Government Agrees to Meet Northern Alliance as a Group

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 5 February 2019

YANGON—The government has agreed to meet the Northern Alliance, a coalition of four ethnic armed groups, as a single entity for peace talks, according to U Hsan Awng of the Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG), a Kachin-based organization that helps to broker meetings between the government, Myanmar Army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Previously, the government would only negotiate with the members bilaterally, and consistently rejected the four groups’ request to hold talks with the government as a coalition.

The Northern Alliance consists of the Arakan Army (AA), the KIA, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

“The date has not been set yet. But I am sure they will meet this month. I heard that the government agreed to meet them collectively,” U Hsan Awng said.

The government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) and the Northern Alliance are currently choosing a date for the meeting and deciding which delegates to send.

However, U Hsan Awng warned that ongoing clashes in Rakhine State, where the AA is attempting to establish a stronghold, and the military’s recent occupation of the headquarters of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang in the Naga Self-Administered Zone have eroded the ethnic armed groups’ trust in the military and could hamper the talks.

Officials of the NRPC and a KIA delegation led by the group’s leader General Gun Maw held informal talks in China’s Kunming on Jan. 21. At the meeting, he requested that the government meet the Northern Alliance as a single entity.

The NRPC has not held talks with the MNDAA, TNLA or AA.

“When we met with the KIO delegation in Yunnan [in China] in January, they proposed a 1+3 negotiation format,” U Hla Maung Shwe, an adviser to the government’s Peace Commission, told The Irrawaddy.

“The policy of the government is, if the discussion is based on signing the NCA [Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement], a 1+3 negotiation is possible. Because all those four groups as members of the NCCT [Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team] participated in the NCA negotiation process with the UPWC [Union Peace-making Work Committee]. So, if the negotiation is based on signing the NCA, a 1+3 negotiation is likely,” he added.

Colonel Kyaw Han of the AA said he had not been informed of the government’s proposal for peace talks.

TNLA information officer Mai Aie Kyaw said, “They [the Myanmar Army] have declared [a ceasefire] for four months. But one month has already passed and there is still no dialogue. So, we don’t know how they intend to hold talks. But it is important that many talks should be held during that [four-month] period.”

He added that there had been no communication through informal channels such as by e-mail or phone between the TNLA leaders and the government.

The KIA briefed officials from the MNDAA, TNLA and AA on its talks with the NRPC at its headquarters in Kachin State’s Laiza on Jan. 29.

Chinese special envoy Sun Guoxiang met the leaders of the MNDAA, TNLA and AA in Kunming two days later. However, the Chinese envoy simply repeated the statements of Myanmar Army chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing during the meeting, according to Mai Aie Kyaw.

The Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) has declared a unilateral ceasefire in areas overseen by five military commands effective from Dec. 21, 2018 to April 30, 2019. The ceasefire does not cover Rakhine State overseen by the Western Command. Clashes have intensified between the Myanmar Army and the AA in several townships in Rakhine and Chin State’s Paletwa.

The Myanmar President’s Office on Jan. 7 ordered the military to crush the AA with a counter-insurgency operation.