Some 200 people are marching on International Peace Day in downtown Yangon. They hold banners that read “Stop the civil war!”
The music playing through loud speakers are songs of peace with lyrics like “love our ethnic brothers...”
It’s the second time that the government has allowed a peace march like this to go ahead.
30-year-old political activist Ma tin Tin Oo, joined the crowd.
“I want people to be aware of politics and peace. It’s part of our lives. Without peace, we can’t do anything... we can’t even do our own business.”
Burma has been in a state of civil war for more than six decades.
18 ethnic armed groups have been fighting the government for greater autonomy.
Several ceasefire agreements were brokered in the past but they were later broken by the military regime.
But this month, President Thein Sein promises to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement with all ethnic groups.
“This agreement is necessary to move forward,” says U Hla Maung Swe from the Myanmar Peace Centre, the government’s peace advisory board.
“From our experience, from our discussions with armed ethnic groups, they believe the government should sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement first. Then comes the political dialogue. Both the government and the ethnic groups believe that finding a solution through dialogue is the most viable option for everyone.”
So far, the government has signed individual ceasefire agreements with 16 of the 18 armed ethnic groups.
All parties have agreed to begin political dialogue and work together on education and healthcare.
The latest ceasefire deal was signed in February last year with the New Mon State Party, a political wing of the Mon ethnic armed group.
“We want to have peace as soon as possible so people will not be affected by the war,” says Nai Tala Nyi, the group spokesperson.
“People have been suffering from the war for more than a half century. Now it is time for us to have peace. To do this all parties should think about the benefits to the people.”
But there is still fighting and also 70,000 refugees in Kachin State, in Shan state and along the Chinese border.
And as yet, there is no ceasefire deal with the Kachin Independence Army and the Palaung State Liberation Front.
Some women’s rights groups recently held a three-day forum in central Yangon to discuss a peaceful solution to the civil war. It’s the first time they have held such a meeting.
Tin Tin Nyo, general secretary of the Women’s League of Burma, says the government should take time to build trust with ethnic groups.
“The government should consult and sign a preliminary deal with all ethnic armed groups. Then they should proceed with political dialogue and build trust with the groups. Now, the government isn’t following this process, and has boldly gone for a nationwide ceasefire agreement. We think this process is not inclusive.”
And women, she says, should be more involved in the process.
“We can’t just wait for someone to give us our rights... so we need to be involved in the process. Half the country’s population are women. With our help, won’t the peace process run smoother and faster?”
42-year-old May Li Awng is from Kachin state. She works as a volunteer helping women in a refugee camp on the Chinese border.
“We want a guaranteed peace for us all. We can’t mix ceasefires with peace. There will be no peace if the intention is not genuine. This country is a union, with different ethnicities and different religions. We should respect our differences and everyone should be equal. If not, we can’t have a permanent peace.”
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