RANGOON — While preparations for State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s proposed 21st Century Panglong Conference continue, critics doubt that the conference will be inclusive while the Burma Army insists on the disarmament of three ethnic armed groups.
A government sub-committee tasked with preparing for the upcoming peace conference met with members of the ethnic alliance United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) who were non-signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) earlier this month in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
But the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and Arakan Army (AA), which are engaged in ongoing fighting with the Burma Army, did not send delegates to the meeting.
When asked by The Irrawaddy about their absence, TNLA Brig-Gen Tarr Jode Jar replied that they were not invited.
AA chief Tun Myat Naing spoke of transportation difficulties, and said they were only informally invited.
Hla Maung Shwe, a member of the conference preparatory sub-committee and former advisor to the Myanmar Peace Center, said although the government invited the three groups to the conference and is set to meet with them, he would seek to negotiate in line with the military’s demands for disarmament.
“We are not asking them to surrender, but to give up arms. The conference is not shut to them if they want to find ways and means,” said Hla Maung Shwe, adding that he had no comment on the military’s disarmament policy, but that he would work toward the best possible outcome.
Lt-Gen Mya Tun Oo at a press conference in Naypyidaw on May 13 said the military would not negotiate peace with the MNDAA, TNLA and AA—which had rejected the previous government’s invitation to join peace talks.
“They have no choice but to disarm,” said the lieutenant general.
The MNDAA, TNLA and AA said they would not disarm.
“The military’s demand for disarmament is a real barrier to peace. That is totally impossible,” said AA chief Tun Myat Naing.
He said the three allies would like to discuss equality, power and resource sharing, and constitutional and political changes, but not disarmament.
The groups expect to cooperate with Suu Kyi’s government, but still dare not trust in the peace process because they do not see the National League for Democracy (NLD) government exerting significant influence over the military, he added.
“I dare not say if the peace will be successful. And I don’t have much trust,” said the AA chief.
Although the three allies want to hold peace talks with the government, they are also simultaneously strengthening their forces in case military tensions arise between them and the Burma Army, Tun Myat Naing told The Irrawaddy.
TNLA Brig-Gen Tarr Jode Jar said, “I don’t think disarmament will help. The Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) gave up their arms in 2005. Then they were bullied.”
The Palaung State Liberation Organization (PSLO) signed a cease-fire with the government in 1991. Later, when relations soured, the Palaung (Ta’ang) people took up arms again and formed the TNLA.
The TNLA has ongoing clashes with the Burma Army and will discuss a ceasefire and peace, but will not accept disarmament, said TNLA officials.
The Irrawaddy could not reach the MNDAA, but the stances of the three allies are the same, said AA officials.
The government’s peace conference sub-committee is set to meet the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) next week. After that meeting, the preparatory committee is scheduled to meet the three groups.
Maung Maung Soe, a political analyst based in Rangoon said:” The military sticks to the disarmament policy, but this is still not a negative sign because President Htin Kyaw and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi have not yet shared their views.”
Ethnic armed groups in northern Burma are connected politically, geographically and militarily, and other groups might not leave those three groups behind, said Maung Maung Soe.
“If those groups are left out, other allies might not attend the conference. We’ll have to wait and see how Aung San Suu Kyi will negotiate with the army and overcome this,” he added.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.