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Hopes for a genuine truce to end decades of civil war in Burma were boosted this week by an agreement to form a ceasefire maintaining task force.
As the peace process progresses through five rounds of negotiations – frequently involving days-long talks, painstaking dotting i’s and crossing t’s – ongoing fighting in the northeast of the country has lent a disquieting note to discussions between the government and ethnic armed groups.
Yet in the latest round of negotiations in Rangoon this week, stakeholders struck a breakthrough agreement on a ceasefire monitoring strategy.
Leaders reportedly agreed that the creation of a peacekeeping task force should be written into the final ceasefire agreement, drawing on representatives from ethnic armed groups as well as the government.
Salai Lian H Sakhong, a winner of Sweden’s Martin Luther King Jr. peace prize, is a Chin representative on the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, an ethnic alliance of 16 armed groups. He says the need for a joint ceasefire monitoring team runs to the core of the peace process.
“If, after signing the agreement, there is no one to monitor the ceasefire,then it would be meaningless,” he said. “That is why we must form a committee to recruit a joint peacekeeping task force.”
He opined that the committee would consist of government and ethnic leaders, as well as civil society representatives. “We would like international representatives to take part as observers.”
The need for an outfit to monitor a future ceasefire has been made all the more stark by continuing skirmishes between several of the parties present at the ceasefire talks.
One civilian was reportedly killed, and another wounded, during fighting between the Palaung National Liberation Army and the Burmese army on Monday, as ceasefire negotiators reported their progress to political parties in Rangoon.
The Kachin Independence Organisation and Shan State Army- North are also pivotal members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, yet they remain in conflict with Burmese government forces.
Salai Lian H Sakhong spoke of the crucial role that peacekeepers may play in a future Burma.
“Armed groups can encounter unexpected problems,” he said. “This [peacekeeping] committee is therefore necessary in order to prevent clashes from breaking out again and to stop issues escalating.”
Many Burma watchers second the opinion that a joint ceasefire monitoring team would boost hopes for a constructive political dialogue, which hinges on the warring parties’ ability to maintain a truce.
Observers close to the process say that a final draft ceasefire document could come out of talks between the government and the NCCT scheduled for September.