Myanmar peace process calls for resolve

The Myanmar government's signing of a nationwide draft agreement for a ceasefire with its armed ethnic groups represents a breakthrough, but the peace process remains a fragile one. Already, one of the rebel groups, the Kachin Independence Army, is saying that it will not be possible to sign the deal formally within this month as has been envisaged.

Although the draft deal was signed despite the absence of the Kokang rebels, whose recent clashes with the government army in the northern Shan state led to their exclusion, they are part of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) that comprises 16 ethnic armed groups negotiating with the government. There is uncertainty that the leaders of the NCCT will sign off on the deal if it excludes one of their members.

Given the fact that this draft deal had been reached through no easy means, it should not be abandoned by either side. The process for a nationwide ceasefire through collective negotiation began in November 2013. It went through seven rounds of talks and four drafts, with both sides painstakingly working through their differences even as sporadic clashes took place. Having reached an agreement despite lingering mistrust, the deal should not be taken lightly. It's true some of the more intractable issues have been left out of the draft and kicked down the road to be dealt with at the next phase of the process, the political dialogue. But imperfect as it is, the agreement allows both sides to keep pushing towards a lasting peace that the people of Myanmar yearn for.

What is more difficult and daunting is the task that lies ahead of working towards a political solution to end the civil war that began soon after Myanmar gained independence in 1947.

Armed conflict with ethnic minority groups flared up after the military sought to build a centralised state based on a promise, made by founding father Aung San, to set up a federal union that would give the ethnic groups autonomy to manage their own affairs within their territories. The current government has agreed to discuss federalism as part of peace talks. However, many sticking points remain, including disarmament and demobilisation issues, the reintegration process and the dismantling of a war economy that includes an illicit drug trade.

Against such difficulties, it will do Myanmar no good if political reform - of which the peace agreement is a cornerstone - is deferred. The reluctance to amend the nation's flawed Constitution has long been criticised by the international community. The latest effort of the regime to hold talks with allies and rivals on possible changes to the military-drafted charter should not be allowed to fail.