Laiza to discuss the draft on July 30-31.

According to a report by the Myanmar Times, about one-quarter of the cease-fire agreement’s text still needs to be revised and the definitions of 20-30 words finalized. The government hopes to have the agreement signed in September and hold political talks in early 2015, it said.

The report listed the guarantee of equal rights and self-determination, as well as a “genuine federal union,” as among 10 changes to the cease-fire draft the ethnic groups agreed to during the Laiza meetings for any future peace negotiations.

The summit also agreed to establish 10 committees, including one to play a leading role in planning political dialogue and another to draft a framework for the process, Mizzima news agency reported.

Other committees would monitor the cease-fire, establishing a military code of conduct and a humanitarian and resettlement program, the report said.

Lengthy process

Ethnic groups have sought a federal system since Myanmar won its independence after World War II, but the former military government, which handed over power to President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration in 2011, had seen local autonomy as tantamount to separatism.

Thein Sein has signed bilateral ceasefires with more than a dozen ethnic groups and began to actively pursue a nationwide cease-fire with ethnic groups last year.

Government officials and some ethnic leaders have repeatedly stated that a nationwide cease-fire accord is only weeks away, only for negotiations to break down.

Meanwhile, fighting continues in northern Myanmar, where the Kachin Independence Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army are engaged in frequent clashes with the Tatmadaw.

Both groups are NCCT members but don’t have a bilateral ceasefire with Naypyidaw, while there are also powerful ethnic groups, such as the United Wa State Army, that are not part of the NCCT.

Reported by Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Link: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/ceasefire-08042014172042.html