A new joint peace fund management team led by Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was formed on Tuesday in Naypyidaw to ensure that funds from international donors earmarked for the country’s peace process are used effectively and transparently.
Representatives from ethnic militias that did not sign the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) in October 2015 also will lead the team, which consists of 18 officials from the national government, military, parliament, and ethnic armed groups, said a statement released by the State Counselor’s Office.
“The team was officially formed today,” said Colonel Khun Okka, leader of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), an ethnic militia that has signed the NCA. “The guidelines for the team and four priority sections were approved.”
The team agreed to use the funds for a more inclusive nationwide cease-fire, peace talks, development work, and Myanmar’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center, while minimizing waste and eliminating unnecessary costs, the statement said.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is head of the country’s peace center as well as state counselor and foreign affairs minister, is spearheading the country’s peace process, aiming to end decades of civil wars between ethnic armed groups and the national armed forces.
She led a new round of national peace talks with NCA signatories and several nonsignatories in late August and early September at the 21st-century Panglong Conference in a bid to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars and forge national reconciliation in Myanmar.
Another meeting is expected to be held in February 2017.
A single alliance
The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a Chiang Mai, Thailand-based political alliance of armed ethnic groups that did not sign NCA, is soliciting all armed militias to form a single military and political alliance, RFA has learned.
UNFC vice chairman Naing Han Thar, who is also vice chairman of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), has been talking separately since Monday with the four ethnic militias that teamed up in November to launch a coordinated attack on several military and government targets in the northern part of Shan state, sources familiar with the situation said.
The attacks triggered a new round of intensified fighting with government troops, which has displaced thousands of residents.
The alliance members—the Arakan Army (AA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army TNLA—have not signed the NCA.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar told Reuters on Tuesday that up to 15,000 people may have fled fighting and crossed into neighboring China over the past month. Another 2,400 have been displaced internally in northern Shan state since Nov. 20 when the Northern Alliance launched its attack, the report said.
The UNFC will also hold discussions with the United Wa State Army (UWSA), which walked out of the Panglong Conference, and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), an insurgent group in Myanmar’s eastern Shan state where much fighting has occurred.
Based on the outcome of the discussions, the UNFC will determine at a Dec. 27 meeting how all ethnic armed groups will work together in the future.
UNFC members would not confirm that they are talking with the ethnic militias when RFA’s Myanmar Service contacted for them for comment.
Most of the ethnic militias seek the establishment of a federal democratic union in the country with equality for all ethnic peoples, along with the right to determine their own fate and preserve their languages and cultures.
Civilian injured, hundreds flee homes
In the meantime, fire from heavy weapons in fighting between the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS) and the TNLA on Tuesday injured one civilian and forced about 1,800 villagers from their homes near the northern Shan state town of Namtu.
The injured villager was sent to a hospital in Lashio, the largest town in northern Shan state, while the residents who fled took shelter in Buddhist monasteries.
The RCSS/SSA has also engaged in periodic skirmishes with the Myanmar army in Shan state, the latest of which occurred during the weekend.
Fighting between the two militias broke out in late November 2015, about six weeks after the signing of the NCA between the government and eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armed groups.
The RCSS, the political organization that oversees the SSA, is a signatory to the NCA. After the group signed the accord, the Myanmar army joined forces with it to launch an offensive against the holdout TNLA in Shan state.
Fighting in Shan state near the Chinese border has also disrupted traffic flows along a main thoroughfare between Mandalay and the border trade town of Muse during the past week, forcing several truck drivers to spend the night on the road.
“We left Kutkai about 6 p.m.,” one driver who did not give his name told RFA. “We are carrying bags of rice, and we already have spent one night here on the road.”
Some drivers said authorities gave priority passage to trucks transporting perishable goods through the heavily trafficked border area where huge trucks transport agricultural produce to China and return to Myanmar with construction materials, electrical products, and consumer goods.
Peace requires charter amendments
Nyan Win, spokesman for the ruling National League of Democracy (NLD) government, told RFA on Tuesday that peace will not possible if all ethnic armed groups do not join the process.
He also said the NLD government has been trying to include all ethnic militias in the peace negotiations, but has still not succeeded.
“The peacemaking process is very important for our country, but people are acting slowly,” he said.
“We will have peace only if everybody works together,” he said. “We don’t have peace yet because people haven’t accepted having an all-inclusive NCA” that would include all armed militias.
The NLD government is also try to amend the country’s constitution, written up in 2008 under military junta rule, to limit the presence and veto power of army officers in parliament, Nyan Win said.
Myanmar will not attain peace if the constitution cannot be amended, he said.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun and Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.