The government invited nine ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) to the upcoming Union Peace Conference as “special guests,” The Irrawaddy has learned.
Tar Hla Pe, a secretary of State Counselor’s Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), told the Irrawaddy on Monday the government had used the term “special guests” to attract EAOs which have rejected attending as observers—including the ethnic bloc the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).
According to the terms of the NCA, only signatories can send delegations to the May 24 conference—also known as the 21st Century Panglong peace conference—and take part in discussions, though other groups may attend as observers.
The letter, seen by The Irrawaddy, lists “special guest” invitees as: the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the Arakan National Council (ANC), the Lahu Democratic Union (LHU), the Wa National Organization (WNO), the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA).
According to Tar Hla Pe, the NDAA confirmed they would send members to attend the conference but the UPDJC had not received notice from another groups as of Monday morning.
He said that the UPDJC had initially agreed to invite the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) as observers—members of the Northern Alliance alongside the KIA—despite Burma Army attempts to deny the groups EAO status and blocking them from attending entirely.
The Northern Alliance previously said it would only attend if all groups in the alliance were invited.
Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw of the TNLA told The Irrawaddy he told the government that it would attend if all members of the UWSA-led Union Political Negotiation Committee—a group that after it was formed denounced the NCA at a summit in Wa capital Panghsang in February—were invited.
“We are still waiting for the government’s reply,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday morning.
The ethnic bloc of NCA-non signatories the UNFC—currently comprised of the NMSP, KNPP, KIA, SSPP, WNO, the ANC, and the LDU—met in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand on Monday to discuss the invitation, according to the UNFC.
A separate letter from the National Reconciliation and Peace Center to the Union Parliament dated May 15 and seen by the Irrawaddy revealed the makeup of the 700 representatives invited to Wednesday’s conference: 75 government representatives, 75 members of parliament, 150 Burma Army representatives, 150 EAO representatives, 150 political party representatives, 50 ethnic representatives, and 50 other eligible persons.