ARMED ethic groups from Burma’s (Myanmar) restive areas have collectively called on the government to accord all armed ethnic organisations with equal and dignified status, as the Southeast Asian country looks to resolve decades of unrest in its autonomous regions.
At the second 21st Century Panglong Conference held in Chiangmai, Thailand, over the weekend, the 14 armed ethnic groups that attended the meeting said it was working towards the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) by non-signatory groups while aiming to attain “dignified status”.
The armed ethnic groups, according to the Myanmar Times, have also pushed for an end to conflicts in Kachin and northern Shan states.
“We strongly urge the finding of a solution by means of dialogue for military offensives in Kachin and Shan states among the government, Tatmadaw and armed ethnic organisations, and for the participation of all concerned parties in the peace process,” the groups said in a joint statement.
The groups had discussed the “founding principles for building a federal union” and the “Panglong reference booklet” in their continuation to the two topics raised during peace talks in August 2016.
Last year, representatives of the ethnic minorities said the preliminary talks were a good start, but the peace process remained an uphill task. Ahead of peace negotiations in August, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) – the coalition representing the ethnic rebel groups – had agreed to resume talks with the government, but did not reach a consensus over the ethnic armed groups who did not sign a 2015 nationwide ceasefire agreement.
The government had asked all groups to sign the ceasefire pact before they could take part in the peace talks but so far, only eight groups signed the NCA.
While the talks were seen as a positive development for restoring peace in Burma, political observers have questioned its effectiveness based on the lack of solid results from the talks in August. The latest conference over the weekend was postponed twice as the original date of the meeting was initially scheduled to be held in February.
The UNFC also said it has discussed and agreed upon matter related to national defence and security policy, a joint peace fund, and the formation of joint working groups.
In the interim period as listed in the terms of the NCA, the groups were also looking to implement projects that cover health, education and socio-economic development of civilians, environmental conservation, preserving and promoting ethnic culture, language and literature, according to the Myanmar Times.
Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s nearly one-year-old government is increasingly besieged by ethnic rebels, grappling with an alliance of militias in the north and a new Rohingya insurgency rebelling against decades of persecution in the northwest of the country.
Other tasks needed to be carried out to ensure peace and stability during and after the interim period include capacity-building projects, eradication of illicit drugs, and receiving aid from foreign and local donor agencies.
In early March, 30 people died in clashes between ethnic rebels and Burmese security forces in a restive area along the border with China, dealing a blow to Suu Kyi’s goal of reaching peace with minorities.
The attack came after the Nobel Peace Prize winner met a delegation of ethnic armed groups last week to convince them to take part in a major peace conference. Suu Kyi swept to power in 2015 on promises of national reconciliation and the meeting was aimed at giving fresh impetus to the stuttering peace process.
The intensified violence in Burma in recent months has also raised concerns for thousands of displaced civilians who are unable to escape the armed conflict.
The Burmese army broke a 17-year-long ceasefire launching a surprise offence on several Kachin Independence Army (KIA) outposts near a Chinese-financed hydro-power dam in the latest round of violence between Burma’s armed forces and KIA, which initially erupted in June 2011.
An estimated 120,000 ethnic civilians have been displaced since 2011. Most of these people now reside in makeshift camps across the remote mountains in Kachin State.