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Myanmar: Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement

Paper No. 5768                                      Dated 17-Aug-2014

By C.S. Kuppuswamy

This paper may please be read in conjunction with Paper No. 5670 “Myanmar: The Peace Process Drags on” ( dated 24 March 2014 by this author posted on this site.

Myanmar has been ravaged by perhaps the longest Civil war in history, lasting for over six decades since Independence.  Though the intensity of the civil war had of late diminished because of the two rounds of bilateral ceasefire agreements between the Government and individual ethnic groups, one in 1989-91 and other since 2011, the war has not come to an end.

The peace process which can be considered to have begun in July 2013 (when President Thein Sein announced at the Chatham House that the war will end soon), is still an on going event and may not fructify before the end of the year.  The first phase of the peace process was to culminate in a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) to be signed by 01 August 2014.  The date has passed off with the stakeholders still undecided on the text of the agreement to be signed though much progress has been achieved kindling hopes of an agreement to be signed within the next two months.

Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement

Myanmar Peace Centre is the nodal agency which is coordinating the talks between the stake holders and organises the meetings on behalf of the government.  Aung Naing Oo, Associate Director of the Peace Dialogue programme in an article “The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement at a glance” (Myanmar Times dated 30 July 2014) has brought out the salient points of this agreement.    The agreement is lengthy with 20 pages in seven chapters covering about 120 different points

  • It has taken nine months for the negotiating parties to come up with the current version of the agreement
  • It is more of a political document than a ceasefire agreement which explains as to why it has taken such a long time.
  • The agreement has a preamble aimed at achieving durable peace with seven chapters dealing with the following:

              Chapter 1          Basic principles

              Chapter 2          Aims & Objectives of the agreement

              Chapter 3          Ceasefire issues

              Chapter 4          Code of conduct once the agreement is signed

              Chapter 5          Political guarantees and political dialogue

              Chapter 6          Transitional Agreements and future plans

              Chapter 7          Official language validity and signing of the agreement.

  • The framework for political dialogue must be jointly developed within 60 days of signing the ceasefire agreement and political dialogue must commence within 90 days.
  • There are also some 20 to 30 terms that are to be defined or redefined so as to be compatible with the agreement and these include federalism, federal army, revolution, union and existing as in existing laws- just to name a few.
  • Both sides have agreed in principle on 75% of the text.  The remaining 25% therefore needs revisiting

Some comments on the Agreement (NCA) by Analysts:

Bertil Lintner (The Irrawaddy 30 April 2014) questions the need for a nationwide ceasefire agreement and writes “Is it meant to find a lasting solution to Myanmar’s decades-long ethnic strife, or is it just a clever divide-and-rule strategy to defeat the other groups by a variety of means, including wearing them down at the negotiating table?  A nationwide ceasefire agreement will only freeze the problem, not solve it”.

“The NCA is a pragmatic attempt to end all hostilities in what has been a horribly destructive war. It will affirm the commitment of all armed groups, including the Tatmadaw, to peace and to the peaceful settlement of problems that confront Myanmar. It is a chance for political leaders on all sides to leave a legacy of peace – a legacy sorely lacking in Myanmar – for generations to come.” – Aung Naing Oo, Associate Director of the Peace Dialogue Program, Myanmar Peace Centre.

“The key points of the ‘Single text Draft’ are yet to be negotiated by both sides.  The government side do not even accept the term ‘federal’.  There is no agreement between both sides about how to proceed after signing (the nationwide ceasefire agreement)”-- NCCT leader Nai Han Tha

“The way the government is trying to secure peace with the ethnic minorities is not sustainable in the long term. It can break down anytime, and when it does, it will even be worse,” said Gen. Baw Kyaw Heh of Karen National Liberation Army (The Irrawaddy June 17, 2014).

