Burma

Formal Peace Talks Will Resume in Step-by-Step Process: EAOs

By Nyein Nyein 26 August 2019

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—Peace discussions will continue between Myanmar’s government and the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST), comprised of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that are signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), PPST leaders announced Sunday, following a meeting of the group in Chiang Mai, Thailand last week.

Senior leaders of the ten EAOs that are NCA signatories discussed for five days, from Aug. 21-25, current political and military affairs as well as peace conditions among them to find ways of moving the stalled peace process forward.

Leaders also urged the Union government, the Myanmar military and three non-signatory EAOs currently fighting in northern Shan State to end their fighting and seek political solutions.

PPST interim leader General Yawd Serk, chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), said in closing remarks on Sunday that he hopes “the two PPST negotiation teams will bring forth bilateral talks between the government and the EAOs, and that through these talks, they pave ways for formal talks and the convening of the stalled 21st Century Panglong.”

The EAOs’ political negotiation team is to be led by Colonel Sai Ngern of the RCSS and the military affairs negotiation team is to be led by Padoh Saw Hser Gay of the Karen National Union (KNU).

Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo, general secretary of the KNU, told reporters on Sunday that their negotiation teams would be meeting the government’s peace negotiators from the National Reconciliation and Peace Center in early September.

Col. Sai Ngern also added that since their negotiation teams would be holding talks with the government, “the negotiation process is resuming. Based on these discussions, the stalled formal negotiations will be ongoing step by step. Now it can be said that the path [to negotiation] has been opened.”

Two days prior to last week’s PPST meeting, EAO groups met with government peace negotiators, led by secretary of the Peace Commission U Khin Zaw Oo and Director-General of Myanmar State Counsellor’s Office U Zaw Htay, on Aug. 19.

On Aug. 20, the government delegation met informally with the KNU and the RCSS separately. These informal talks have been held almost every month since November to keep the negotiations going.

The government brought back their proposal of a “way forward for the peace process” that includes negotiations over stronger ceasefire implementation, a framework for political dialogue that works for both before and after 2020, the implementation of NCA interim programs and a draft for principles of federation.

EAO signatories to the NCA will also try to work on the PPST structure now that it’s under the interim leadership of the RCSS, after the KNU decided to leave it a few months ago. EAO leaders said they would resume the second part of the summit. The first ended in May.

The KNU returned to the team to help further negotiations with the government, after having submitted its resignation in May and suggesting that the PPST be disbanded in favor of an all-inclusive Peace Process Consultative Meeting that brought in EAOs that are non-signatories to the NCA.

From left to right: Sai Ngern, RCSS secretary; Padoh Saw Tah Doh Moo, KNU secretary; and Nai Ong MaNge, Central Executive Committee member of the NMSP, speak to reporters after the five-day Peace Process Steering Meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Aug. 25, 2019. / Nyein Nyein / The Irrawaddy

Colonel Khun Okkar of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization said the KNU’s decision to return shows the unity of the EAOs.

“We came back because the PPST decided they would reform the team, so if they reform, we’ll continue our cooperation,” Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo told The Irrawaddy. “We wanted to leave because the PPST did not [want to] make changes [within the team].”

He said the Peace Process Consultative Meeting approach is still able to create a space for all EAOs to join talks on peace and political negotiations.

The Myanmar government has signed NCAs with ten EAOs and is holding bilateral ceasefire talks with eight others, including the Kachin Independence Army, Shan State Progressive Party and the Karenni National Progressive Party.

Currently, the military is in engaged in heavy combat with three EAOs: the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in northern Shan State and the Arakan Army in Rakhine State.

Representatives of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) participated in the PPST as observers in the past but in August were made full members.

“As an EAO that signed the NCA, we’ve become a full PPST member. We will work together and try to find a means together. As the number of PPST members increase, it is good—we will be able to help each other,” said Nai Ong MaNge, Central Executive Committee member for the NMSP.

“From now on, we can have open discussion and raise our concerns to be taken into consideration, and we can make decisions along with others in the team,” said Colonel Solomon, LDU secretary.

Both NMSP and LDU spokespersons told The Irrawaddy they became part of the team when their original group, the United Nationalities Federal Council, was suspended.

The UNFC led peace negotiations with both the previous and current administrations but ended its role after the NMSP and LDU signed the NCA in February 2018.

Two other UNFC members, the Karenni National Progressive Party and the Shan State Progressive Party, are also holding bilateral ceasefire talks with the government.

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