YANGON (Reuters) - A ceasefire agreement between eight of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups and the government is set to be signed on Thursday, the culmination of over two years of negotiations aimed at bringing an end to the majority of the country’s long-running conflicts.
But the deal will fall short of its nationwide billing, with seven of the 15 armed groups invited declining to take part amid disagreement over who the process should include and ongoing distrust of Myanmar’s semi-civilian government and its still-powerful military.
The absentees will be a blow for President Thein Sein, a former general, who made the nationwide ceasefire agreement a key platform of his reformist agenda after taking power in 2011, ending nearly 50 years of military rule.
He has pushed for a signing ahead of a Nov. 8 general election.
Thein Sein, along with foreign diplomats, military officials and armed group leaders, will attend a lavish signing ceremony in Naypyitaw that has been widely publicized by state-owned media. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not attend.
The United Wa State Army, believed to be the largest and best equipped of the country’s armed ethnic groups, has remained largely on the sidelines of the peace process since its beginning and will not sign.
Also missing is the Kachin Independence Organization, which controls vast areas of Kachin State, in Myanmar’s northeast.
The group’s armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army, has clashed regularly with the Myanmar military since 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the two broke down.
An official from the government-linked Myanmar Peace Center told Reuters that the two, which operate on the Myanmar-China border, had come under pressure from China not to sign. China has denied these claims.
Among those that will be signing is the Karen National Union (KNU), Myanmar’s oldest armed group.
The KNU has fought one of the world’s longest running conflicts with the Myanmar military spanning nearly 70 years.
The KNU said in a statement that it hoped the ceasefire would bring, “the termination of civil war and the building of genuine peace.”
All of the groups signing were removed this week by the government from its list of Unlawful Associations.
The colonial-era law was used to prosecute people who had contact with the groups. The removals could be a crucial step to the groups joining the political mainstream.
Those groups that have opted not to sign on Thursday will still be able to do so in the future.
Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Mike Collett-White