Myanmar will consider including three ethnic armies currently fighting government troops in talks to sign a final nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) if requested by armed ethnic groups at the end of a six-day summit scheduled to begin Friday, according to a government advisor.
Representatives from 12 of the country’s armed ethnic groups will attend the May 1-6 conference at United Wa State Army (UWSA) headquarters in Shan state’s Panghsang township to try to end military conflicts with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Arakan Army (AA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—to ensure they do not scuttle a preliminary peace deal.
An official request through the Panghsang Summit to include the MNDAA, AA and TNLA in the process to finalize a draft NCA would be reviewed at the highest levels of the executive, government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) advisor Hla Maung Shwe told RFA’s Myanmar Service Thursday.
Representatives of all three ethnic armies will be in attendance at the summit.
“If [requested], the central committee will make a decision on it,” Hla Maung Shwe said.
“[President Thein Sein]—the leader of the central committee—has often said that after an NCA is signed, we will move forward toward all-inclusive political dialogue,” he said, referring to talks that could include armed ethnic groups that are not part of the peace deal.
“As far as we know, the government will work on signing the NCA with 16 groups. That policy hasn’t changed, but policies can have weak points and they can be changed as needed.”
In March, a draft NCA was signed between the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) coalition of 16 armed ethnic groups and the government’s Union Peace-Making Work Committee (UPWC).
Reports have suggested that a final NCA could be signed next month, though sources have said that ongoing fighting between government troops and the MNDAA in Shan’s Kokang region, the AA in Rakhine state and the TNLA in northern Shan state could limit its effectiveness. The Kokang fighting has claimed the lives of several hundred government troops since it erupted in February.
The government has said it will find a way to sign an NCA without the MNDAA, AA and TNLA, although other armed groups that are involved in the peace process have urged Thein Sein to include the three groups in any final agreement.
Hla Maung Shwe said the government had not officially requested that the UWSA refrain from inviting the three armies to the summit, despite reports that officials had warned ethnic leaders to exclude them, and expressed hope that the talks would bolster rebel support for a final NCA.
“The MPC, NCCT and UPWC have agreed to sign a final NCA as soon as possible,” he said.
“We are waiting for the result from the Panghsang Summit as we hope it will build support for signing the final NCA.”
The 12 groups invited to the Panghsang Summit consist of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO/KIA), Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Pa-Oh National Liberation Organisation (PNLO), New Mon-State Party (NMSP), Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP/SSA), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), UWSA, MNDAA, TNLA and AA.
The UWSA chose to invite only 12 groups, even though the NCCT had urged them to include more groups in the summit. Only nine of the 16 NCCT member groups received invitations.
Hla Maung Shwe suggested that ongoing fighting between rebel groups and government troops would not present an obstacle to signing a final NCA, citing “good foundations for peace in the country.”
“Because of these foundations, we will be able to sign a final NCA with the NCCT,” he said.
“The peacemaking process is ongoing and there may be fighting even if we sign the agreement. But as the president said, this problem can be solved during the political dialogue process.”
He added that he expected “positive results” from the Panghsang Summit.
MPs weigh in
Lawmakers largely held high expectations for the summit, suggesting it could provide insight on the willingness of armed ethnic groups who are not directly involved in the peace process to work with the government.
Naing Ngwe Thein of the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP) said he hoped that progress would be made at the talks, as many ethnic groups would be in attendance and would meet with Minister Aung Min of the President’s Office at its conclusion.
But he warned that “it is not good to have fighting while the draft NCA is signed” and urged the groups to find a solution to the ongoing conflicts.
Aye Thar Aung of the Arakan National Party (ANP) called the summit “very important,” and said he was interested in seeing the results of the meeting because it was being hosted by the USWA, which had not been a signatory of the draft NCA.
Another group that has been largely absent from talks with the government is the KNU, and Nang Khin Htwe Myint of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) said he was curious to see how willing its leaders would be to deal with the military.
Sai Nyunt Lwin of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party questioned whether “we can get a final decision [on the NCA], as not all ethnic groups were invited,” adding that he hoped a decision to increase the summit from three to six days might mean the UWSA would ask more groups to join.
“If not, a conference that all ethnic groups can attend must be held, as we need an agreement from all stakeholders to sign a final NCA,” he said.
The government has said it wants an NCA in place before national parliamentary elections scheduled for late October or early November this year.
Reported by Pyone Moh Moh Zin and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.