Alliance of Ethnic Armed Groups Positions Itself to Meet With Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi

The seven militias first meet with the government’s Peace Commission in a closed-door session on the sidelines of the 21st Century Panglong Conference.

Tin Myo Win, chairman of the Myanmar government's Peace Commission, briefs reporters at the 21st Century Panglong Conference in Naypyidaw, May 25, 2017.

Representatives from Myanmar’s peace negotiating team on Thursday met with a delegation of seven ethnic armed groups from the northeast that did not attend the second day of the government's key peace talks, the chairman of the administration's Peace Commission said.

The allied ethnic armed groups led by Bao Yuri, vice chairman of the United Wa State Army (UWSA)—the largest ethnic militia in Myanmar—did not comment to the media on what the parties discussed at the closed-door session in the capital Naypyidaw on the sidelines of the 21st Century Panglong Conference.

The other members of the delegation are the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA-N), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

The ethnic militias said they would only meet with the government for peace talks as a coalition under a body called the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC).

The FPNCC agreed on specific propositions concerning political negotiations during an April 19 meeting in Pangkham, eastern Myanmar's Shan state, and subsequently submitted them to the government.

The Peace Commission’s chief negotiator Tin Myo Win told the online journal The Irrawaddy that the meeting was a social event to build mutual trust between ethnic armed organizations and the government.

Representatives from the seven ethnic militias, which have not signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the government, headed to Naypyidaw on Tuesday, even though they were invited to attend the summit not as full delegates, but as “special guests.”

The delegation attended the opening of the second session of the summit, also known as the Union Peace Conference, and a dinner hosted by Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday.

Friday meeting

On Friday, the seven allied ethnic armed groups will meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, who also serves as state counselor and foreign minister.

She will meet the groups separately, with the KIA, UWSA, SSPP, and NDAA invited to one meeting, and the TNLA, AA, and MNDAA to another, government spokesman Zaw Htay told members of the media on Thursday.

Myanmar military officials, government ministers, lawmakers, members of the international community, and ethnic rebel groups that have signed the NCA discussed politics, the economy, social and land issues, the environment, and security matters on the second day of the conference.

General Mutu Say Poe, chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU), the country’s oldest ethnic militia, called for a more inclusive peace process in a speech to peace conference delegates on Thursday, The Irrawaddy reported.

Though the KNU is a signatory to the NCA, Mutu Say Poe reproached the government for inviting to the conference only those ethnic militias that had signed the peace pact.

“We cannot solve the problems covering the whole nation only with those who signed the NCA,” he said. “I want to stress that there are still other national ethnic armed groups who are stakeholders in building up a future federal nation.”

Disagreement over phrase

Meanwhile, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), a major political party in Shan state, rejected a non-break-away policy from the union in political talks at the conference on Thursday.

In a statement, the party said that the policy is different from that of the Panglong Agreement of February 1947 when Shan, Kachin, and Chin ethnic minority leaders signed a pact with national hero General Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi, to grant the groups ethnic autonomy within an independent Myanmar. The country had been a British colony.

Such a point could break the unity of ethnic people, the SNLD said.

“We already have our ‘three main national causes,’” said Sai Htin Kyaw, the SNLD’s representative at the peace conference, in a reference to the popular military slogan about preventing the disintegration of the union, reinforcing national solidarity, and ensuring the perpetuation of sovereignty.

“This is already enough, so the ‘non-break-away from the union policy’ is not the one we need to discuss,” he said.

Colonel Zaw Min Tun from the office of Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing suggested using the phrase “living together in the union policy” instead of “non-break-away from the union policy.”

“We have been talking about how to use other words if the phrase ‘non-break-away from the union policy’ is too harsh,” he said. “We will soon have a similar phrase that is not as harsh as this one.”

Salai Lian Mhone Sar Khaung of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) said the body had discussed other options.

“We have been discussing different topics, nationally, ethnically, and regionally at the national-level peace talks so that we can have different voices, feelings, views, and perspectives from all people,” he said. “There are no peace talks on earth like the ones we are holding now.”

Headed by Aung San Suu Kyi and composed of armed ethnic groups that signed the NCA, political party representatives, and government representatives, the UPDJC is overseeing the drafting process of the framework for political dialogue.

Zaw Htay, director-general of the State Counselor’s Office, said the parties are still working on basic policies, but will have more detailed ideas later in their discussions.

The Panglong Conference is the key initiative of the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government, which has been in power for just over a year, to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars across wide swathes of the country of 54 million people.

Myanmar's peace process has been hindered by ongoing clashes between the armed forces and ethnic militias primarily in northern Shan state and neighboring Kachin state, which border China.

The first session of the peace conference was held in late August and early September 2016.

Reported by Win Naung Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.