Seven ethnic rebel armies are all set to ink a ‘nationwide ceasefire agreement’ with the Myanmar government after nearly two years of negotiations, but 10 such groups like the Kachin Independence Army have refused to sign the accord.
The accord will be signed formally on October 15 in the national capital Nay Pyi Taw, but the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Khaplang) is not among the seven that will sign the accord.
The groups that will sign are the Karen National Union (KNU), the Chin National Front, the Arakan Liberation Party, the Pa-Oh National Liberation Organisation, the KNU/KNLA Peace Council, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front. Two groups are as yet undecided and 10 have refused to sign.
Myanmar Government’s View
The NSCN(K) has been in a three-year ceasefire with the Myanmar government, which has promised not to attack outfits that are not signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement.
“The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) is an open book. The door is open for those organisations currently not ready to sign, to rejoin and participate in the process when they are ready,” U Aung Min, chief government negotiator, told journalists at the Myanmar Peace Centre in Yangon this week.
“The government has no intention to use the unwillingness of some organisations to currently sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement as a reason to launch offensives against them. Existing bilateral agreements will be adhered to, and issues will be resolved peacefully. Accidental conflicts that arise will be handled by mechanisms that emerge from the NCA,” he said.
That means the government will respect the 2012 ceasefire with the NSCN(K).
NSCN(K) Not a Signatory to Ceasefire Accord
- 7 Myanmar ethnic rebel groups to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement with the government on October 15
- NSCN (K), which signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement with Myanmar government in 2012, not among the seven
- 10 ethnic rebel armies including the powerful Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have refused to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement
- NSCN(K) has close ties with KIA and Kokang group MNDAA, which have not been included in the accord by Myanmar
- Myanmar peace negotiators however say those not signing the agreement will not face military offensive and bilateral ceasefire accords will hold
What Explains NSCN(K)’s Reluctance?
But why is the NSCN(K) not signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement? Neither its leaders nor the Myanmar government has made that clear, but the development is significant for India which has been on tenterhooks over NSCN(K) attacks against its security forces.
It is possible that the refusal by most rebel armies based on Myanmar’s northern borders with China to sign the ceasefire pact may have influenced the NSCN(K).
Only those rebel groups on Myanmar’s eastern borders with Thailand and on its western border with India and Bangladesh are signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement.
The NSCN(K) has a close understanding with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) , which refused to sign the ceasefire pact , and also the Kokang group MNDAA, which the Myanmar government is unwilling to bring under the purview of the nationwide ceasefire.
NSCN(K) received its latest supplies of Chinese weapons from MNDAA not long ago and they were brought in through the Kachin state, according to Myanmar intelligence.
Myanmar Government’s ‘Smart’ Move
Khaplang’s representatives discussed the ceasefire terms with Myanmar negotiators as late as September. But Myanmar’s refusal to grant more autonomy to the Naga self-administered area in Sagaing Division may have upset Khaplang – though not accepting the ceasefire pact would foreclose future concessions from Nay Pyi Taw.
Some analysts say the Myanmar government may be dragging its foot to include the NSCN(K) in the ceasefire to send a ‘friendly signal’ to New Delhi.
During successive recent visits to Delhi, Myanmar dignitaries have told Indian officials that while it is difficult for the Thein Sein government to renege on the 2012 ceasefire with Khaplang, it will surely not allow the rebel leader to use Burmese soil to attack Indian targets.
In fact, there are reports that an NSCN(K) camp used for launching attacks on Indian territory was dismantled by Myanmar security forces last week.
Denying NSCN(K) a place in the nationwide ceasefire agreement may be one way to pressurise the rebel group into stopping its hostile operations against Indian forces and ensure they don’t shelter other northeast Indian rebel groups like the ULFA or the Manipuri KYKL.
The NSCN-K has not staged a major attack against Indian forces in the last two months after a string of ambushes in June and July that left nearly 30 troops dead.
Delhi , which has asked Myanmar to hand over S S Khaplang and three of his commanders to stand trial in India for killing its soldiers, was upset when representatives of the Burmese Naga rebel leader were called to a meeting with Myanmar peace negotiators in September.
Myanmar may not have delivered on India’s request because that would seem to undermine its self-respect after all the Indian braggadocio over raids “deep inside Myanmar.” But it may be trying to ensure Khaplang refrains from hostile action against India using his Sagaing bases and the protection of a ceasefire. At the same time, it seems keen to maintain its 2012 ceasefire with Khaplang without giving him the legitimacy of being included in the nationwide ceasefire agreement.
(The writer, a veteran BBC correspondent, is author of two highly acclaimed books on Northeast India – “Insurgent Crossfire” and “Troubled Periphery”.)