Chinese officials have been “interfering” in Myanmar’s nationwide cease-fire talks with armed ethnic groups by convincing some of the rebels to exclude western observers from the process, a government negotiator said Friday.
Min Zaw Oo, director of cease-fire negotiations and implementation at the government-linked Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) said Chinese officials spoke with three large armed ethnic groups in areas along Myanmar’s border with China about the nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) ahead of a signing ceremony set for Oct. 15.
“But we are not sure whether these officials are from [the central government in] Beijing or [local ones across the border in] Yunnan province,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Soon afterwards, the UWSA [United Wa State Army] released a statement demanding that western countries not be invited to the NCA signing ceremony,” he said, referring to observers from several nations who have been asked to join next week’s event.
The UWSA, one of the nation’s major armed ethic groups and which controls the Wa Special Region in eastern Shan state, has previously received support and weapons from China and is led by ethnic Chinese commanders.
The USWA is not planning to sign the NCA, which Myanmar’s government is pushing for ahead of general elections set for Nov. 8. The government needs a nationwide peace deal in place so the developing country can move forward with political dialogue with the country’s armed ethnic groups.
China has denied accusations of interfering in the peace process, and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims to have “consistently supported all sides in Myanmar in resolving differences through peace talks in service of signing a national-scale cease-fire agreement.”
But Min Zaw Oo said the recent talks between Chinese officials and armed ethnic groups had led him to question whether Beijing is sincere in its support for the peace process.
“Beijing [has said it] wants the Myanmar government to sign an NCA that includes all armed ethnic groups,” Min Zaw Oo said.
“But something we are not sure of is whether the meeting between Chinese officials and Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups is Beijing’s policy or just coming from local authorities in China.”
Parties to pact
The government has extended an offer to sign the accord to 16 armed ethnic groups, but only eight have agreed—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 Shan State Army-South.
Ten other groups have refused to sign because they say they want an “all-inclusive” deal.
The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army (AA)—are still engaged in fighting with government troops in the Kokang region of Shan state, near the border with China, and have been excluded from the NCA.
“There might have been some involvement from [Chinese officials from] Yunnan during the Kokang clashes with Myanmar’s military,” Min Zaw Oo said, of why China would interfere in peace talks.
“It’s also possible that they wanted the Myanmar government to include the Kokang [armed] groups in the NCA, because the government army can attack them if they are not part of it.”
The government originally excluded the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) because it was fighting alongside the MNDAA and AA in Kokang, but recently invited the group to sign, Min Zaw Oo said.
“The TNLA can sign a bilateral cease-fire with the government first and then sign the NCA, before moving on to political dialogue,” he said.
As for the MNDAA, the government will include it in the political dialogue process, but the group will not be permitted to bring arms to the talks, Min Zaw Oo said.
The AA will agree to sign the NCA if the holdout Kachin Independence Army (KIA) does, he added, because AA troops are located in KIA territory in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, which also borders China.
Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) Work Committee spokesman Daung Kha told RFA that China was unlikely to try to undermine the NCA, and had even tried to forced Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups to sign the pact in the past.
“China previously forced [KIO armed wing] the KIA to meet with the government and sign agreements because it wants stability in the China-Myanmar border area,” he said. “We haven’t had any pressure from China not to sign the NCA.”
In the meantime, clashes between the military and rebel armies continue in Shan and Kachin states, causing some to question the government’s commitment to the peace process.
“It seems the government is attacking armed ethnic groups intentionally, and it says one thing, but then does something different,” said Naing Han Tha, chairman of the New Mon State Party and leader of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT), a coalition of rebel groups negotiating peace with the government.
“It shouldn’t be like this—not inviting some ethnic groups to sign the NCA. If it proceeds this way, we won’t have peace in our country.”
Leaders for some political parties have said they will not attend the NCA signing ceremony because the agreement will not include all armed ethnic groups.
Both Aung San Suu Kyi, chairwomen of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), nor Khun Tun Oo, chairman of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), have refused invitations to attend the event.
Leaders of the 88 Generation students pro-democracy group on Friday declined to comment on whether they would attend.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine, Thiha Tun, Thinn Thiri and Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.