CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Ethnic armed groups meeting in Thailand this week have agreed to join a summit with Myanmar’s state counselor and military chief aimed at reviving the country’s stalled peace process after convincing them to change the venue.
The government had proposed holding the summit on Monday in rural Mandalay, away from any urban distractions. But the armed groups proposed either Yangon or Naypyitaw and, after negotiating with government officials over the phone, settled on the latter, according to armed group leaders.
“As this high-level informal talk will not be a detailed discussion and will be more about the policies that will be helpful to the ongoing peace process, we decided to join,” said Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win, vice chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU).
On Saturday the KNU released a statement proposing the summit be delayed because the armed groups needed more time to prepare.
Leaders from the 10 armed groups signed up to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement met in Chiang Mai on Wednesday and Thursday, as members of the Peace Process Steering Team, to decide whether to join.
Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win said the KNU and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) had both considered not attending the three-day summit but, after some headed discussion, decided they would go as a unified bloc.
U Than Kha, chairman of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, said the Steering Team would sent some of its senior members, including General Saw Mutu Sae Poe of the KNU and General Yawd Serk of the RCSS.
“We hope the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] will provide an environment where every stakeholder can cooperate,” he said.
The summit will be the first time the armed group leaders will have sat at a table with both State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
The peace process has recently stalled over the military’s demands that the armed groups promise not to secede from the union as a precondition to further negotiations and that they agree to a single national army.
The summit was proposed to find a way through the impasse. Discussion is also expected to include the timeline for future peace talks, a review of the current framework for the peace process, making the process more inclusive, minority rights and how to establish a federal system of government.