CHIANG MAI, Thailand — President’s Office minister and Burma’s chief peace negotiator Aung Min held a series of meetings with ethnic leaders in northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai this week, including representatives of an ethnic alliance whose members remain outside the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).
On Monday, Aung Min met representatives of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), accompanied by former lieutenant general Khin Zaw Oo and advisors from the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC). The President’s Office minister also met separately with members of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) whose armed wing, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), has recently clashed with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), a UNFC member.
Aung Min initially requested to meet with UNFC member groups separately, an approach rejected by the alliance who insisted on meeting as a body.
“We came to see our friends and briefed them on updates regarding the NCA process,” Aung Min told reporters after the meeting. He said the door was still open for non-signatory groups to sign the agreement concluded in October last year.
“We have to try step by step,” he said.
Current UNFC members, which include the Kachin Independence Organization and the Shan State Army-North, rebuffed the so-called nationwide pact on the grounds that it was not inclusive of all ethnic armed groups.
The alliance suspended two of its members, the Chin National Front and the Pa-O National Liberation Organization, after they signed the agreement. Another signatory, the Karen National Union (KNU), left the alliance prior to the NCA signing.
“We generally talked about how we could proceed in the future to finish up our work [on the peace process],” said UNFC general secretary Khu Oo Reh following the dialogue.
Hla Maung Shwe of the MPC said further meetings may be scheduled this week as the government delegation will remain in Chiang Mai for a few more days.
During a brief meeting with RCSS representatives on Monday, Aung Min urged for the reduction of tensions with the TNLA, according to spokespersons for both parties.
“We would also be able to help if they ask us, for a venue [for dialogue] and other issues. The minister would be able to join,” said Hla Maung Shwe, while adding that the government’s capacity to intervene was limited, as the opposing forces included a signatory and non-signatory armed group.
The TNLA has previously accused the SSA-S of cooperating with the Burma Army during military operations, a charge the Shan armed group has repeatedly denied.
Khin Zaw Oo met separately with RCSS chairman Yawd Serk on Tuesday morning. No details of the meeting were officially disclosed.