“A lasting settlement to decades of ethnic conflict in Myanmar will take several years to achieve—and perhaps several generations,”-- Ashley South, Independent Consultant to the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative

The Government

 The government seems to be keen on having the nationwide ceasefire agreement signed before the end of the year—may be for international acceptance or genuinely for completing the process before the election fever sets in for the 2015 elections.  Perhaps with this aim in view, it is holding frequent meetings with the ethnic groups and even relenting on its earlier stand on issues such as federalism or agreeing on a time frame for political dialogue or disarming the ethnic groups.  However the government does not seem to have the full backing of the military where military matters are concerned.

The Military

The military leaders have been taking part in the peace talks and seem to be in line with the government for an early nationwide ceasefire agreement.  They have however some firm views on disarming, demobilising and reintegrating of the ethnic armies with the military after ceasefire and on adherence to the 2008 Constitution on military matters, which are not acceptable to the ethnic groups now. The army’s apparent unwillingness to accept ethnic armed groups’ key demands is a major concern.  The army is also engaged in some minor offensives in the Kachin and Shan states despite a unilateral ceasefire announced by the government. It will not be easy for the ethnic groups to agree to the dominance of the Military after five decade long civil war and the immense suffering undergone by the ethnic minorities.

Ethnic Groups

Ethnic groups have shown a rare sense of solidarity by forming a eleven member Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) to act on their behalf in all meetings with the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC).

The ethnic groups are also meeting regularly amongst themselves to discuss the proposals and the agreement drafted and modified by the NCCT and the UPWC.

However the United Wa State Army (UWSA)—the biggest among the ethnic armies and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) are not part of the NCCT though they could sign the NCA separately. 

As of now, the government recognises only 16 ethnic armed groups and the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) as meeting the criteria for signing a nationwide ceasefire accord.

International Involvement

Norway is intensely involved in the peace process.  The Norwegian led Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI) formed in March 2012 is a multi-million dollar scheme supporting humanitarian and peace efforts in Myanmar.  Norway also heads the Peace Donor Support Group—a consortium of international donors which has pledged over US $ 500 million in developmental aid to support the process.  Norway along with Sweden has also funded the Pyidangsu institute established in Chiang Mai in February 2014 to act as a study centre and secretariat for the ethnic groups in developing a common approach.

Brussels-based Euro Burma Office (EBO) is also known to be funding the Working Group for Ethnic Coordination (WGEC) formed in June 2012-another umbrella body of ethnic groups.

Japan-based Nippon Foundation is also involved in the process and has reportedly funded the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).

China, despite its avowed policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of its neighbours has got involved in the peace negotiations between the KIO and the government by hosting some talks at Ruili (in Yunnan) as well as sending some observers to the peace talks between the ethnic groups and the government. In dealing with the Wa Army China cannot be ignored.

US, as part of its revised engagement policy with Myanmar, has also started taking great interest in the ongoing peace process.

UN representative Mr. Vijay Nambiar has also participated in some peace talks between the government and the ethnic groups.


The government seems to be keen on having the nationwide ceasefire agreement signed before the end of the year.

Despite all the joint deliberations, the ethnic groups continue to distrust the government  (particularly the military) and feel it might renege on the assurances and commitments.

Despite a unilateral ceasefire announced by the government, the launching of the offensive (however minor they may be) by the military in the Kachin and Shan states even while the peace process is not surprising as the Army as before wants to hold an advantageous strategic position before the ceasefire comes to a finality.  Does it mean that the Army does not have any confidence in completing the peace process? One cannot say.

The non-participation of the United Wa State Army (the biggest of the ethnic armed groups) in the peace process and the government not reacting out to it is rather intriguing though the government has indicated that the UWSA can also separately sign the agreement.  It is also not clear why the other ethnic groups are not reaching out to the Wa.

The (final) draft nationwide ceasefire agreement arrived at after an elaborate joint effort is a lengthy document still with room for different interpretations on contentious issues and debate on the terminology used.

The major concession in the draft ceasefire agreement is that it does not force the ethnic groups to give up their weapons or territory if they sign the agreement.  The position therefore is one of equals coming to a ceasefire that should lead to a political dialogue.

The hard part of the peace process will come after signing the agreement when political dialogue begins. Will it lead to a lasting peace?  That is the question.