Myanmar’s military is not responsible for the delay in holding the third round of the government’s key peace initiative to bring security forces and ethnic armed groups to the negotiation table in a bid to end decades of civil war that have stymied the country’s political and economic development, a Defense Ministry official said Monday.
Though State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has sought to hold talks between factions every six months since the first meeting under the 21st-Century Panglong Conference, also known as the Union Peace Conference, in August and September 2016, subsequent rounds have been delayed by ongoing fighting between the national army and ethnic militias in some of Myanmar’s far-flung regions.
The second set of talks was held in May 2017, while the third one was slated for this month. But ethnic armies that have already signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the government said they had to attend other meetings in May to prepare for the country’s political dialogue.
Intensified clashes between Myanmar forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) this year in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state have raised questions about the military’s possible role in hindering the talks.
“If armed groups follow the path of the NCA, then there should be no reason to delay peace,” Brigadier General Aung Kyaw Hoe of the Defense Ministry told reporters during a press conference in Naypyidaw in response to a question about the possibility of a cease-fire in Kachin state and the holding of the next round of peace talks.
“The delay of the third Panglong Conference and peace process is not on account of the military,” he said. “It is because of the rights that ethnic armed groups receive in their territories and the reasons they are fighting against the government army.”
The ongoing hostilities in Kachin state are a result of KIA attacks on the government army’s battalions and headquarters, Aung Kyaw Hoe said.
The KIA's political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization, has not signed the NCA.
“If the KIA stays only in its own territory, there would not be any fighting,” Aung Kyaw Hoe said.
Another reporter noted that former President Thein Sein, under whom the NCA was signed by eight ethnic armed groups in October 2015, ordered the military during his term not to launch offensives against the KIA. He then asked Aung Kyaw Hoe what the military would do if current President Win Myint issued the same order.
The brigadier general responded that the armed forces would carry out the president’s order if it was issued in accordance with the law.
“The military is working according to state’s the lead,” Aung Kyaw Hoe said. “The president is the leader of the country. We are ready to do what he orders if he does it according to the law.”
Displacements and protests
A surge in fighting this year in the long-running civil war between the KIA and the Myanmar army has displaced more than 7,400 civilians in Hpakant, Tanaing, and Injangyang townships since early April, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Groups in various cities and towns staged protests calling on the military to end the hostilities and on the Myanmar government to rescue civilians trapped in war zones with little or no food. Authorities arrested some protest leaders who have been charged with unlawful assembly or defamation of the military, and in some instances jailed.
The Myanmar military has accused the KIA of illegally using the area’s natural resources and taking money from mining businesses that should otherwise go to the state, while the ethnic militia believes the government army has stepped up its attacks on rebel-held territory in hopes of gaining control before the next round of peace negotiations.
Armed conflict between the two groups and human rights violations have displaced more than 100,000 civilians since June 2011, when a 17-year bilateral cease-fire agreement between the two sides broke down.
Reported by Wai Mar Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.