Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi will begin a new round of nationwide peace talks on Wednesday with the cease-fire Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), the first such meeting since the new government pledged to work for peace and reconciliation with the country’s various ethnic groups, an official from the group said.
The Union-level JMC was formed by eight armed ethnic groups who signed a so-called nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the government military last October under the former military-backed government led by Thein Sein. His administration had held four previous meetings to discuss peace.
“The new government has said many times that it will work to prioritize national reconciliation and peace as its policy,” said Lieutenant General Yar Pyae, vice chairman of the JMC, following a meeting on Tuesday in the capital Naypyidaw to discuss the group’s future agenda and the formation of state-level joint monitoring committees in southern Myanmar’s Mon and Karen states.
The previous government excluded other rebel groups from the NCA because of ongoing hostilities with them, while others opted not to join.
“The groups that have signed the NCA should work [as examples] for achieving national reconciliation and peace,” Yar Pyae said. “We will work to stop fighting by connecting with each other, because we have networks.”
Continue the process
Aung San Suu Kyi, who also holds the titles of foreign minister and minister of the President’s Office, said last week that her ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party seeks to create a federal democratic union under President Htin Kyaw that includes all ethnic groups in order to bring peace to the Southeastern Asian nation racked by decades of civil war.
“I’m happy to hear that President Htin Kyaw and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said they will continue working on the peace process that we began during [former] President Thein Sein’s term,” said General Saw Issac Po of the Karen National Union (KNU), a political organization with an armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), that represents the ethnic Karen people.
“I wish the other groups that didn’t sign the NCA participate in working towards peace,” he said referring to the new round of discussions beginning on Wednesday.
But Saw Issac Po, who also a vice chairman of the JMC, pointed out that the new government’s attitude toward the JMC remains unknown, and that there is speculation that Aung San Suu Kyi will set up another organization dedicated to working on the peace initiative.
“We don’t know if it will be formed with only new members or include some people from the Myanmar Peace Center,” he said, in reference to the government-affiliated organization in Yangon where peace discussions are held. “It will depend on Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision.”
Rebel groups decline meeting
In the meantime, three rebel groups that did not sign the NCA have rejected a proposal by the military to hold informal peace talks.
The Arakan Army (AA), Kokang/Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) issued a joint news release on Tuesday, declining an invitation from former Lieutenant General Khin Zaw Oo to hold informal peace discussions in Chaing Mai, Thailand.
Retired Lieutenant General Khin Zaw Oo wanted to meet with the three groups in May along with leaders of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of nine ethnic armed groups that did not sign the NCA.
“We discussed the current situation and decided not to meet them this time because we have questions as to who they would be representing and how they would meet with us, said Mine Phone Kyaw, general secretary of the TNLA. “That’s why we released a statement and said we can’t meet them right now.”
“[But] if the new government offered to meet us—the TNLA alone or as part of a group—we would welcome it,” he said.
Mine Phone Kyaw also said that if military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing or his representatives offered to meet with the TNLA, the group also would agree.
“If we want peace, we have to talk,” he said.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.