UPDATED at 10:35 A.M. EDT on 2018-07-17
Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi met on Friday with 10 ethnic militias that have signed the government’s cease-fire accord, stressing the need for more discussions on ethnic autonomy and the creation of a federal union to advance a peace initiative that aims to end decades of civil war.
The state counselor, who is also Myanmar’s de facto leader, told leaders from the groups attending the third round of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference in Naypyidaw that their decision-making authorities must step up their negotiations, said Khun Myint Tun, chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Army (PNLO).
Aung San Suu Kyi and the ethnic leaders also discussed how to overcome hurdles now being encountered at the conference, during their meeting at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) in Naypyidaw, he said, though he did not elaborate on what the obstacles are.
In most areas the powerful national military and the ethnic militias remain at odds over the way forward.
“She said the goals we envision need to be discussed among leaders who have the authority to make decisions, and that talks need not be held only in conference rooms but also informally outside of them,” Khun Myint Tun said.
Though current discussions are occurring from both the top-down and bottom-up levels, leaders with decision-making authority should be involved in the talks to expedite the peace process, he said.
“Aung San Suu Kyi also urged us to try harder for more effective results based on the experience we gain at the peace conference,” he said.
“We also managed to discuss ways to include in political talks the groups that have not signed the NCA, so we all can have an equal voice in the decision making,” Khun Myint Tun said, referring to the government's nationwide cease-fire agreement.
The original eight signatories of the peace pact in October 2015 were The All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, Arakan Liberation Party, Chin National Front, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council, Karen National Union, Pa-O National Liberation Organization, and Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army.
The New Mon State Party and Lahu Democratic Union signed the NCA this February.
Thein Zaw, vice chairman of the government’s Union Peace Commission (UPC), meanwhile pledged to hold frequent discussions with the seven ethnic armed groups comprising the Northern Alliance.
The coalition of militias based along the China-Myanmar border have not signed the NCA.
Speaking to reporters at the end of a meeting between UPC officials led by chairman and chief negotiator Tin Myo Win and Northern Alliance leaders in Naypyidaw who are currently attending the Panglong Conference, Thein Zaw said building trust through frequent meetings is of utmost importance to forging peace.
“We can bring about peace only if we meet frequently for talks, and we have decided to do that,” he said.
“The delegates from the ethnic groups have met Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi as well as military chief [Senior General Min Aung Hlaing] to learn about their positions and beliefs [about the peace process], so if they can adjust their stance on the issue, we could have good results,” he said.
UPC member Aung Soe said the meeting was only a preliminary one so that both sides could get to know each other.
Though only NCA signatories are allowed to attend the Panglong Conference in accordance with the conference framework, the government invited members of the Northern Alliance to attend discussions as observers.
On Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi met on the sidelines of the peace conference with representative of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of militias that includes the Arakan Army (AA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). The ethnic militias have not signed the government's nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA).
She also met with leaders from the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA-Mongla group) to discuss reducing conflicts, signing the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA), and participating in political discussions.
Some ethnic armed groups have continued to battle Myanmar forces in their quest for a federal democratic union in the country with a constitutional guarantee for a certain degree of autonomy for ethnic minorities.
The ongoing hostilities, particularly in Kachin and Shan states, have stymied the peace process and have led to delays in scheduling rounds of meetings.
Delegates from the Northern Alliance met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s defense services, for sideline discussions on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, Vice Senior General Gen Soe Win, deputy chief of the Myanmar Army, made a conditional offer to the AA, MNDAA, and TNLA to sign the NCA when he met with the ethnic militias on the sidelines of the peace conference, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
He invited them to sign a bilateral accord first, and then engage in talks until they reached an agreement on terms for joining the NCA, TNLA vice chairman Brigadier General Tar Khu Lan, who attended the meeting, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
But in return, the three ethnic armies would have to announce that they had agreed to disarm before signing the bilateral accord.
Aung San Suu Kyi has made peace and national reconciliation between Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups and government forces a priority of her civilian National League for Democracy (NLD) government, trying with limited success to build on the cease-fire signed under her predecessor government.
She held the first round of the peace conference in late August 2016, five months after the NLD came to power. The second round of talks was held in May 2017. The current six-day conference ends on July 16.
Reported by Thiha Tun and Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
Correction: An earlier version of the story misidentified the members of the Northern Alliance. The coalition comprises the AA, KIA, MNDAA, and TNLA.