YANGON—The Myanmar military’s successful effort to shut down a discussion of the peace process by Myanmar ethnic armed organizations in Chiang Mai, Thailand has been criticized as a violation of the EAOs’ right to gather and of the principles of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
Thai authorities canceled the planned working group discussion of the Peace Process Consultative Meeting (PPCM) at the request of the Myanmar military attaché in Bangkok, Brigadier General Khin Zaw, last week.
Critics said the move could set back trust-building efforts between the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) and the EAOs before either side is ready to move on to formal peace negotiations. However, military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said he did not believe this would be the case.
“We don’t think it will have a big impact on trust-building because even among the NCA signatories there are many EAOs that do not agree with the proposed new [PPCM] structure,” he said.
Ten EAOs—the Karen National Union (KNU), Chin National Front, Pa-O Nationalities Liberation Organization, Arakan Liberation Party, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council, Restoration Council of Shan State, All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, New Mon State Party and Lahu Democratic Union—have signed the NCA since October 2015, and the government is negotiating with eight other groups.
The proposed PPCM working group, appointed by the ethnic armed organizations’ Peace Process Steering Team (PPST), was scheduled to meet from June 8-10 in Chiang Mai to find a way to move peace negotiations forward.
Brig-Gen. Khin Zaw of the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok objected to the meeting on grounds that it would be joined not only by the 10 NCA signatories but also by two non-signatories—the Karenni National Progressive Party and the Kachin Independence Army.
The KNU, an NCA signatory, proposed establishing the PPCM at the EAO summit last month as a way of including all ethnic armed groups in discussions of the peace process, regardless of signatory status.
In a June 7 letter to the Royal Thai Army headquarters that went viral online and was seen by The Irrawaddy, the Myanmar military attaché requests that Thai authorities “obstruct” the PPCM, saying it “would definitely disrupt the NCA peace process which [is] still under implementation [by the] Myanmar government and Myanmar Armed Forces to be able to restore eternal peace across the country.” The letter was written in English and signed by the attaché.
Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the Tatmadaw spokesman, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that “the Office of the Commander-in-Chief did not officially order the sending of such an objection letter.” He added that an inquiry would be made into the actions of the attaché’s office.
He added, “The military attaché offices abroad act on behalf of the Tatmadaw,” and that, therefore, the military attaché in Bangkok “may have had reason to do so.”
An official statement from the military attaché’s office claimed that Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo, the secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), arranged the meeting, saying it was he who raised the idea of an alternative structure to the PPST.
Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo, a member of the PPCM working group, told The Irrawaddy that the working group discussion was assigned by the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST) and thus he “can’t understand why was he being cited as someone who arranged [the PPCM].”
The KNU secretary said the sole aim of their discussion was “to find a means to move the PPST forward. It was not just the PPCM. But we used the term PPCM during the summit [last month]. The key point here is to have a wider discussion among the EAOs, whether they have signed the NCA or not, and to move the process forward.”
He said, the military’s attempt to obstruct the meeting simply “ignored Article 24 of the NCA,” by attempting to limit contact between concerned parties, be they EAOs, political parties or civil society groups.
“The military’s actions leads us to wonder what their intention for the peace process is, because it should not restrict us from meeting with groups, whether they are NCA signatories or not,” Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo said.
The PPCM working group comprises one representative from each of the 10 ethnic armed groups that have signed the NCA.
Khun Myint Tun, the vice chairman of the Pa-O Nationalities Liberation Organization and a member of the PPST, said each EAO signatory had instructed its representative on the PPCM working group to discuss the issue after their summit last month.
“I think the [military’s] objection was misguided and it looks like it [the objection] was based on incomplete information,” said Khun Myint Tun.
An earlier group of EAO representatives assigned to find ways of overcoming the stalemate in the peace process were able to meet and hold discussions on June 5-7 in Chiang Mai without any problems.
The Office of the Myanmar military attaché in Bangkok often demands that meetings of EAOs or activities of Thailand-based Myanmar rights groups be suppressed. A Shan coalition, the Committee for Shan State Unity,was forced to call off a meeting in Chiang Mai in July 2017 and the launch event for a report warning of a humanitarian crisis in Karen State and detailing ongoing human right abuses against local people there by the Myanmar Military was shut down in April last year, apparently at the request of the Myanmar military.
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