Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with the country’s chief peace negotiator Aung Min to discuss reconciliation with armed ethnic groups as her National League for Democracy (NLD) prepares to form a new government after sweeping general elections last month, a party official said Wednesday.
The meeting preceded a decision Wednesday by a bloc of 11 ethnic armed groups to form a committee for negotiations with the incoming NLD administration on the so-called nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) signed Oct. 15 between eight insurgent armies and the government.
Aung Min, the head of the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Yangon, held a discussion with Aung San Suu Kyi Monday afternoon on the status of the peace process, senior NLD staffer Win Htein said of the closed-door meeting at her office in the capital Naypyidaw.
“Minister Aung Min met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and explained how [government negotiators] went about signing the NCA and what the MPC has been doing,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“He explained the process as [the NLD under] Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be leading the country soon. She recognized and praised the efforts that led to the signing of the NCA and she reviewed various points from the pact ahead of future peace talks.”
Win Htein said Aung San Suu Kyi explained to Aung Min, who is also vice chair of the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC), why she opted out of signing the NCA on behalf of the NLD when the agreement was ratified by parliament on Tuesday, although he did not provide details of what she told the minister.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who’s NLD swept Myanmar’s historic Nov. 8 election, also assured him that her new government has no plans to abolish the MPC, though it will conduct a thorough review of the center’s work, Win Htein said. The new government is expected to take power in March next year.
The Mizzima news agency cited NLD lawmaker May Win Myint as saying Aung San Suu Kyi did not sign the agreement because of “its failure to cover the entire nation” and its “nature of partial coverage only,” adding that it could “create misunderstanding” between groups which signed it and those which refrained.
She told Mizzima that Aung San Suu Kyi also believes the government is likely to “exert pressure on non-signatory armed organizations” which refused to join the pact and expressed concern that it had not offered invitations to all groups in a way that would have made the NCA all-inclusive.
Aung San Suu Kyi has said Myanmar should uphold the principles of the 1947 Panglong agreement signed by her father Gen. Aung San and a handful of ethnic leaders, which is seen as affording significant autonomy to the country’s various ethnic groups.
Seemingly endless fighting
The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and two groups that have fought alongside it in Shan state’s Kokang self-administered zone—the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—were not invited to sign the NCA by the government. Seven other ethnic armies cited their exclusion as the reason they refused to enter into the pact.
The ratification of the NCA also comes amid ongoing and seemingly endless fighting between armed ethnic groups and the military in Myanmar’s Kachin and northern Shan states that have led to hundreds of casualties and forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.
Nyo Ohn Myint of the MPC told RFA Wednesday that Aung Min had requested to step down from his duties as chief peace negotiator, but pledged that he would work to the best of his ability while he remains in his post.
“Minister Aung Min wishes to transfer his duties citing exhaustion related to his efforts in peace negotiations between the MPC, government, parliament, the military and armed ethnic groups during President Thein Sein’s term in office,” he said.
Nyo Ohn Myint acknowledged that members of the MPC had been appointed by Thein Sein in 2012 after his quasi-civilian government took power from Myanmar’s former military regime a year earlier, and that the NLD’s incoming administration has the option to select replacements to staff the center.
“We will carry out our duties as best we can until the last day we can work toward implementing a political framework and dialogue [with armed ethnic groups],” he said.
Also on Wednesday, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) bloc of 11 ethnic armed groups—which includes organizations that signed, refused to sign and were not invited to sign the NCA—agreed to establish a committee for holding talks with the new NLD government on the ongoing peace process.
Representatives from the 11 groups made the decision to work with the incoming administration at the end of an annual UNFC meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand, according to bloc vice-chairman Naing Han Thar.
“We agreed to form a committee to discuss peace and political dialogue [with the NLD government],” he told RFA.
“We decided to establish it to pursue peace, as NCA is not totally complete yet.”
Khun Okkar, whose Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) is a member of the UNFC and was one of the eight groups to sign the NCA, told RFA that he hopes to achieve an “all-inclusive” cease-fire agreement under the incoming government.
“I hope Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will carry on the work that the current government was unable to finish during its term, and that the groups which didn’t sign the NCA will do so under her leadership,” he said.
“We see that the NLD is collaborating with the current government and we think it is a good sign. Collaboration between the new government and the military would be particularly good for all groups going forward.”
Khun Okkar also called for a start to political dialogue between the government and groups that signed the NCA, following the agreement’s ratification in parliament on Tuesday.
According to the text of the NCA, the framework for political dialogue must be completed within 60 days of the Oct. 15 signing, while political dialogue is slated to begin within 90 days.
The tripartite Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC)—which comprises representatives from the government, ethnic armed groups and political parties—is expected to approve a draft framework by Dec. 14, which the first round of formal dialogue is scheduled to start by Jan. 14.
Reported by Aung Moe Myint, Wai Mar Tun and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.