A Japanese envoy is due to meet with some of Myanmar’s ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) on Thursday in an effort to revive the country’s peace process, but analysts cast doubt on the significance of the talks, which appear likely to exclude many of the main groups currently involved in fighting the regime.
In his capacity as Japan’s special envoy for national reconciliation in Myanmar, Yohei Sasakawa will be joined by representatives of the Karen National Union (KNU), Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), New Mon State Party (NMSP), Pa-O National Liberation Council and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. Peace talks in Myanmar have been stalled since the military coup in February last year.
With the exception of the KNPP, all of the groups are signatories to the Nationwide Cceasefire Agreement (NCA) established in 2015 under the administration of then-President U Thein Sein. Currently, Myanmar has 18 recognized EAOs.
Among those expected to meet with Sasakawa are U Aung Naing Oo and U Hla Maung Shwe, former government peace brokers over the last decade. U Hla Maung Shwe is currently a member of the junta’s new peace committee, but both men will be attending the meeting as representatives of an NGO, the Center for Peace and Reconciliation.
Since the coup, however, the NCA has been seen as all but dead, and the Myanmar peace process written off as going nowhere. The country exploded into conflict last year, with some of the major EAOs including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—a non-signatory—fighting against the regime. The junta had been unsuccessfully attempting to persuade the EAOs to come to the table when Sasakawa stepped in.
Sasakawa, who is also the chairman of the Nippon Foundation and a witness to the NCA signings, has had good relations with both ousted and detained pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing. Currently, the Japanese envoy is in Thailand to meet with Thai authorities.
Colonel Khun Oakkar, patron of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), said the Japanese special envoy, as an international witness to the NCA, is making efforts “to resume the stalled dialogue and to find a way to stop armed conflict in the country.”
“As the ASEAN special envoy will be acting in Myanmar’s peace process, it seems they [the ASEAN and Japanese envoys] will work together. Then he will meet some [ethnic] group leaders, whom he knows personally,” Col. Khun Oakkar said.
The NCA signatories have been in regular contact with Sasakawa but Thursday’s gathering would be their first in-person meeting since the coup.
Analysts downplayed the significance of the talks, pointing out that some major EAOs that are doing most of the fighting against the regime at the moment are not attending. Furthermore, the list of invitees includes no representatives of Myanmar’s shadow civilian National Unity Government (NUG) or its armed wing, the People’s Defence Force (PDF).
Currently, PDF groups are allied with the KIA and even some brigades of the KNU, waging war against the regime in parts of the country nearly every day and inflicting serious casualties on the regime’s forces.
A local analyst who has followed Myanmar’s peace process for decades and closely monitors Japan’s role in peace building in Myanmar said that simply meeting with EAOs was not a solution.
“The Japanese special envoy seemed to think a ceasefire between the EAOs and the junta is possible, but what he forgot was the resistance movement and the parallel government, the National Unity Government,” he said.
The NUG and the junta have designated each other as terrorist groups. Neither has shown any sign of wanting to negotiate with the other, and they seek to annihilate each other.
As Japan wants to be involved in the process, Sasakawa is trying to meet the EAOs, but seems unclear about his role, another observer said.
Since last year, growing numbers of people have taken up arms and joined the resistance movement against the junta in response to its atrocities against civilians and lethal crackdowns on peaceful anti-regime protesters.
Many people have come to believe that neither the peace process nor negotiations currently offer a path toward ending the military dictatorship and the junta’s human rights violations.
Prior to his trip to Thailand, Sasakawa went to Cambodia and met Prime Minister Hun Sen, who asked him to continue working with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn in the latter’s role as ASEAN special envoy on Myanmar, in an effort to restore democracy.
Prak Sokhonn is due to pay a four-day visit to Myanmar on March 20-23 in an effort to find a solution to the Myanmar crisis, Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry said last Wednesday.
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