Myanmar ethnic peace talks recess without peace agreement

AP News
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Posted: Jul 24, 2015 5:17 AM
Myanmar ethnic peace talks recess without peace agreement

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A three-day round of talks between the government and leaders of ethnic rebel groups concluded Friday without a sought-after ceasefire draft agreement to end decades of fighting.

Hla Maung Shwe, the special adviser to the government peace negotiating team, told reporters that both sides agreed to resume talks in the first week of August after further discussions among leaders of the various armed ethnic minority groups. The two sides have been negotiating for more than 18 months.

More than a dozen ethnic minority groups, mostly in Myanmar's border areas, have been struggling for greater autonomy since the country attained independence from Britain 67 years ago. Several have fielded substantial guerrilla armies, though the government over the past 25 years has reached shaky provisional ceasefires with many.

Pu Zing Cung, a spokesman for the ethnic rebels, said Friday they are confident that they can finalize the ceasefire agreement in August.

Among the issues to be resolved are participation of all armed ethnic groups and which local and international representatives will witness the signing.

The ethnic leaders want President Thein Sein and army chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to sign the proposed ceasefire but the government wants chief peace negotiator Aung Min to sign.

They also insist on an "all inclusive" signing including other ethnic armed groups not taking part in the talks, such as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta'ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army — all of whom are currently engaged in armed combat with government troops.

Pu Zing Cung, from the Chin minority, said this might be the most difficult issue to solve.

During the meeting ethnic leaders have expressed concern over escalating government military operations in ethnic areas, including Kachin State on the border with China, where the fighting has been sporadic but bitter.

Ahead of this week's meeting, Hla Maung Shwe warned that failure to reach an accord could trigger a fresh round of fighting if the military takes action. The general election, which would usher in a new president, takes place in November.

"If negotiations fail and the military believe that the nationwide ceasefire agreement cannot be signed under the present government, they will have no choice but to launch military operations," he said.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in a recent interview with the BBC said that Myanmar's military will play a leading role in the country's politics as long as there is ethnic fighting and until peace deals have been concluded.

Myanmar was under military rule from 1962 to 2011, when an elected government took power. However, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party was formed as a vehicle for the military, and a constitution implemented during army rule ensure that the military retains a dominant role in running the country.

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Associated Press Writer Esther Htusan contributed to this report.