Fighting on Burma’s Peripheries to Be at Center of Ethnic Summit

By Kyaw Kha 20 May 2015

RANGOON — Fighting between the Burma Army and three ethnic armed groups will be at the top of the agenda when a conference of ethnic leaders convenes in rebel-controlled territory of Karen State early next month.

The conference, to be held from June 2-6 in the Karen State town of Law Khee Lar, will focus on the role in Burma’s peace process played by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army, all of which are engaged in ongoing hostilities with the government.

“[At the conference we] will discuss how to settle the issue of those three groups there. But the government’s position has become more important. We can work it out if the government accepts inclusion of all,” Khun Okkar, a leader of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), told The Irrawaddy.

The government has signed a draft nationwide ceasefire accord with the 16 ethnic armed groups that comprise the NCCT. The TNLA is an NCCT member, but the MNDAA and Arakan Army are not, with the government indicating reluctance to afford them a seat at the table in ongoing peace negotiations.

Ethnic leaders have expressed their commitment to the inclusion of all ethnic armed groups in signing a nationwide ceasefire with the government, however, and the forthcoming conference is aimed at establishing a timeframe for warring parties to join an accord in the event that they cannot participate in its initial signing.

“Even if [all ethnic armed groups] can’t join [the nationwide ceasefire] at the same time, a guarantee is needed for [armed groups to join later]. If there is a guarantee, we can find ways to work on that guarantee. We won’t leave behind [any armed group], but [they] may not be able to [sign the agreement] at the same time,” said Khun Okkar.

NCCT vice chairman Kwe Htoo Win said the NCCT would present the outcomes of the Law Khee Lar conference to the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC) and focus on the points crucial for finally inking the long-sought ceasefire.

“Mainly, there are two things. One is we will re-present the NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement] final draft and seek [UPWC] approval and the second is to present the framework for political dialogue and seek their approval,” Kwe Htoo Win told The Irrawaddy.

Although the MNDAA has said security concerns would make it difficult for the group to send representatives to the conference in Law Khee Lar, Kwe Htoo Win said the Karen National Union (KNU), which will host the conference and controls the Law Khee Lar area, has invited all ethnic armed groups including the MNDAA. He added that the KNU also planned to invite local and foreign news agencies to ensure comprehensive coverage of the conference.

The forthcoming ethnic conference will be the second in Law Khee Lar, with ethnic leaders last convening there in January 2014.

An alliance of MNDAA, TLNA and Arakan Army forces has since February been battling government troops in northeastern Burma’s Kokang Special Region, where some of the deadliest fighting in years has killed scores of soldiers on both sides of the conflict. In late March, fighting also flared on a smaller scale in Arakan State between the government and Arakan Army troops.

All three groups sent representatives to a conference early this month held in the Wa Special Region, where Burma’s largest ethnic armed group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) declared its support for the warring rebels.