Myanmar truce pact has many loopholes

An important turning point in Myanmar’s quest for a negotiated settlement to the scores of ethno-political conflicts raging since Independence was reached last week with the government signing ceasefire accords with armed ethnic groups. The National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) is the culmination of over two years of efforts to put in place a ‘nationwide ceasefire’ and that eight groups got on board is no small achievement. The NCA groups have been removed from the government’s list of unlawful associations paving the way for entry into the political mainstream. Among them is the Karen National Union, which was engaged in fighting the Myanmar Army for over 70 years.

While the NCA is a step in the right direction, it is not inclusive. It is not a ‘nationwide’ agreement as being claimed by the government as seven of the country’s most powerful ethnic armies like the Kachin Independence Army and the United Wa State Army have chosen to stay out. Deals with the smaller armed groups are unlikely to bring peace to Myanmar. With general elections drawing near, it does seem that President Thein Sein, anxious to hold up the NCA as a fulfilment of a key pledge his government made, chose to finalise a limited ceasefire agreement rather than wait for an inclusive one. The NCA is likely to be an important issue in the upcoming general election.

Although the NCA is flawed, it provides some kind of a foundation on which Myanmar can begin building peace. How the government uses the next stage of the peace process is crucial to the future of the peace process. Those who are outside the NCA now will be watching the negotiations closely to see if the government is genuine about wanting a negotiated settlement. Importantly, this settlement must not be one that the government imposes on the ethnic groups but a solution that is reached in a spirit of give and take. Myanmar’s ethnic armies did not lose the war. The government will be committing a major blunder if it interprets their willingness to sign the NCA as a sign of weakness. It cannot expect them to do all the compromising. A key demand of Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities is a federal constitution. No agreement has been reached yet on constitutional reforms. Hence, tricky negotiations lie ahead. Groups outside the NCA and sections in the Myanmar Army that are opposed to a ceasefire will seek to derail the process. The Thein Sein government must resist their provocations.

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