By Zin Linn
An initial peace agreement was signed at a ceremony on Friday between the state level peace group from the Shan State Government of Myanmar (Burma) and the Shan State Army South (RCSS/SSA) at Taunggyi Hotel in Shan State, the New Light of Myanmar reported today.
Present at the ceremony were leader of Union level peace group Union Minister for Rail Transportation U Aung Min, Union Minister for Electric Power No.2 U Khin Maung Soe, Shan State Chief Minister U Sao Aung Myat, State Minister for Security and Border Affairs Col Aung Thu, General Staff Officer (Grade-1) of Triangle Region Command Lt-Col Zaw Tun Myint, State Advocate General U Maung Maung and officials and U Sai Lu of RCSS/SSA peace group and leading members of the Shan State Army.
First, the initial agreement was signed in the presence of Union Ministers U Aung Min and U Khin Maung Soe and Lt-Col Zaw Tun Myint and they exchanged gifts. Next, State Minister Col Aung Thu and U Sai Lu of RCSS/SSA Peace group exchanged the documents and had a documentary photo taken together with the Union Ministers.
The truce, signed in the Shan State capital Taunggyi, was the newest milestone that the new so-called Burma’s civilian government is reaching out to its adversaries in the war-torn country which has made a series of pro-reform moves in the recent past.
Civil war against ethnic rebels has spoiled parts of the country especially in ethnic rural areas since its independence in 1948. Ending of the conflicts with ethnic groups as well as gross human rights abuses involving government soldiers in ethnic areas, is an important claim for the international community.
Hillary Clinton, the first US secretary of state to pay a recent three-day visit to Burma in more than 50 years, said she saw opportunities during her trip that provided some grounds for encouragement.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the release of political prisoners and an end to the brutal ethnic violence that has devastated the nation for decades.
The government must end human rights abuses, hostilities against ethnic rebels, release all political prisoners and ensure that no more are arrested in the future for their beliefs,” Clinton said.
Burma’s Thein Sein government appears to open a first phase of cessation of hostilities plan, since the US has clearly called for an end to the war against the ethnic people.
The Shan State Army South has been one of the leading revolutionary forces still fighting the government, with thousands of guerrilla fighters mostly stationed near the Thai-Burma border.
Last month, Burmese government representatives held peace talks near the Thai-Burma border with several ethnic groups fighting a long-running resistance war for self-determination.
For instance, U Aung Min, union minister of railway transport and special representative of President Thein Sein, met delegations from Shan, Karen, Karenni, Chin and Kachin armed ethnic groups at a secret location on the Thai-Burma border on November 19, as reported by the Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N).
Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Karen National Union (KNU) and Chin National Front (CNF) had reportedly agreed to sign ceasefire accords with respective state governments after the preparatory meeting with U Aung Min.
However, at the same time, the war against the Kachin rebels has been ongoing, resulting in heavy casualties and producing thousands of refugees near the Sino-Burma border. In brief, while other ethnic groups are on the way to negotiation, the Kachin group has been under attack. The government should not discriminate against KIO in favor of other groups.
According to some observers, peace mediators have been trying to reach peace agreements with the Karen National Union, the Kachin Independence Army, the Chin National Front and the Karenni National Progressive Party.
Unconfirmed reports said that there are cabinet-members who support reform in the government, and there are different members who oppose it. Anyhow, in the midst of U.S. assistance and pressure on the Thein Sein government, which is still backed by the military, Burma’s democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, said that she believed change was on the horizon for the nation.