A Myanmar government peace delegation met on Friday with a new group formed by an alliance of armed ethnic groups that did not sign last year’s nationwide cease-fire agreement, the administration’s peace envoy said.
The meeting was held in the run-up to a national peace conference the government has scheduled for July.
The Union Peace Conference Preparation Committee, led by Tin Myo Win, held a two-hour meeting with the United Nationalities Federal Council’s (UNFC) Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to invite its members to participate a political dialogue framework meeting scheduled for next week, he said.
The rebel groups comprising the UNFC did not sign the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) last October because they objected to the exclusion of certain armed ethnic groups and disagreed with the political dialogue framework drafted by the signatories.
The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government, however, sees their participation in its upcoming Panglong Conference as vital. It wants to get them on board by first getting them to collaborate on a political dialogue framework, and then having them sign the NCA, he said.
The outcome of the meeting was much better than was expected, with the rebel leaders agreeing to meet Aung San Suu Kyi soon, Tin Myo Win said.
“The good news is that I’ve got an answer that all will cooperate and attend the conference,” he said. “That’s the important point. Our invitation is for all to review the framework terms and the NCA. Then we will move on to signing the cease-fire pact.”
Before the next step
Aung San Suu Kyi intends to include all rebel groups in what she says will be a 21st-century Panglong Conference before the next step in political dialogue, he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San, held talks known as the Panglong Conference in February 1947 to grant autonomy to the Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic minorities.
But his assassination five months later prevented the agreements from reaching fruition, and many ethnic groups took up arms against the central government in wars that then went on for decades.
The armed ethnic leaders who attended Friday’s meeting all expressed good faith in Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to peace, Tin Myo Win said.
Major General Gwan Maw, the DPN’s deputy leader and a high-ranking officer in the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), asked the government team about its stand on three specific rebel groups—the Arakan Army (AA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—excluded from the NCA by the previous government.
Tin Myo Win replied that the government peace team would try to include all the groups at the conference, even if they did not want to sign the NCA.
“They can attend and review the meeting without signing the NCA, and we will try to be flexible later on so they can sign it if they agree to do so,” he said.
Under Thein Sein, the NCA non-signatories were invited as observers to the previous government-initiated peace conference, but were not allowed to participate in discussions.
Tin Myo Win’s peace team is also arranging a separate meeting next week with the MNDAA and the United Wa State Army (UWSA), which control semi-independent zones along Myanmar’s border with China, the Myanmar Times reported.
Under the previous government, the two rebel groups, who are not UNFC members, called for separate autonomous states.
Ongoing conflict between the Myanmar military and various armed ethnic groups is seen as hindering economic development in the impoverished country. But the national army has insisted that the rebels disarm as a precondition for their participation in the peace process.
Reported by Aung Moe Myint and Khin Maung Soe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.