In early June, the National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s new peace negotiator Dr. Tin Myo Win met with the United Nationalities Federal Council’s (UNFC) Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), which comprises nine members drawn from various non-state ethnic armed groups who opted out of signing 2015’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). The meeting is said to have delivered positive results.
General Gun Maw, vice chairperson of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and one of the leaders of the DPN, recently talked to The Irrawaddy’s reporter Nyein Nyein about his views on upcoming peace talks and the role that the international community should play. The general was previously deputy chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of the KIO, and in February was promoted to vice chairman of the KIO.
Will the UNFC members participate in the political dialogue framework meeting before the ‘Panglong-style’ peace conference?
We were invited to attend the framework meeting, but the DPN members have to thoroughly discuss this and follow the decision made by the UNFC.
We expect that by participating in the meeting, we will be able to make necessary amendments and additions [to the framework]. Then, we hope there are opportunities for a certain degree of participation and inclusion in preparation for the peace conference. We view the government’s invitation as a positive sign.
The government has invited you to participate in the framework meeting, which is key preparation for the peace conference. Does this make you think that the new government is willing to treat NCA non-signatories as equals?
We have yet to see. They have only invited us to the dialogue framework meeting and not yet to the peace conference. Whether we sign the NCA first or go straight to the peace conference [without signing the NCA] will depend on the government’s response to our demands and follow-up negotiations. We haven’t gotten to that discussion yet.
What is the UNFC’s stance on joining the peace conference?
We are not clear yet if the peace conference means the previous ongoing [peace] process or what is being called the new ‘21st-century Panglong conference.’ We have to review this matter before putting together a prosposal for further discussion with the government. We will know after that.
Aung San Suu Kyi has said that the peace conference will be based on the inclusive spirit of the first Panglong conference convened by her father Gen Aung San in 1947, and urged ethnic groups to think about what they can concede rather than what they can gain. What do you think of her statement?
This matter was included in our questions to Dr. Tin Myo Win on June 3rd. We told him that we are not very clear about what the statement means. This has to be discussed seriously; we cannot just give an answer to it. When speaking of Panglong, many topics for discussion come to mind. Whether we refer to Panglong’s spirit, agreement or pledge, we have to discuss it inclusively.
What was the UNFC’s decision regarding the request of two of your members—the Ta’ang National Liberation Army [TNLA] and the MNDAA [Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army]—to leave the alliance?
The UNFC has not decided yet. It was taken off of the agenda until the next UNFC conference. We don’t think this issue of resignation should be discussed for the time being.
The two groups are represented in the DPN, but they did not attend the meeting on June 3rd. Why not?
Some of the leaders failed to be present at the meeting, but that does not mean that their groups have resigned. It was just an absence. DPN leader Khu Oo Reh could not attend the meeting because of his health, but leaders of other groups that were not represented in the DPN were present at the meeting. We are all UNFC members.
Has the UNFC ever invited the Arakan Army (AA) to participate in negotiations with the new government?
Yes, we have. We have also asked the government’s peace negotiators to request, on our behalf, that state leadership and the army chief not leave behind the MNDAA, AA and TNLA. We will think of as many approaches as possible to share with the government peace negotiators.
We call for not leaving them behind. We have asked the government peace negotiators to seriously put forward our request to the president, concerned authorities, state counselor and the commander-in-chief.
As a leader within the KIO, what do you expect from the meeting and upcoming negotiations?
We hope to gain an equal status in the political dialogue. The NLD government was elected by the people and has repeatedly talked about its commitment to [national] reconciliation. So, we hope to see a genuine dialogue and inclusivity.
What do you think of the government’s plan to manage all the peace process expenditures?
We have not discussed it yet, but it is difficult for us to accept the government’s control over everything. We will have nothing to say if the government is helpful and cooperative.
Western and European countries are assisting the peace process in different ways. Asian countries, like Japan and neighboring China, are also providing assistance. How do you see the role of China in the upcoming peace conference?
It is difficult to say because it is not under our management. My understanding is that China is a superpower as well as our neighbor, so we just can’t ignore its role.
China may have its hands in the peace process and the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), but the intervention of the international community should come in the form of help rather than control.
If the government becomes too reliant on China, will it affect the peace process?
It is dangerous for any government to rely on the support of one particular country, whether it’s China or America.