Burma army soldiers in Kachin State. Pic: AP.

Cease-fire with  armed ethnic groups sought before 2015 general elections, write Asia Sentinel’s Murray Hiebert and Phuong Nguyen

The Burmese government has pursued more than a dozen rounds of cease-fire talks with the country’s major armed ethnic groups over the past three years but has missed the timetable for achieving a nationwide cease-fire agreement several times.

The government’s chief negotiator, Aung Min, recently said he hopes to conclude such an agreement in September and begin political dialogue with ethnic groups in early 2015.

Ethnic leaders on Aug.15 announced the government had agreed to include in the draft agreement a pledge to adopt a federal system – one of their key and longstanding demands –moving the two sides one step closer to a much-anticipated cease-fire deal. This time, however, the stakes are much higher, as the 2015 general elections and the uncertainty that a new government may bring begin to loom large.

Without a lasting peace with ethnic minority groups, who make up around 40 percent of the population, any future administration will have difficulty ensuring a nationwide buy-in for its reform agenda and providing the political stability needed to manage and develop the country’s resource-rich frontiers, where most ethnic groups are located.

The peace process has taken on added importance amid concerns that reforms have stalled—some say backslid—over the past year. Nearly all of the country’s registered political parties recently urged the government to wrap up the nationwide cease-fire agreement and start political dialogue with ethnic groups as soon as possible.

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