The Myanmar government will commit itself to political dialogue only on the occasion of the nationwide ceasefire signing, according to Hla Maung Shwe, senior advisor for the Myanmar Peace Centre.
He added that the plan is to launch a broader political dialogue in early 2014. His remarks come as the government faces public criticism over its push to secure a ceasefire before political negotiations have begun. Armed ethnic groups say they prefer to start with political talk before discussing ceasefires.
The government is arranging a ceremony to mark a nationwide ceasefire in October. After the parties sign the ceasefire, it is expected that a “framework meeting” would be held to prepare for the political dialogue, according to the senior advisor.
“As far as I am concerned, an unprecedented political dialogue will take place this time. In the past, we just reached a ceasefire. But now is a good time, from our understanding, to promise political dialogue at the nationwide ceasefire signing ceremony itself,” said Hla Maung Shwe.
However, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of eleven armed ethnic groups, said just after a peace-making meeting on September 8 that they are not sure whether they will attend the ceasefire signing ceremony, as there appears to be no political advantage in doing so.
UNFC has made seven demands of the government to guarantee their attendance at the ceremony, according to the group’s joint general secretary Bado Manman. One requires the government to officially announce the ceasefire throughout the nation. Another seeks a national agreement through discussions with all stakeholders, including armed ethnic groups and civic organizations—and publicity for those discussions.
Armed ethnic groups are skeptical of the nationwide ceasefire. Occasional battles with the army have continued to occur despite region-level ceasefires already in place. On the other hand, the groups have asked to start political dialogue immediately, and to amend the 2008 Constitution to make it federally based.
On September 2, Union Parliament Speaker Thura Shwe Mann told a public meeting in Taunggyi Township that Myanmar would find it difficult to achieve peace and bring about national unity, national consolidation, and the rule of law if the country fails to adopt the federal system.
He also said, during a parliamentary session, that some parliamentarians and the public were of the view that peace cannot be achieved only through peace-making meetings.
Meanwhile, political parties and ethnic groups have begun to discuss amending the 2008 Constitution to make it federally based, as the ethnic groups prefer. The Constitution Review Commission, formed by parliament, will submit its report to parliament before the end of this year.
The road to political dialogue will also be open at every stage for those armed ethnic groups that failed to sign the nationwide ceasefire for any reason, Minister Aung Min, vice-chairperson of the Union Peace-making Committee told the UNFC at a meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand on September 8.
Nevertheless, none of the armed ethnic groups has yet officially announced whether they will attend the nationwide ceasefire signing ceremony, scheduled to be held in Nay Pyi Taw in October.
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