Meeting Between Rebels, Myanmar Govt Peace Team ‘Just for Show’: TNLA Official

By Lawi Weng 2 September 2019

The Northern Alliance (NA) and the government peace negotiators were unable to reach an agreement to end the fighting in northern Shan State at Saturday’s meeting in Keng Tung, according to a leader from the group of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs).

Leaders of the four NA members—the Kachin Independence Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—met with officials from the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) in Keng Tung, eastern Shan, on Saturday amid an escalation in the fighting in northern Shan State and Rakhine State.

Brigadier-General Tar Phone Kyaw of the TNLA, who spoke on behalf of three of the NA members—the TNLA, AA and MNDAA, who are known as the Brotherhood Alliance—told The Irrawaddy on Monday that during the meeting, the NA proposed ways of ending the fighting.

“We asked them to halt their military offensives in ethnic areas including [those of the] Arakan, Ta’ang and Kokang. This is the first point. Secondly, we asked them to stop shelling civilian targets, and to stop murdering and torturing civilians. Thirdly, we asked them to start real peace talks,” he said.

Fighting between the Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) and joint forces of the TNLA, AA and MNDAA in northern Shan State over the past two weeks has left thousands of local people internally displaced and killed and wounded a number of civilians.

President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay said at a press conference after the meeting in Keng Tung that a deadly mortar attack that killed five civilians in their homes, including a toddler, in northern Shan on the day of the peace talks was discussed at the meeting. Three other people were wounded in the attack in Kutkai Township.

“The government team raised this attack based on information received via [an official communications channel]. There was some dispute over this issue at the meeting,” he said.

The NRPC officials also raised the clashes on the Union highway in northern Shan.

“The fighting [in northern Shan] has resulted in serious losses. From our side, we wanted them [the EAOs] to think about it deeply. We discussed it at the meeting,” U Zaw Htay said.

The fighting in northern Shan has blocked a Union highway that is a major trade route, affecting the country’s entire population, he said.

The drop in cross-border trade with China due to the fighting in northern Shan is costing the Myanmar government US$6 million (9.17 billion kyats) a day, Deputy Union Commerce Minister U Aung Htoo said at a press conference in Yangon on Aug. 30

The government and NA agreed to meet again on Sept. 16 and 17 to continue to discuss how to reach bilateral agreements. The EAOs have proposed holding the next meeting in Wa State’s Panghsang, or in China.

The NA members told the NRPC at the meeting that they could not accept a proposal written by the Myanmar Army and submitted to them at their previous meeting in Mongla, eastern Shan State on June 30.

“We told them at the meeting that we could not accept the proposal written by the Tatmadaw. We gave them back our bilateral ceasefire draft,” Brig-Gen. Tar Phone Kyaw said.

Brig-Gen. Tar Phone Kyaw described the meeting in Keng Tung as unsuccessful. He said the government arranged it under pressure from China, and that it was held largely for show.

“On the government side, those who attended the meeting were not authorized to make decisions. Therefore, we could not discuss how to end the fighting at the meeting,” he said.