Myanmar’s Shan State parliament on Wednesday approved a proposal to define a coalition of four ethnic armed groups battling the country’s armed forces as terrorists, sparking opposition from some lawmakers and ethnic civil society organizations who see the move as counterproductive to attempts to bring peace to the country.
The move comes more than two weeks after the Northern Alliance—the Arakan Army (AA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—attacked military and government targets in several townships in northern Shan State.
More than 10 civilians have been killed and 40 have been injured, as the fighting continues. Talks between government peace negotiators and the ethnic militias broke down last week in Kunming, capital of southwestern China’s Yunnan province.
Aung Thu, a lawmaker from the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), submitted the proposal and it was discussed on Wednesday.
Sixty-three of 106 lawmakers supported the proposal, while 45 voted to reject it and seven abstained from casting a vote, said Sai Tun Myan, a lawmaker from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). The proposal is only Shan state policy and does not have an impact on national policy.
“It is like siblings fighting,” said Tin Soe, a lawmaker from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party who voted against the proposal. “If we define them as terrorists, we will never have peace in the country.”
KIA’s positive attitude
Oo Hla Saw, a member of parliament from the Arakan National Party (ANP), cited what he said was the KIA’s positive attitude on working towards peace.
“The KIA has been working along with the peace-making process,” he said, adding that it has shown its desire for peace in two key conferences—the Maijayan Conference in July and the 21st-century Panglong Conference in late August and early September.
Representatives from 17 armed groups met in Maijayan, a town controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization, the political wing of the KIA, to coordinate their strategy in the run-up to the Panglong Conference, the government’s main vehicle for bringing all armed groups that have not already signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) to the negotiating table to try to end decades of civil wars that have rocked the country.
The KIA has not signed the NCA, and the three other ethnic armies were excluded from the October 2015 pact because of their ongoing hostilities with Myanmar’s armed forces. Leaders from the KIA’s political wing, however, joined the Panglong Conference in what they called a show of goodwill.
“If we define the KIA as a terrorist, then the peace-making process we have been working on would be a waste,” Oo Hla Saw said.
Open letter to lawmakers
More than 100 civil society organizations, including Mon, Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine groups, sent an open letter to the Shan state parliament on Wednesday rejecting the move.
The letter accused the government military and political parties of engaging in psychological warfare against the ethnic militias during the pro-democracy administration that has now been in power for more than seven months.
The organizations warned that getting the state parliament involved in the issue could destroy the dignity of the military and lawmakers.
Meanwhile, the government’s Peace Commission and the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)—an alliance of ethnic militias that opted out of signing the NCA with the previous government—will meet in December, but have not decided upon a date, UNFC secretary Tun Zaw said.
“We offered to meet the Peace Commission during the first week of December, but it said it would not be available then,” he said.
The UNFC wants China to negotiate between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups to stop fighting and begin peace talks, he said.
The alliance has said that it will sign the NCA if the government and military agree to its eight-point proposal amendments to the accord that it submitted to the Peace Commission.
The UNFC also planned to hold a conference in mid-December to which all 21 ethnic armed groups will be invited, but had to postpone it because of the current fighting, Tun Zaw said.
The Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), the political wing of the Pa-O National Liberation Army (PNLA), has said it will not attend the conference and has decided to withdrawal from the UNFC.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.