Armed Groups Meet to Decide Peace Summit Attendance

By Nyein Nyein 10 October 2018

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Leaders of the ethnic armed groups signed up to Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) are meeting in Thailand to decide whether to join an upcoming summit with Myanmar’s government and military aimed at reviving the country’s stalled peace process.

The Peace Process Steering Team is meeting in Chiang Mai today and Thursday to review its talks with the Myanmar government earlier this month and weigh the pros and cons of joining a summit with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing tentatively set for Oct. 15 in Mandalay.

If they do decide to join, they also want to arrive with a common position.

“There are huge gaps in our political positions, and we have to negotiate to try to bridge them through informal talks,” said General Saw Mutu Say Poe, chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU) and head of the Steering Team.

The KNU, which has signed the NCA, stressed that any steps it takes must align with the ceasefire deal.

“We stand on the NCA path and we have to evaluate whether all sides are following the NCA principles,” Gen. Saw Mutu Say Poe said.

The peace process has recently stalled over the military’s demands that armed groups promise not to secede from the union as a precondition to any deal and that Myanmar have only one army. The Oct. 15 summit was called for the government, military and armed groups to find a way to break the deadlock, review the current structures of the peace process and make it more inclusive.

In a statement on Friday, the KNU said the armed groups needed more time to prepare for the summit and that the scope of discussion should be broadened.

On Wednesday, KNU Secretary-General Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo told The Irrawaddy that the government and military should have consulted with the armed groups before setting the date and agenda.

“Negotiations cannot take place based on one side’s decision; they have to be agreed by all sides,” he said.

But other members of the Steering Team, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were anxious about asking for the summit to be delayed since they had asked for such a meeting in the first place and did not want to be labeled as inconsistent.

A meeting with the state counselor and military chief has been a longstanding request of the NCA signatories.