Members of Myanmar’s peace team and delegates from eight ethnic armed organizations that have not signed the country’s nationwide cease-fire accord have agreed to continue meeting frequently to work towards resolving their political differences and ending armed conflicts, according to a joint statement the parties issued on Thursday.
The meeting at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) in Naypyidaw marked the first time that the government invited the groups to attend collective discussions in a bid to make headway on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s goal of ending seven decades of warfare and creating a federal democratic union in the country.
But the talks came with a warning from NRPC vice chairman Tin Myo Win, who cautioned that one of the groups battling Myanmar forces in western Myanmar’s war-ravaged Rakhine state posed a challenge to peace and security.
Hostilities between the Arakan Army (AA), a Buddhist Rakhine military fighting for autonomy in the state, and the government military reignited late last year and has continued into 2019.
The government military branded the AA a terrorist organization after soldiers attacked police outposts in northern Rakhine in early January, killing 13 officers. A similar assault on another police outpost in early March killed nine officers.
“Conflicts in Rakhine state are not about accepting or not accepting an ethnic armed group,” Tin Myo Win said, adding that the state is a “white area,” a term for a non-insurgent active area.
“Trying to establish a foothold in the white area is a threat to the peace and security of the country,” he said. “The government will take necessary action to maintain security. All parties need to understand that.”
Tin Myo Win, the long-time personal physician of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, also said that continued fighting would not end the country’s 70 years of armed conflict that ensued after independence from colonial ruler Britain nor improve the destitute conditions of people in Rakhine, an impoverished and ethnically and religiously divided state.
The goal of resolving the political problems that are the root causes of Myanmar’s armed conflicts is to create a federal union whose nature will be shaped by all stakeholders, he said.
Tin Myo Win also urged the ethnic armed groups to openly discuss any concerns or problems they have before they consider signing the government's nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA), which 10 other ethnic armies have already inked.
AA secretary Colonel Kyaw Han, who represented the Arakan force during the talks, said only a Rakhine Army could ensure stability and development in the state and that armed conflicts would cease only through well-intended negotiations.
“In our view, the military doesn’t accept the presence of the Arakan Army in Rakhine state,” he said. “But for us Rakhine people, the presence of the Arakan Army is the main goal of [the AA's political wing] the United League of Arakan.”
“We are doing the right thing since we believe that only the Arakan Army will able to take care of the security and development of Rakhine state,” he said. “We are actually doing it now in Rakhine state.”
Causing trouble for locals
When asked to comment on the talks, Zaw Htay, director general of President Win Myint’s office, emphasized the problems that ongoing hostilities are causing for civilians.
“It is not about which armed groups should or should not be present in which regions,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The problem is the ongoing conflicts are causing trouble for the local populations.”
Tourists can no longer travel freely in the ancient Rakhine town of Mrauk-U, where fighting between the AA and Myanmar Army in recent months has resulted in a number of civilian deaths and driven thousands of villagers from their homes.
Regarding the AA, Zaw Htay said the government has opened the door for negotiations with the Arakan fighters while doing what it needs to do ensure regional security.
“Now there are armed conflicts that are spreading, so the government will do what it has to do,” he said.
The other ethnic armed organizations invited to the talks were the United Wa State Party (UWSP), Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Mongla’s Eastern Shan State Peace and Solidarity Committee (PSC), Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), Kokang’s Myanmar National Truth and Justice Party (MNTJP), Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF), and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).
Myanmar’s military negotiation team will meet separately with each of the groups on Friday.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.