Myanmar Junta’s Awards for Ethnic Leaders Seen as Bid to Sell Peace Talks

By The Irrawaddy 11 May 2022

Of the 10 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that have agreed to attend talks with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw, seven have current or former leaders who received the Wunna Kyawhtin title from the coup leader last month. 

Four of the recipients are still alive and the other three were honored posthumously. Along with some other ethnic leaders, they were awarded the Wunna Kyawhtin title on April 17, which is New Year’s Day on Myanmar’s traditional lunar calendar. 

All seven of the groups whose leaders were honored are signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). The recipients were Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council leader Major-General Htein Maung (aka Saw Htay Maung); Khun Okkar of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO); U Khaing Soe Naing Aung of the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP); Yawd Serk of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS); Myaing Gyi Ngu Sayadaw U Thuzana of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA); Nai Htaw Mon of the New Mon State Party (NMSP); and Kyar Khun Sar of the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU). 

On April 22, five days after awarding the titles, Min Aung Hlaing called for face-to-face talks with EAO leaders, saying he sought to end the armed conflicts in Myanmar. 

Coming after a year of clashes with newly formed anti-regime resistance forces that have been fighting alongside ethnic armed groups to topple his regime, Min Aung Hlaing’s offer of peace is, many believe, a pretext to persuade the armed groups to distance themselves from the resistance forces.

The peace talks plan has become a laughing stock as none of the groups that have said yes to the junta’s proposed peace talks is currently engaged in active fighting with the regime. 

EAOs and other groups that are engaged in active fighting with the regime, such as the Karen National Union and Kachin Independence Army, have officially rejected the regime’s invitation, saying the proposed talks lack inclusivity.  

The regime has not invited Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) or its armed wing, the People’s Defense Force (PDF), which has been fighting the regime. 

Many people in Myanmar see the NUG as their legitimate government and the PDF as their army.

The majority of the EAOs that are planning to attend the talks are recipients of awards given by Min Aung Hlaing; this has invited suspicions that the regime chief awarded the titles with the specific intention of persuading the EAO leaders to attend the peace talks. 

A local political analyst on ethnic affairs shared that view. 

“You could say that the title is a sort of incentive from Min Aung Hlaing [to persuade some ethnic leaders to join the talks],” he said.

The Wunna Kyawhtin title, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the country, was awarded to a total of 25 individuals on April 17; some 20 of the recipients are current or late ethnic leaders. 

Saw Mutu Say Poe, the leader of the KNU, an NCA signatory, was among those awarded the Wunna Kyawhtin title on April 17. However, the oldest armed organization in Myanmar on Monday rejected the junta’s invitation to attend the talks, saying they will not be all-inclusive.

Two other NCA signatories, the Chin National Front and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, have also rejected the talks because of the junta’s limitation on participants. 

The Brotherhood Alliance, a tripartite military coalition of the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, said they would take a wait-and-see approach to the peace talks. 

NCA non-signatories the United Wa State Army and the National Democratic Alliance Army, both of which have de facto control over their territories, as well as the Shan State Progress Party, will attend the talks in Naypyitaw. 

Many believe the move by the regime—which is fighting a war on various fronts against multiple EAOs and PDFs—to confer titles on ethnic leaders and invite them to peace talks is intended to undermine the unity among armed revolutionary organizations. 

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