The Burmese government has agreed to include in a nationwide ceasefire agreement a pledge for the country to be governed in a federal system, participants in a meeting between government negotiators and rebel leaders said Friday.
The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represents most of the country’s rebel groups, met with the government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Rangoon on Friday.
One of the ethnic armed groups’ key demands is for the country to adopt a federal system with more local autonomy in ethnic regions, and Burma Army representatives have previously expressed a willingness to include federalism in the nationwide ceasefire deal currently being negotiated.
But NCCT head Nai Hong Sar told a press conference that Friday’s meeting was the first time the government side had firmly agreed to the demand.
“This meeting was good and there was a lot of improvement. The most important thing is that the government agreed to have a federal system, which means democracy, equal rights and self determination in the country. They agreed with what our ethnic leaders proposed,” said Nai Hong Sar.
“The good message for the people is that we passed the main point already, and this is the really important point. The remaining points will be easy to discuss.”
A single draft of the nationwide ceasefire agreement was completed months ago, but the wording of a number of key points remained disputed.
Talks on Friday and Saturday are being held to work through the draft ahead of a formal meeting including political parties and MPC members on Monday, at which plans for political dialogue to follow the ceasefire agreement will be discussed.
Nai Hong Sar said the issue of creating a federal army for Burma, another demand of the ethnic armed groups, would be part of the later political dialogue.
Hla Maung Shwe, a director of the government-linked MPC, confirmed that the government’s negotiators had agreed to include wording about federalism in the agreement.
“I found there was a lot compromise, understanding and consideration from each side at the meeting. We reached agreement to have a federal system, which is important,” he said.
Ethnic groups have long demanded for Burma to be governed under a federal system, but the military government that ruled the country until 2011 argued that granting too much autonomy to the border regions would lead to succession and the break-up of the nation.
The nominally civilian government that took its place in 2011 has signed ceasefire agreements with most of the ethnic groups and initiated national talks. Although conflict is still taking place in the northern part of the country—most significantly between the Burma Army and ethnic Kachin fighters—the government wants to wrap up the nationwide ceasefire agreement in September and conduct political dialogue ahead of elections late next year.