Myanmar government: ceasefire with rebel groups

The government in Myanmar concluded ceasefires with eight smaller groups. However, the larger insurgent formations were left out.

Ceremony in the capital Naypyidaw. President Thein Sein (center) and ethnic rebel representatives (left) sign the ceasefire agreement. Photo: dpa

A good three weeks before the general election, the Myanmar government has reached an agreement with eight smaller rebel groups on a ceasefire. The agreement was signed Thursday during a ceremony in the capital, Naypyidaw, by President Thein Sein and representatives of the ethnic rebels. However, more powerful insurgent factions refused to agree to the ceasefire. The Southeast Asian country holds elections on Nov. 8.

After more than six decades of fighting, the agreement is nevertheless seen as a first step toward a more peaceful future. It pitted the government against various minorities demanding more autonomy and control over their sources of raw materials, especially in the north and east of the country. The ethnic groups represent nearly 40 percent of the country’s 52 million inhabitants. They have repeatedly been victims of military abuse and discrimination.

Thein Sein said at the signing ceremony, "The national ceasefire agreement is a historic gift from us to the generations of the future." Although the agreement is not yet in effect nationwide, he said, efforts are being made to reach an agreement with other groups. "The door is open for them." Representatives from the United Nations, the European Union and China were also present at the signing.

Myanmar expert Larry Jagan said that while the agreement is not a nationwide ceasefire, it could mark the start of a process that leads exactly there.

Are military officials still pulling the strings?

After decades of military dictatorship, Myanmar only nominally became a democracy in 2011. But critics complain that the military, such as former junta leader Than Shwe, continues to pull the strings in the background. The constitution drafted by the military in 2008 also reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the army.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is considered the favorite in the parliamentary election. If she were to forge a coalition with smaller parties, she could control the majority. The new parliament will determine the next president.

However, Suu Kyi is not allowed to hold this post: The constitution prohibits anyone with a foreign husband or children from becoming president – a regulation that was probably created in 2008 specifically for her sake. Her husband, who has since died, was British, and her two sons also have British passports.

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