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Mon, Lahu armed groups to sign NCA on Feb. 13

The hand of a leader of an ethnic armed group is seen on a screen as he signs the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement as then-President Thein Sein, government officials, ethnic armed groups and international witnesses sit below during a signing ceremony in Naypyidaw on 15 October 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

The New Mon State Party and Lahu Democratic Union will sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement on 13 February, with their accession to the accord marking one of the most substantive breakthroughs in Burma’s peace process since the National League for Democracy took power nearly two years ago.

The two ethnic armed groups will join eight non-state armies that are already party to the accord, having signed it in October 2015. Several other ethnic armed groups remain holdouts, including some of the country’s biggest.

The New Mon State Party and Lahu Democratic Union agreed to sign the NCA on 23 January after meeting with Burma’s commander-in-chief, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, though no date for the signing was set at the time.

The signing on 13 February will come one day after Burma marks Union Day, a holiday commemorating the date 71 years ago that Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San, signed the Panglong Agreement with a handful of ethnic minority groups.

More aspirational than grounded in reality, the agreement and the holiday honouring it are as symbolic for their heretofore unrealised aims — ethnic comity in a nation where minorities are afforded a degree of autonomy in governing their respective territories. The terms of the Panglong Agreement were never respected and Burma plunged into civil war not long after Aung San was assassinated in July 1947, with several conflicts persisting to this day.

As Burma’s de facto civilian leader, Suu Kyi hopes to pick up where her father left off in efforts to unite the country. She has branded the high-level forum for peace negotiations the “21st Century Panglong Conference,” a reference to the meeting in Panglong, Shan State, that led to the signing of the 1947 accord.

The first of these gatherings was convened in August 2016, with a second held in May 2017. NCA signatory status is required for full participation in the conferences.

The government had planned to hold the third iteration of the 21st Century Panglong Conference last month, but the date was pushed back. A government peace negotiator said on 22 January that the conference would instead be held this month.