Naypyidaw (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Burmese government has signed a ceasefire with eight national armed ethnic minority groups, in an attempt to put an end to decades of civil war in some areas of the country.
The ceremony was held in the capital, Naypyidaw, and was the culmination of two years of negotiations forcefully held up by President Thein Sein as a trump card in view of elections next November 8. However, it is a partial result as seven other prominent groups have refused to sign the agreement.
The head of state signed the accord at a ceremony broadcast by official TV and attended by top representatives of the army and the leaders of the rebel militia, dressed in traditional clothing. The pro-government newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar dedicated headlines to the agreement, stating that "Peace begins now" thanks to "an agreement that will put an end to over 60 years of conflict."
Earlier this week the government removed all eight ethnic groups who wanted to sign the agreement from the list of "illegal association", a decisive step to bring them within the fold of official politics. However, hopes for a peace plan including all ethnic minority armies vanished earlier this month, when various rebel groups walked out of talks because it did not include all those groups currently in conflict with the 'army.
Today's event was attended by representatives of China, India, Japan, European Union and United Nations. The agreement, however, could be short-lived, because the army continues to fight in some areas (particularly the Kachin territory in the north) ignoring government orders to stop the war.
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the main opposition party in Myanmar was notably absent from the ceremony today after she declined to support this peace agreement. The "Lady" also added that a true peace agreement on a "national" scale is one of the objectives of a future government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD).
In a country of about 135 ethnic groups, peaceful coexistence has always been a struggle, especially with the central government, which is dominated by ethnic Burmese.
In the past, the ruling military junta used an iron fist against the groups least amenable to central control, like ethnic Kachin, who live along the border with China in the north, and more recently, ethnic Kokang in Shan state, where the president imposed a state of emergency.
In Kachin State, fighting between the Myanmar military and Kachin forces resumed in June 2011 after 17 years of relative calm. Since then, scores of civilians have died and almost 100,000 people forced into 160 refugee camps.
In view of the situation, the country’s Catholic bishops issued a plea for a lasting solution to the conflict.