Myanmar must postpone its third round of nationwide peace talks planned for May because the ethnic militias that have already signed the government’s peace accord say they have to attend other meetings this month to prepare for the country’s political dialogue.
Government representatives, military officers, and signatories of the nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) will meet at the end of May to determine the future date of the next meeting of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference, also known as the Union Peace Conference — an effort spearheaded by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to end decades of civil war in the country and forge lasting peace.
Before meeting with the government, the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST), made up of the ethnic militias that have signed the government's NCA, will meet in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on May 26-28 to set a date for the third round of negotiations, said Colonel Khun Okkar, leader of the Pa-O National Liberation Army (PNLA), one of the pact’s signatories.
At that meeting, participants will discuss having only one army in Myanmar and not carving out any individual state or region from the country’s territory.
The NCA signatories could not meet for the expected round of the conference this month because they have to hold the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee’s (UPDJC) secretary group meeting, the UPDJC meeting itself, and all five sectors’ working committee meetings, Khun Okkar said.
Headed by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, the UPDJC oversees the drafting process of the framework for political dialogue. It is composed of the NCA signatories, representatives from political parties and the central government, and military officers.
“We have to use two weeks only for working committee meetings,” Khun Okkar said. “I assume the conference is postponed because of timing difficulty.”
“The Peace Process Steering Team will hold a meeting in Thailand on May 26-28, and the UPDJC and government will meet around the end of May and set the conference date,” he said. “I think it will be in June. We all have to meet at least once to set the exact date.”
The government, however, does not want to postpone the next round of peace talks, said Zaw Htay, director general of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office.
“The government has prepared to do it by holding central committees and working committees’ meetings, but the ethnic armed groups are not ready for it yet,” he told RFA's Myanmar Service.
After the first conference held in late August and early September 2016, the government intended to schedule subsequent rounds of negotiations every six months.
But ongoing civil war, tensions between the national military and ethnic militias, and the crisis in Rakhine state, where two crackdowns on Rohingya Muslims in October 2016 and August 2017 together displaced nearly 800,000 Rohingya, have stalled the peace process.
The second round of the peace talks was held a year ago.
“According to the political framework, the peace conference has to be held twice a year,” Zaw Htay said.
“Although the government is always ready to hold the peace conference, other parties are too lax to do it on time,” he said. “That’s why each group should think about not harming the peace process because of its own difficulties. We want to hold it as soon as possible.”
‘Process will not be smooth’
The original eight signatories of the peace pact in October 2015 included 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.
But some of the nation’s largest ethnic armies — the United Wa State Army, Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and Shan State Army-North — were among the groups that refused to enter the agreement.
Three other groups — the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and Arakan Army (AA) — were excluded from the NCA because of ongoing hostilities with government troops.
This February, the New Mon State Party and the Lahu Democratic Union also signed the NCA.
“[T]he peace process will not be smooth,” Zaw Htay said. “There will be ups and downs sometimes and it will be smooth at other times, but we have to try not to lose sight of engaging in dialogue as the way to advance the peace process without any disappointments.”
“We have to find ways in which the difficulties of a particular ethnic armed group do not become a difficulty for all stakeholders,” he said.
A meeting took place between government representatives and NCA signatories at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw on May 18-19 to discuss the holding of the third round of peace talks as planned, but a compromise could not be reached, Eleven Myanmar media group reported.
Hostilities have continued to flare this year between ethnic militias and Myanmar forces in war-torn Kachin and Shan states, while restive Rakhine state is trying to recover and rebuild following the two crackdowns on the Rohingya.
And now growing tensions between the AA and government forces in Paletwa township of western Myanmar’s Chin state have forced about 60 people from several households to flee their homes, according to local civil society organizations (CSOs).
The AA’s Information Committee announced that the ethnic militia clashed with government troops for 20 minutes on May 18 near the township’s Shinmadain village.
“All of the people from Ku Chaung Phyar village have fled to Zin Baung Pyin village,” Kyaw Aung, secretary of a local CSO, told RFA. “Forty-seven arrived first out of a total of 60 people who got to Zin Baung Pyin by this morning.”
About 1,000 people from Chin state have fled to neighboring India because of fighting between the AA and the government army since November 2017.
Fighting between the two sides escalated early that month, leaving casualties on both sides in Paletwa, an ethnic Chin township that borders Rakhine state and is used by the AA as a base.
Reported by Zin Mar Win and Thinn Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.