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President vows to include warring factions in talks

President Thein Sein shakes hands with ethnic delegates at ceasefire talks in Naypyidaw on 9 September 2015. (PHOTO: DVB)

Ethnic armed groups previously frozen out of nationwide ceasefire talks with the Burmese government will be offered an opportunity to get on board the peace process.

Speaking after a meeting today between President Thein Sein, senior government ministers and a delegation of ethnic leaders, Hla Maung Shwe, senior advisor of the Myanmar Peace Centre, said that the president would directly engage with the Kokang militia Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in an effort to end seven months of hostilities, while the government will take steps to bring to the table representatives of the Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA); Arakan Army (AA); Wa National Organisation (WNO); Lahu Democratic Union (LDU); and Arakan National Council (ANC).

The government also intends reaching out to two other Chinese-border-based militias: the Wa and Mongla groups.

“As of now, we have secured agreement with 15 armed groups,” Hla Maung Shwe told reporters after emerging from three hours of negotiations at the Myanmar International Conference Centre II in Naypyidaw. “Three other smaller groups – LDU, WNO and ANC – were invited to join in political dialogue.

“So, at the moment there are only three groups left – MNDAA, TNLA and AA. The government is leaving out the MNDAA for now, while the president coordinates separate talks with that group’s leader.

“As for the other two groups – TNLA and AA – the government has agreed to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the TNLA and get them on board the NCA [Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement]. As for the AA, since they are based at the KIO [Kachin Independence Organisation] headquarters, a different solution should be sought.”

Hla Maung Shwe added: “[Government officials] will also negotiate with the United Wa State Army and the Mongla group to negotiate conditions for them to take part in the NCA.”

Hla Maung Shwe also said that an agreement had been reached with the ethnic delegation to sign the NCA in the near future. He said that Thein Sein had proposed 29 September as the date for the signing ceremony, while his counterparts suggested mid-October.

He said that during today’s negotiations, ethnic leaders had raised issues about the NCA’s all-inclusiveness, and political guarantees after the signing of the agreement.

Today’s meeting brought together President Thein Sein with five representatives of the major ethnic armies: Karen National Union Chairman Gen. Mutu Say Poe; Kachin Independence Army Deputy-chairman Gen. N’Ban La; Shan State Progressive Party Patrol General Hso Ten; New Mon State Party Chairman Nai Htaw Mon; Karenni National Progressive Party Chairman Khun Abel Tweed, as well as three members of the Ethnic Armed Organisation’s Senior Delegation: Naw Zipporah Sein; Dr Laja; and Pu Zing Cung.

The delegation will also schedule a meeting with the Burmese military’s vice chief-of-staff vice-senior general Soe Win.

Notably absent from today’s talks was army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who is reported to be on an official visit to Israel.

Read more DVB coverage of Burma’s peace process