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The Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) is the major omission among the eight ethnic armed groups that will continue towards the signing of a pre-drafted ceasefire agreement with Naypyidaw.
Gen. Sumlut Gun Maw is on the executive committee of the KIO, which governs the Kachin Independence Army. For over four years, the force has been locked in a ferocious war with the Burmese army.
DVB’s Nay Thwin sat down with Gun Maw to discuss why his group rejected the agreement.
DVB: Regarding inclusiveness, 12 armed groups are not signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement [NCA] because certain groups such as Ta’ang, Kokang and Arakan are not allowed to be part of the deal. However, the government has said it agreed on principle to have these groups included in the NCA– why is this guarantee not sufficient enough for the rest of the groups to sign the NCA?
Gun Maw: The government has said very often that it agreed on principle to include these groups in the NCA; and to find a way to make it happen. But to this day, we have not seen them make any effort towards that. The president pledged in an official meeting to hold separate talks with the Kokang. Not long afterwards, some UPWC [Union Peace-making Work Committee] leaders headed to Mongla. But the Kokang told us that government officials did not contact them. While the government has had some contact with the Arakan Army and the Ta’ang group, we have not seen any solid efforts being made to resolve issues with them. So the issue of these three groups remains unresolved to this day.
DVB: We understand the government has invited some armed groups to attend the political dialogue as observers despite the fact that they will not be signing the NCA. What is KIA and other non-signatory groups’ opinion on this?
GM: Over the past two years, we have discussed this repeatedly with the government. The ethnic armed groups initially suggested holding a political dialogue before a ceasefire. The KIO, based on our past experience, suggested that even if we cannot sign the NCA, we are ready to join the political dialogue if it will be genuine. Now, however, the government has said that the groups that refuse to sign the NCA can only join the dialogue as observers. So it is as if the government are blocking us when we try to come up with solutions. At the same time, the government are saying they will allow the groups such as the LDU [Lahu Democratic Union] and [WNO] Wa National Organisation to join the dialogue even though they will not be signing the NCA. So the government have two different tones on the issue. We wonder if they are deliberately trying to block us whenever we try to open a path.
DVB: Meaning the government are planning to get the groups that agree to sign the NCA off the list of unlawful associations so that they can join the dialogue while the rest including the KIO will remain an illegal organisation?
GM: The ethnic armed groups have often stressed the unlawful association issue. Not because we want to be off the list for our own sake, but because we must prevent harm to the civilians that make contact with us or work with us in the peace process. No group regards themselves as an unlawful association. When we talk about the issue, it’s more out of concern for civilian organisations that work with us.
DVB: Will the KIO attend the dialogue as an observer?
GM: It is unlikely that the KIO would attend as an observer.
DVB: Some critics think there is a link between the NCA and the upcoming elections. Many believe that the government is trying to push for the NCA to be signed before the vote – to win itself some credit before the polls. What is your take on that?
GM: I think there are two parts to this. Since the talks began in 2013, the government often stressed the issue of time. We responded that it is their responsibility to keep with the schedule. We understand that we are still going to have to continue efforts to resolve the country’s issues, perhaps with a new government after the elections. We don’t see the time factor as a valid excuse to rush the NCA signing. Whether the next government will continue the process or not isn’t a question because it will have to. We assume that there are a lot of party interests behind the agenda to rush the NCA signing ahead of the elections.
DVB: Some armed groups that decided to sign the NCA have stated, together with Minister Aung Min’s Union Peace Working Committee, that the ceasefire effort now aims to lay a foundation for the peace process so that it can continue under a new government in the future. What’s your view?
GM: It is certainly necessary to have a foundation. But a foundation laid without everyone’s participation will not stand. In order to implement this, everyone must be able sign the NCA and the process should be at the stage where it is ready to hand over to the new government. I see that this foundation under the given circumstances cannot stand for long.