Gov’t Invites 8 Armed Groups to Peace Talks Next Week

By Nyein Nyein & Kyaw Kha 15 March 2019

YANGON—The government has invited eight ethnic armed groups who are non-signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) to peace talks in Naypyitaw on March 21.

In letters dated March 13, the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) invited each of the following organizations, which are all political wings of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), to send two representatives each: the United Wa State Party (UWSP), Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Mongla’s Eastern Shan State Peace and Solidarity Committee (PSC), Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), Kokang’s Myanmar National Truth and Justice Party (MNTJP), Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF), United League of Arakan (ULA) and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).

The NRPC, which is led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, plans to hold talks with them on March 21. On the following day, according to a copy of the invitation letter seen by The Irrawaddy, “the Tatmadaw’s negotiation team will meet the individual group[s] who agree to meet them.”

During the Tatmadaw’s ongoing four-month truce, which started Dec. 21, the Tatmadaw has held separate talks with the SSPP and RCSS in Naypyitaw in late February and this week, respectively. Despite having engaged in a few clashes with the latter group, the talks in Napyitaw were so far positive, according to the stakeholders.

The planned Naypyitaw talks are the result of a series of informal talks that the government’s Peace Commission held with the KIO, PSLF, MNTJP and ULA in China’s Yunnan province on Feb. 25 and with the KNPP in Chiang Mai, Thailand on March 10.

“The NRPC will collectively meet the eight groups and we hope that [next week’s] meetings will help further the peace negotiations,” said U Hla Maung Shwe, an adviser to the Peace Commission.

U Shwe Myo Thant, the general secretary of the KNPP, said his group welcomed the invitation because “it is [aimed at] trying to overcome a deadlocked peace process. But we still have to work harder to get the process back on track.” The KNPP has been holding bilateral talks with the Kayah State government while also negotiating with the Union government’s Peace Commission on finding ways to take part in the NCA process.

According to sources close to the peace process, the KNPP will hold bilateral talks with the government on March 18.

The Arakan Army, the armed wing of the ULA, which is currently engaged in heavy fighting with the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) in Rakhine State, said it is still considering whether to join next week’s talks and, if it decides to attend, what proposals it would bring to the table.

AA spokesman U Khaing Thuka told The Irrawaddy on Friday, “We are still in discussions and we will let you know tomorrow evening.” The Irrawaddy has learned that other invited groups are holding similar internal discussions on the issue.

Except for the KNPP, the northeast-based invitees are all members of the UWSP-led Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee, which has pushed for an alternative to the NCA approach.

Political and ethnic affairs analyst U Maung Maung Soe believed the NRPC’s move would help open up the stalled peace process, but cautioned that the government needed to keep holding talks in order to end the current fighting with the AA.

“The decision has been taken to reopen talks, which had been stalled since after the third session of the Union Peace Conference [in July last year],” he said.

He added that while the eight groups had consented to join next week’s talks, senior leaders of the EAOs were unlikely to attend, as the UWSP/United Wa State Army is preparing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its founding in mid-April.

In 1989, the year it was established, the UWSA signed a ceasefire with the government, so it is billing its anniversary celebration as “30 Years of Peace”.