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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Armed ethnic groups' conference begins in Laiza

Armed ethnic groups' conference begins in Laiza

By Ei Ei Toe Lwin

After a 30-minute discussion, organisers eventually agreed to the demand of the Karen National Union, Restoration Council of Shan State and United Nationalities Federal Council to switch the order of the agenda so that political dialogue would be discussed first.

Almost 100 participants from 18 armed ethnic groups, including UNFC members, gathered at the Kachin Independence Organisation headquarters of Laiza on October 30 for the three days of talks. The historic meeting – the first of its kind in more than 60 years – was convened to examine a draft ceasefire agreement proposed by the government. Groups are expected to decide whether to agree to sign the ceasefire at a ceremony in Nay Pyi Taw.

The only absentees were the United Wa State Army and National Democratic Alliance Army, a group based at Mong La in eastern Shan State.

The nationwide ceasefire had been the first item on the agenda but representatives from a number of groups objected when the conference agenda was discussed at 9:45am.

"Our goal is to solve political issues through political means. It’s impossible to reach a concrete ceasefire if we won’t discuss politics first. I suggest we should change the agenda to discuss the political framework first,” said U Han Nyaung Wai, a representative of RCSS, the political wing of the Shan State Army-South.

U Khun Okkar, vice general secretary of the UNFC, and Saw Htoo Htoo Lay, a political adviser to the KNU, supported the suggestion.

“We should discuss and find suggestions on political dialogue that we can put to the government,” U Khun Okkar said.

The conference organising committee explained why it had listed the nationwide ceasefire as the first point of discussion, ahead of the framework of political dialogue, but agreed to change the order.

“The conference is mainly focused on finalising whether we accept the nationwide ceasefire draft or not,” said U Naing Han Thar, secretary of the organising committee.

“We arranged the agenda to examine the ceasefire draft but [we agree that] all issues are linked to political dialogue,” he said.

Representatives of all ethnic armed groups gave welcoming remark at the conference and said they hoped it can find ways to drive the peace process forward.

“I’m very proud to be able to give a speech at this conference – it is an historic moment in Myanmar,” Lieutenant General N’ Ban La, vice chairman of the KIO, said in his opening remarks.

He said all armed ethnic groups want the conference to help shape the development of a “genuine federal union”, adding that many local and international observers are watching it closely.

“Let’s open a new chapter in our history with strength through unity,” Lt Genl N’ Ban La said.

KNU leader General Saw Mutu Sae Poe also stressed the importance of unity.

“We understand that it is difficult to get agreement from this conference because we all have different religions and cultures but at this time it is very important to have unity. So let’s work on the idea of “unity in diversity” as we find ways to make this conference a success,” he said.

President U Thein Sein also sent a message to mark the opening of the conference in which he expressed his support and desire for the talks to be successful. In a letter to his “national brothers”, he said he believed the talks would “be able to support the signing of a nationwide ceasefire, to [help] set a framework for political discussions and to build peace through political negotiations”.

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