113 Burmese civil society groups have demanded that the Burma Army halt offensives against ethnic armed groups, and that a ceasefire be mutually agreed before the 21st Century Panglong Conference begins on Wednesday in Naypyidaw.

The assortment of youth, gender, human rights and peace-focused civil society groups from across Burma called for “equality” to underpin negotiations at the conference towards a future democratic federal union.

The joint statement said that fighting initiated by the Burma Army has undermined mutual respect and trust between government forces and ethnic armed groups, which are fundamental to successful negotiations. The statement called for the government, the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups to find peaceful solutions that provide for the security of people living in conflict-affected regions.

The civil society groups also demanded that Burma’s colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act—which criminalizes interaction with non-state armed groups—be repealed, so as to enable civil society to fully participate in the peace process and political dialogue.

The statement welcomed the inclusion of armed groups that have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in the peace conference, but highlighted the government and the Burma Army’s responsibility to invite those groups excluded from the current conference to future peace conferences.

U Aung Myo Min, executive director of Rangoon-based organization Equality Myanmar, which was party to the statement, expressed his high expectations toward the 21st Century Panglong Conference, as the “right path” to deliver peace and end long-standing armed conflict.

“As long as there is fighting, we cannot hope for peace,” he said.

Link: http://www.irrawaddy.com/burma/civil-society-demands-burma-army-halt-offensives.html