The leaders of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups criticized the government army’s military offensives in their regions during a conference on Monday, saying the fighting could endanger the signing of a final nationwide peace deal, according to a member of one of the ethnic armies.
The armed ethnic groups are meeting this week in Pangsang, northern Shan state, to discuss a draft nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) signed between the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), a coalition of 16 armed ethnic groups, and the government’s Union Peace-Making Work Committee (UPWC) in late March.
“We’ve lost our trust in the government because the government army has more troops and has attacked the ethnic armed groups, although we signed the draft national cease-fire agreement,” Kwe Htoo Win, general-secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We now are suspicious about signing the final NCA.”
The United Wa State Army (UWSA), which controls the Wa Special Region in eastern Shan State, is hosting the summit of 12 selected ethnic groups.
The 12 ethnic armed groups attending the summit are the Restoration Council of Shan State, Kachin Independence Organization, Karen National Union, Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Pa-O National Liberation Organization, New Mon State Party, The United Wa State Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), Shan State Progress Party (SSPP)/Shan State Army (SSA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA-Kokang) and National Democratic Alliance Army (Mongla).
“We have agreed that we have to solve political problems through political means, and ethnic unity is important, although we have doubts and concerns about signing the final NCA,” Kwe Htoo Win said.
He said the groups participating in the summit have primarily been discussing peace and what they need to achieve it.
“The NCA is the first step for moving on to political dialogue,” he said, referring to a protracted phase of negotiations that would follow the signing of the permanent peace deal.
The armed ethnic groups have been pushing for the formation of a federal union as part of the peace deal, and the government wants an NCA in place before national parliamentary elections are held in late October or early November.
“We must create the situation that we can hold political dialogue as we all accept we are going to create a federal union,” Kwe Htoo Win said. “Also, we all accept that we have to work on amending the constitution. We would get the agreements/points from all groups when we hold political dialogues to amend it.”
The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party has called for amendments to the country’s current constitution which came into force in 2008. The party wants to curb the political power of the military, which controls a quarter of the seats in parliament through appointment and holds an effective veto over charter reform.
The armed ethnic groups have backed efforts by the NLD led by Aung San Suu Kyi to reform the constitution, which the party has said contains clauses that are holding Myanmar back from its transition to a democracy after five decades of military rule.
Fighting hinders progress
Progress on moving towards a final NCA has been stymied in recent weeks by fighting between government troops and three ethnic armies—the MNDAA in Shan state’s Kokang region, the AA in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, and the TNLA in northern Shan state.
But Kwe Htoo Win said the armed ethnic groups must find a way to include everyone in the NCA regardless of the current tensions.
“As we are talking about a nationwide ceasefire, we have to find a way to do it with all ethnic groups,” he said. “Both sides [government army and ethnic groups] agreed to decrease fighting when we signed the draft NCA.
On Monday, the government army arrested 12 people for their alleged associations with the AA in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where the ethic army has been engaged in fighting with Myanmar troops, according to Bo Bo Oo, assistant chief of police of Rakhine State.
Ten people from Kyauktaw township and two from the town of Minbya were handed over to state police and charged at township courts, he said.
“According to their testimonies, we know those 12 people have connections to the AA,” he said. “We also found iPads and laptops on them, and there are photos of [other] people who have connections to the AA.”
The officer said police have arrested the people in the photos in their villages and charged them as well.
More than 1,000 people in Arakan state are facing food shortages amid the ongoing fighting which has cut off access to commercial centers, Democratic Voice of Burma reported.
Reported by Thiha Tun and Pyone Moh Moh Zin of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.