Ethnic Leaders Sharpen Strategy Ahead of Thein Sein Meeting

By Nyein Nyein 25 August 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A meeting of ethnic armed groups concluded in northern Thailand on Monday with a pledge to work together to sign an all-inclusive nationwide ceasefire accord ahead of an upcoming meeting with President Thein Sein.

At the four-day meeting of the ethnics’ Senior Delegation which began on Friday in Chiang Mai, ethnic leaders agreed in principle to ensure an all-inclusive nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) and also discussed obtaining political and military guarantees from the government for those armed groups thus far excluded from the prospective pact.

The leaders of five major ethnic armed groups—the Karen National Union (KNU), the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N)—together with three Senior Delegation leaders, are scheduled to meet President Thein Sein in the coming days, although no date is yet fixed.

Padoh Kwe Htoo Win, secretary of the KNU, told reporters on Monday evening that the delegation would stand up for the interests of all ethnic armed groups in their meeting with the president.

“We have different options in negotiating with the government and [working] to integrate all of our allies,” Padoh Kwe Htoo Win said.

But with no date set for the high-level meeting, Hla Maung Shwe of the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center said it was not certain whether Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing would be able to take part, as previously pledged.

The government was still awaiting confirmation of a proposed meeting date from ethnic leaders, Hla Maung Shwe told The Irrawaddy.

If the meeting, which was tentatively scheduled for a day between August 25-28, did not transpire before the end of the month, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing would be unlikely to attend due to planned foreign trips, Hla Maung Shwe said.

“If they could meet the commander-in-chief, then discussions on military affairs could be covered too,” he said.

During the ethnic armed groups’ four-day dialogue, there was heated debate over how best to integrate ethnic armed groups that the government has baulked on including as NCA signees.

These include three groups engaged in conflict with government forces—the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA)—and three groups not designated armed combatants—the Lahu Democratic Union, the Wa National Organization and the Arakan National Council.

Ethnic leaders canvassed various approaches to addressing the issue including insisting all groups sign the NCA simultaneously; obtaining military and political guarantees from the government regarding excluded armed groups; or facilitating the conclusion of bilateral ceasefires between excluded groups and the government, according to Tar Aik Phone of the TNLA.

Tar Aik Phone said the Ta’ang armed group had requested that ethnic leaders negotiate for the three major excluded armed groups to settle bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government.

The government and the military have reportedly expressed willingness to conclude a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the TNLA, but not with the MNDAA or the AA.

Representatives of the Kokang MNDAA, who joined the latest ethnic summit, said the group had tried to take part in the ceasefire process and, to that end, had even announced a unilateral ceasefire with the government in June that went unheeded.

Peng Win Naing, a Lt-Colonel with the MNDAA, said “we will try our best” to be included in the final peace agreement, under the leadership of the ethnics’ United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).

“We believe UNFC leaders will not leave us behind,” he said. “But if the government army wages further offensives against us, and if there is no other way, we will have to defend [ourselves] until the last man.”