NCCT, govt agree ‘second draft’ at peace talks

The latest round of negotiations between the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) ethnic alliance and the Burmese government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) was characterized as “open and friendly” in a joint statement released as the summit concluded on Friday in Rangoon.

Three days of talks at the Myanmar Peace Centre between an alliance of 17 ethnic armed groups, headed on this occasion by Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win of the Karen National Union, and a government delegation led by chief negotiator Minister Aung Min saw further discussion on the specific points of a single-text agreement established at the previous meeting held in April. According to the joint-statement on Friday, that text has been solidified into a second draft.

“We would like to announce that representatives from both sides are continuing to work with the aim of signing a nationwide ceasefire agreement as soon as possible, and to work towards political dialogue,” the statement reads.

The groups have agreed to meet again in June.

As the eight-member ethnic delegation sat down with the nine-member government team on Wednesday, a joint statement by 79 Burmese civil society organisations called on both parties to replicate their peace-parlance in their actions.

Groups including the Kachin Peace Network, Karen Human Rights Group and the Women’s League of Burma criticised the Burmese army in the statement, accusing them of using the peace talks as a “decoy” to divert attention from recent aggression in Kachin and northern Shan states.

Khon Ja, liaison officer of the Kachin Peace Network, said ceasefire talks without the halting of clashes on the ground will always be fruitless.

“We are seeing persistent clashes on the ground while at the same time ceasefire talks are facilitated, she said.

“We are also witnessing attacks on civilians and IDPs, and also arbitrary detention and blackmailing – as long as these continue, the talks will never bear fruit.

“We are not calling for signing of the ceasefire agreement, but the actual end of gunfire on the ground,” Khon Ja asserted.

The presence of government combat units in the immediate vicinity of camps for internally displaced persons remains a key sticking point for ethnic civil society organisations (CSOs), as does a perceived lack of transparency and accountability in the actions of government troops operating in ethnic areas.

Recent clashes have seen persistent human rights violations by government troops while the Kachin rebels have been accused of abducting and forcibly recruiting villagers.

In Wednesday’s statement, the CSOs called on the government to permit civil society actors to access the conflict “black zones” in order to provide assistance to displaced and affected people.

Four thousand people have been displaced due to fighting in Kachin State and northern Shan State as a result of fighting since April, according to a statement issued in conjunction with a separate Kachin peace-working conference held 20-22 May.