Newspaper article International New York Times

Myanmar Signs Cease-Fire with 8 Ethnic Groups

Newspaper article International New York Times

Myanmar Signs Cease-Fire with 8 Ethnic Groups

Article excerpt

The ethnic groups with the largest militias -- the Kachin and the Wa -- did not sign the agreement Thursday, and key issues were left unresolved.

Myanmar's government signed a cease-fire agreement with eight armed ethnic groups on Thursday, in what the country's leaders described as a major step toward peace in the vast borderland regions that have been restive since the earliest days of the country's independence.

But the deal, signed in the capital, Naypyidaw, leaves many questions unanswered, including how the balance of power between the central government and the ethnic regions will be determined. It does not require the ethnic groups to disarm.

Perhaps most significant, the deal principally covers ethnic groups along the border with Thailand, but not the long stretch of territory bordering China. The ethnic groups with the two largest militias and tens of thousands of soldiers -- the Kachin and the Wa - - did not sign the agreement. Fighting in the Kachin region occurred as recently as Wednesday, an officer with the Kachin armed forces said.

"The door is open to other groups that have yet to sign" the agreement, President Thein Sein said at the ceremony in Naypyidaw. He called the agreement "the only way to build peace."

The deal is formally called the Nationwide Cease-fire Agreement, but analysts say that is a misnomer. Even as the government pursued the cease-fire, it has continued to battle ethnic groups including the Kachin, the Kokang and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, all of which are based along the border with China.

"If there are large areas of the country that are not included, it's not really a nationwide cease-fire," said Tom Kramer, a researcher at the Transnational Institute, an organization based in the Netherlands that examines ethnic issues in Myanmar. "The words about a nationwide cease-fire and talk of peace ring very hollow in some of these areas."

Negotiators acknowledged the deal's shortcomings, but they said it provided a framework that other groups could join in the future.

"Better a half-signed deal than no deal at all," Aung Naing Oo, an official at the Myanmar Peace Center, a government-led organization that has brokered talks with ethnic groups, wrote in an article this month. He added, "The government will go ahead and cement a deal with whichever groups come on board."

An officer of the Kachin Independence Army, Col. Zau Taung, said on Thursday that there had been fighting in the states of Kachin and Shan this week, including a skirmish in a Kachin township on Wednesday afternoon. …

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