Arakan and Chin Groups Frustrated by State Counselor’s Decision

By Lawi Weng 8 February 2017

RANGOON — Ethnic armed groups from Arakan and Chin states are unhappy with a decision from State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who says the government will not approve national-level peace conferences in their respective states, according to leaders from the two ethnic groups.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended a meeting of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) on Monday in Naypyidaw and she told attendees they were out of time to hold national-level dialogue in Arakan and Chin states. Instead, she said the Union government was focused on organizing the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference slated for Feb. 28.

Leaders of the Chin National Front (CNF) and the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP)—both of whom have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)—said the State Counselor was discriminating against them. They pointed to the fact that other ethnic armed groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU) were allowed to hold national-level meetings in January.

“I feel like the government is discriminating against us. My party members feel the same way, and my ethnic people feel it too,” said ALP vice chairwoman Saw Mra Razar Lin.

“As a mother, I know that a mother should not take sides among her children. She [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] has to treat all of her children equally. So we feel very sad to hear this decision from her,” she said.

“We are ready to form a committee that could organize and hold the meeting,” said Saw Mra Razar Lin. “Our ethnic political party and civil society organizations are ready to work together on this. Why is the government saying that we’re not ready?”

CNF leaders expressed similar feelings about the State Counselor’s statement. CNF leaders said they have already met with the Chin State government on Feb. 1, and the two sides discussed how they could work together to carry out a national-level peace meeting.

“We were ready to hold the meeting, but then they [the government] tell us today that we are not ready to do it,” said CNF vice chairman Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong.

“We responded that we are already prepared. We’re ready to start,” the CNF vice chairman said. “So we are not happy about this decision. The CNF party has tried really hard. We signed the NCA despite many difficulties. And we worked closely with the government peace commission to reach our goal successfully.”

CNF and ALP leaders said that when they signed the NCA, it was agreed that the Union peace talks could start only after all the ethnic groups had completed their national-level meetings.

Based on this agreement, the CNF formed a committee to organize national-level peace talks within Chin State. The party has already consulted with the government, political groups, and CSOs.

Government officials have pointed out that the conflict situation in Arakan State remains unstable. However, the Chin region is stable, and there is presently no fighting taking place between the CNF and the Burma Army.

“So there is no reason why we can’t hold the meeting in our region,” said Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong.

The State Counselor said her government would allow the two armed groups to hold national-level meetings later, but that there was not adequate time in February.

CNF and ALP leaders expressed frustration with the decision. They said they would have a hard time making major political decisions at the Panglong conference when their national preparations are incomplete.

“We can only make important political decisions based on the ideas that we work out at the national-level ethnic meetings,” said Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong. “Without these meetings, how will we make decisions?”

“The national level peace talks are very important for the ethnic groups,” said Saw Mra Razar Lin. “We get our political ideas from the national-level talks. This is what we agreed to when we signed the NCA.”

The CNF remains unsure if it will attend the Panglong Peace Conference slated for Feb. 28, according to Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong. He said the CNF central committee would make the final decision.

“If we attend this second Panglong, we cannot say that we are representing all Rakhine people,” said Saw Mra Razar Lin. “Even if we do attend the conference, this will be to represent our party, but not all our ethnic people.”

UPDJC general secretary Sai Kyaw Nyunt agreed that all of the ethnic groups should be granted equal rights.

“The government should not say that a certain state is not ready for national talks,” he said. “The Karen were allowed to do it, but why not the other ethnic groups? All people should be treated equally because they all signed the NCA.”