Myanmar President Thein Sein [BBC profile] signed a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) [text, PDF] with eight armed rebel groups on Thursday in an effort to establish peace in Myanmar. The agreement is a move towards incorporating rebel groups into the political process, although seven armed groups involved in the talks did not sign the final deal. Of the seven non-signatories, one is the largest armed group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), which has an estimated 25,000 members operating on the border with China. Although the agreement is not truly comprehensive, Thein Sein said [Myanmar Peace Center, speech], “history will judge the value of the NCA not by the number of signatories but how the terms of the NCA are effectively implemented.” Attendees to the historic signing [BBC news] included representatives of the UN, the EU and China. The deal was concluded just weeks ahead of general elections [Network Myanmar, website] scheduled to take place on November 8.
The conflict between the Myanmar government and various ethnic and other groups has been on going since independence from the British in 1948. In March UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee called on state authorities [JURIST report] to address ongoing challenges to the democratic reform process in Myanmar. Previous Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana expressed concern [JURIST report] last April about the deteriorating human rights situation in the country’s Rakhine State [JURIST news archive]. In October 2013 Quintana warned [JURIST report] that sectarian violence between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State was contributing to wider anti-Muslim sentiments in Myanmar and threatening the positive changes undertaken by the country in the past two years.