3 Ethnic Rebel Groups Threaten Rejection of Nationwide Ceasefire

By Lawi Weng 5 May 2015

PANGHSANG, Wa Special Region — Three ethnic armed groups battling the Burma Army are threatening to reject a preliminary agreement on a nationwide ceasefire accord reached in March because the government refuses to recognize their political demands and continues to launch operations against them.

The position of the groups—three smaller armies from the Palaung, Arakanese and Kokang ethnic minority areas—could not only complicate their participation in a nationwide agreement, but also that of the powerful United Wa State Army (UWSA), which in recent days has called for the inclusion of the groups in the ceasefire process.

Tar Bong Kyaw, general secretary of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), told a meeting of ethnic leaders in Panghsang on Monday that his ethnic Palaung rebel group believes it would not serve its interests to sign the draft accord under current conditions.

“There are many problems with the draft [ceasefire]. Representatives from the NCCT and UWPC signed a [preliminary] agreement, but there are many points in the draft that we could not agree with,” Tar Bong Kyaw told The Irrawaddy.

On March 31, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represents a coalition of 16 ethnic rebel groups, agreed in principle with the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) on the content of a nationwide ceasefire accord.

The government said it is eager to sign the accord, but NCCT groups said they have to review it with their respective leaders first.

Meanwhile, the UWSA has organized a conference in the Wa Special Region capital of Panghsang on May 1-6 to bring together NCCT groups and non-NCCT armed groups in order to discuss the proposed accord.

Tar Bong Kyaw told the conference that the government was trying to divide the ethnic armed groups by refusing to recognize and continuing to fight the Palaung, Arakanese and Kokang rebels, while including other groups in a nationwide accord.

“The government will not accept the other three groups to participate in political talks, even though they might want to sign the [accord]. It’s very clear they are trying to divide the alliance of ethnic armed groups. This is very dangerous,” said Tar Bong Kyaw.

Brig-Gen. Tun Myat Naing, commander-in-chief of the Arakan Army, told the meeting that there was no point in supporting the accord if the government refused recognize his group’s political demands and continued to launch attacks against it.

“They [the Burma Army] fights against our ethnics, including the Palaung, Kokang and our Arakanese people. They cut off aid for our refugees; they have no food and drink. This situation could hurt our peace talks,” he said.

Tun Myat Naing added his organization would like to see the Constitution amended soon as it would support the success of the nationwide ceasefire process.

The Arakan Army is a small rebel group from western Burma’s Arakan State that has joined ethnic rebels in northern Burma. In recent weeks, it tried to infiltrate northern parts of its home state and clashes erupted with the government that have displaced hundreds of civilians, many of who have gone without emergency aid.

The Kokang rebels of the Myanmar Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) have been involved in heavy fighting with the Burma Army since February in Laukkai Township in northern Shan State. The TNLA and Arakan Army have fought alongside it. The Irrawaddy understands the MNDAA also rejects the ceasefire accord.

The Arakan Army and the MNDAA are NCCT members, but the government refuses to recognize them as such. The TNLA is a NCCT member, but lacks a bilateral ceasefire with the government. It is unclear if the government recognizes the TNLA as a NCCT member.

A government advisor at the Myanmar Peace Center has previously been quoted as saying that the government could sign a “nationwide ceasefire,” while continuing to fight the MNDAA.

The NCCT includes most of the country’s major armed groups, such as the Kachin Independence Army, the Karen National Union, the Shan State Army-North and the New Mon State Party.

The UWSA, the country’s most powerful rebel army with some 20,000 men under arms, is not a NCCT member, nor is its smaller neighbor the Mongla group, but both armies have long-standing bilateral ceasefires with Naypyidaw. It has been an observer to the 18-month-long ceasefire negotiations.

In recent days, the UWSA leaders have finally tried to weigh in on the nationwide ceasefire process by saying that it should include the Arakan Army, the MNDAA and the TNLA, and have pledged solidarity with them.

UWSA Chairman Bao Youxiang said in rare interview on Monday that inclusion of all ethnic groups and reforms to the Constitution were preconditions for Wa support for the nationwide ceasefire accord.

“The country will have peace if the government can represent all people in the country. The government can not only represent their people when working for development,” said Bao Youxiang during an interview with journalists at the Wa headquarters located in the semi-autonomous Wa Special Region on the Burma-China border.

“The main key is to have amendments to the Constitution. If there are amendments to the Constitution, other ethnic groups, including our Wa, will sign the [accord],” the chairman said in comments that were translated into Burmese by UWSA spokesman Aung Myint.

The military-drafted 2008 charter centralizes powers over Burma’s ethnic areas and its natural resources with the central government and the Burma Army. The ethnic groups want to see a federal union of Burma instead that grants them regional autonomy.

“After there is no more fighting, the country will have peace and development. Then, our ethnic groups could build their modern towns like our Wa people have done,” said Bao Youxiang.