03/31/2015, 00.00
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Although government and ethnic groups reach ceasefire deal, it is too soon to celebrate

by Francis Khoo Thwe
Myanmar’s government and representatives from 16 armed groups fighting for some of the country’s ethnic minorities have reached a draft ceasefire agreement. Rebel leaders must give the green light before proceeding. However, the Kokang have not signed on. Myanmar President Thein Sein is satisfied with the deal. For Catholic Kachin activist, it is hard to trust Burmese authorities because the agreement does not include every group and fighting continues in some parts of the country.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Myanmar government officials and representatives of 16 armed rebel groups signed a draft ceasefire as part of a broader plan to end armed conflict in the country.

Myanmar President Thein Sein was present at the signing ceremony, deemed “historic” by some international analysts and observers. If it is respected, the deal reached today at the Myanmar Peace Centre in Yangon could put a stop to decades of ethnic violence.

On Monday, representatives of both sides – the government’s Union Peace-Making Work Committee and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) ethnic bloc – declared that compromises had been made on all remaining points and that the draft agreement was now ready to go to their respective leaderships.

The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) includes 7 chapters, 33 sections and 86 clauses.

The United Nations welcomed the deal, calling it a historic milestone for "genuine and lasting peace in the country."

President Thein Sein also expressed his satisfaction. "The people need peace,” he said, “they desire peace and they expect peace”.

However, real peace might not be achieved when some key issues are still unresolved. Topping the list is the failure to talk with representatives of the Kokang minority, who fought the Burmese military in the latest bloody outbreak of violence. What is more, fighting continues in Shan State, where the latter live, as well as in other parts of the country.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Khon Ja Labang, a Catholic leader and a former member of the Kachin Peace Network currently involved in peace-building in conflict zones, noted that, in spite of government’s statements, it is "hard to believe" their sincerity.

“Although everyone hopes never to hear to sound of guns again,” it is even harder to "believe and trust" Burmese military leaders. In fact, “this morning saw more violence in Mansi, Kachin State,” the Catholic activist said. 

At a closer look, “we see that some points at missing from the NCA,” the Kachin leader said. The government and ethnic groups on the NCCT are still far apart. “These points must be solved.” And the absence of some ethnic groups means that the agreement is not on a national in scope.

There is also a bad precedent. On 10 March, the government and student groups made a deal on education reform; however, this has not stopped violence and military repression, effectively making it moot.

Some 135 ethnic groups live in Myanmar. This has made peaceful coexistence an uphill battle, especially with the central government, which is dominated by majority Burmese.

In the past, the military junta used an iron fist against the more unruly minorities, like the Kachin, who live in their homonymous state along the border with China, and more recently, the Kokang, in Shan state.

Reignited in June 2011 after 17 years of relative calm, the war in Kachin State has left dozens of civilians dead with at least 200,000 people displaced.

In August, local bishops made an appeal for peace, calling for a lasting solution to the conflict.

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