KIA Spurns Myanmar Junta’s Invitation to Join Peace Talks

By The Irrawaddy 5 May 2022

One of Myanmar’s most powerful ethnic armed groups, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), won’t join the regime’s peace talks, saying they exclude relevant stakeholders and their agenda lacks any discussion of ongoing issues in the country.

Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing late last month invited the leaders of all the country’s ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) for talks “to end armed conflict”.

Myanmar has around 20 EAOs, of which only 10 have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement so far. The KIA has yet to sign it.

In his invitation, Min Aung Hlaing said he would talk to EAO leaders “openly and sincerely for the sake of peace”. Several EAOs have rejected the offer.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Central Committee of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the KIA, said it received the regime’s notification of the talks on Monday. It said the invitation excluded some stakeholders who should join the talks, adding that the agenda did not include discussions of the most important issues Myanmar is now facing.

Myanmar has been in social and political turmoil since the military seized power from the country’s democratically elected government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, 2021. More than one year on, the junta is still struggling with unwavering anti-regime armed resistance across the country.

“So, the KIO will join only when all relevant stakeholders are able to discuss the country’s issues in an equal manner,” it said.

A Myanmar political analyst said that while the statement doesn’t specifically mention who the “relevant stakeholders” are, it could be interpreted as referring to Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and its armed wing, the People’s Defense Force (PDF), as “70 percent of the fighting the regime is facing today in the country is with the PDFs.”

Min Aung Hlaing’s invitation excludes both the NUG and PDF, while welcoming all EAOs. The regime has branded the NUG and PDFs as terrorist groups.

The NUG was formed after the coup by lawmakers from Myanmar’s ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) and their ethnic allies to challenge the regime’s legitimacy at home and abroad. Many in Myanmar take the NUG as their legitimate government, while some Western countries are also informally engaging with the parallel government.

The junta chief’s request for talks comes as his regime faces the most serious challenges to its attempt to rule the country since the military staged a coup last year. So far the regime has still not been able to bring the country under its control. The armed wings of some powerful EAOs, including the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), are working with the NUG and fighting alongside resistance forces against regime troops, inflicting heavy casualties. Others are unofficially supporting the resistance movement.

Founded in 1961, the KIO is one of Myanmar’s oldest revolutionary ethnic groups. It signed a peace deal with Myanmar’s central government in 1994 but it collapsed in 2011 and fighting has resumed.

As a consequence of the KIO’s rejection on the peace talks, the political analyst said, there would be more fighting in Kachin, Chin, Sagaing and Magwe, where the KIA is active along with the PDFs.

“Also, there will be more military tension in northern Shan State, where the KIA and its allies the Arakan Army [AA], the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army [MNDAA] and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army [TNLA] are active,” he said.

So far, the AA, MNDAA and TNLA haven’t publicly responded to the invitation.

The KIO’s rejection of the peace talks came after the NUG’s acting president warned EAOs not to accept the junta’s invitation, saying military regimes rarely keep their promises.

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