More than 120 civil society organizations want the Myanmar government to put on hold a “peace dialog” aimed at ending the armed conflict in northern Shan and Kachin states until all the warring factions can be brought to the negotiating table.
The Union Peace Conference is set to begin next week in Naypyidaw, but the groups contend that the conference fails to recognize the facts on the ground as fighting in the region continues even though a cease-fire was declared in October.
Excluding some of the groups involved in the fighting is likely to set the peace process back instead of moving it forward, the 126 groups write in a statement released on Tuesday.
“We have concerns that the peace process could move backward by holding this non-all-inclusive peace conference. We don’t want [to have] misunderstandings, tensions and more fighting,” Burma Partnership Coordinator Khin Ohmar, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“To get a real nationwide cease-fire, government must try to invite all ethnic armed groups for the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.”
Despite the NCA, clashes continue in northern Shan and Kachin, while fighting has also flared up in Arakan State as the Arakan Army has joined the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin State, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in northern Shan State in armed resistance.
Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) Chairman Khun Myint Tun said he understood the hesitation, but warned against letting the perfect get in the way of the good.
“We agree [with the] statement of over 120 civil society organizations. They did what they have to,” he said in an interview. But he added that he accepted the government's argument that the incomplete NCA could be broadened to include other groups over time.
Lack of trust
Htin Aung Kyaw of the Union of Karenni State Youth said Khun Myint Tun is missing the point, telling RFA that leaving some of the factions out underscores the lack of trust.
“This [holding a peace conference] has to be done only after building trust with each other,” Htin Aun Kyaw said. “We released this statement because we have concerns that we won’t achieve long-term peace by doing this peace conference.”
President Thein Sein’s government convinced 16 major non-state armed groups to come together for peace negotiations after coming to power in 2011, but the government could only convince eight of those groups to sign the cease-fire agreement last October. Fighting flared up in numerous hot spots in late 2015.
Ethnic leaders and the CSOs contend that a political dialogue that leaves key groups out presents a major challenge to the National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi when its new government takes power in March.
The government and the eight signatories to the cease-fire agreed to a framework of proportional representation with 150 seats set aside for the government, parliament, military, ethnic armed groups and political parties. An additional 50 seats are set aside for additional observers and ethnic leaders.
“The political framework was issued with only eight NCA signatory groups, and the armed groups who haven't signed can’t express anything," Khin Omar said.
"They don’t have any right to discuss the peace process, which is not good,”
Reported by Zarni Htun, Thinn Thiri, and Thin Aung Khine for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.