Myanmar government and rebels agree on ceasefire draft

Agreement signed by President Thein Sein and 16 ethnic groups comes after more than a year of intense talks.

Myanmar President Thein Sein is seated at center while representatives of the government and armed ethnic groups sign an agreement on the draft of a nationwide cease-fire agreement,
The agreement was signed by President Thein Sein and 16 ethnic groups [AP]

After more than 60 years of armed conflict, the government of Myanmar and ethnic rebel groups today agreed on a draft nationwide ceasefire agreement geared towards ending civil war, the United Nations said in a statement.

The agreement, which was signed by President Thein Sein and 16 ethnic groups, comes after more than a year of intense negotiations between the government’s Union Peace Working Committee and the rebels Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, which were formed to hash out the accord.

Landing a nationwide ceasefire agreement ahead of general elections slated for November has been a major priority for the quasi-civilian government – which took power in 2011 – as it looks to solidify its commitment to reform.

Various ethic rebel groups have been at odds with the government since Myanmar gained independence from the British in 1948.

“The signing of the draft accord between the NCCT and UPWC will pave the way for holding political dialogue,” Myanmar President Thein Sein was reported as saying by Reuters during a surprise visit to the site in Naypyitaw this morning where the accord was signed.

He added that the accord will be forwarded to the parliament for approval and the final agreement to be drawn within the next couple of months.

Naing Han Thar, head of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team charged with facilitating the ceasefire, told reporters on Monday that even though an agreement has been realised, several unspecified issues were omitted and would need to be negotiated before the ceasefire is finalised.

“We have some different views about the framework and when we will hold political dialogue,” he said.

Nevertheless, the United Nations lauded the agreement as an important first step towards a larger dialogue for creating sustainable peace.

“For the government of Myanmar and 16 ethnic armed groups to reach a ceasefire agreement after more than sixty years of conflict is a historic and significant achievement,” Vijay Nambiar, the UN special adviser on Myanmar, said in a statement.

Despite the agreement however, the ceasefire does not include a ceasefire with the Kokang ethnic Chinese group whom the government has been fighting in northern Shan State since February.

Experts, meanwhile, remain sceptical that the deal will result in any meaningful impact.

“I’m not that confident that the agreement will have any major impact on the ground any time soon,” said David Mathieson, a senior research for the Human Rights Watch in Myanmar.

“The real impact will be when communities on the ground benefit, from increased human rights protection, security from rampant land grabs and destructive development projects and the greed of armed groups, both government and ethnic,” he said.

“That is a long way off, so any analysis of the ceasefire agreement has to put these challenges in perspective. Real peace is years away.”

This week’s talks were the latest of seven rounds that began in 2013.

Source: Al Jazeera