The Myanmar military has rejected a proposal by three ethnic armies to begin cease-fire talks in a bid to kick-start the country’s stalled peace process, instead vowing further retaliation for armed offensives and ambushes, a military spokesman said Tuesday.
The Brotherhood Alliance of ethnic armies — the Arakan Army (AA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) — extended the invitation to begin peace talks in a statement issued Monday.
De facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s four-year-old government has long sought to end Myanmar’s multiple ethnic wars with historic peace talks. But those talks have sputtered, while only 10 of the country’s 20-some ethnic armies have signed a 2015 nationwide cease-fire pact that is seen as the foundation of peace talks.
The Brotherhood Alliance trio, which has not signed the agreement, also announced Monday that it was extending a current unilateral cease-fire from June 1 to Aug. 31, and issued an appeal for both sides to protect civilians, end the civil war, and assist with coronavirus prevention activities.
The announcement came three days after the AA launched a retaliatory attack on a border guard outpost in Rakhine state, killing four policemen and capturing six others. The AA also seized three family members of the officers, but later released them.
The AA ambushed the outpost to strike back at government soldiers for an attack on the AA in Paletwa township of abutting Chin state, which the Arakan force also claims as its territory.
In March, the Myanmar government declared the AA, a predominantly Buddhist force that seeks greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people in the region, an illegal association and terrorist group — raising the stakes in a conflict that begin with AA attacks on government border posts in late 2018 and early 2019.
Major General Tun Tun Nyi, vice chairman of the military’s True News Information Team, told RFA on Tuesday that it is unacceptable for the ethnic armies to extend an olive branch with one hand, while committing terrorist acts with the other. He said the army would consider negotiating with the AA only if the force ended such acts.
Tun Tun Nyi said the peace talks with the three ethnic armies — who are also members of the Northern Alliance, which includes the Kachin independence Army (KIA) — depends on their actions on the ground, regardless of the statements they issue.
He also noted that President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay said that the government long ago had opened the channels of communication to armed ethnic organizations to discuss a peace agreement, and that the rebel armies have disrupted the government’s administrative functions by attacking security forces and damaging public property.
At a May 30 press conference, the Zaw Htay said the government was trying to negotiate with the Northern Alliance through the Peace-Talk Creation Group — an assemblage of Kachin businessmen that assist with peace talks by mediating between the KIA's political wing and the government — but that the armed groups didn’t offer a reliable response.
RFA could not reach Zaw Htay or a TNLA spokesman on Tuesday for comments on the Brotherhood Alliance’s announcement.
Both sides ‘uncompromising’
In another announcement issued on May 29, the day of the ambush on the Thazin Myaing police outpost in rural Rathedaung township, the AA demanded that all government security forces and administrative personnel immediately leave Rakhine state.
Than Soe Naing, a military and ethnic affairs analyst, told RFA that both the ethnic armies and the Myanmar military must stop fighting before peace talks can resume.
“Peace talks will be possible only after they have reduced the fighting and achieved a certain level of peace,” he said. “In the current situation, both sides seem to be uncompromising and will not stop fighting. Without mutual trust, the peace talks and negotiations for a cease-fire will not be possible.”
But Min Zaw Oo, executive director of the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security, an independent think tank, said the TNLA and MNDAA, which have been fighting Myanmar troops in northern Shan state, have indicated that a peace deal is possible.
“It seems that the TNLA and MNDAA armed groups are motivated to reach a cease-fire agreement in northern Shan State,” he said. “If neither side conducts military operations or another serious [move], things could turn out well, [and] it could reduce the fighting,” he said.
“But, as we observe with the ongoing situation in Rakhine state, the fighting will continue,” he added. “It’s possible, though, that they will hold peace talks while the troops are still fighting on the ground.”
Min Zaw Oo said onset of the annual monsoon season in late May will not act as a deterrent to further military offensives in Rakhine state.
The Myanmar military announced an extension of its own unilateral cease-fire in effect from May 10 until Aug. 31, as the country tries to control the COVID-19 pandemic, but excluded areas such as Rakhine state where terrorist organizations are based.
At the time, the members of the Brotherhood Alliance objected to the exclusion of Rakhine state.
Mine blast kills local
The Brotherhood Alliance's announcement about the extension of its unilateral cease-fire did not prevent the AA from triggering two remotely-controlled landmines on a government military regiment on patrol on the outskirts of Rakhine’s Ponnagyun township Tuesday morning.
The blasts killed a person on a motorcycle and injured nine others, locals said.
Oo Tun Maung, a lawmaker from Ponnagyun township, said Win Naing Soe from Ponnagyun town, who was driving the motorcycle, was injured on the neck and on one of his arms, while passenger Zaw Min Oo from Nar Taung Kya village died at the scene.
The Myanmar military has not yet issued information about the causalities, though Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, a military spokesman, said some soldiers were injured in the blasts.
RFA could not reach the AA for comment.
Ponnagyun town resident Thein Wunna implored the two armies not to fight in areas where civilians reside.
“We don’t want to see the fighting near the towns and villages anymore,” he told RFA. “We don’t want the armed conflicts elsewhere either, so I would like to appeal to the armed groups to agree to a cease-fire.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.