Myanmar Junta's Peace Talks in Disarray as Major Ethnic Armies Reject Invitations

By The Irrawaddy 9 May 2022

The Myanmar regime leader’s attempt to persuade the country’s ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) to join peace talks has turned out to be fruitless as the major groups fighting against his army have officially rejected his peace offer.

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”.

Coming after a year of clashes with newly formed anti-regime resistance forces who have been fighting along with 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 stay away from the resistance forces.

On Monday, Myanmar’s oldest—and one of its most powerful—ethnic armed groups, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), refused to attend the peace meeting, saying it is not all-inclusive, becoming the latest EAO to boycott the talks. The regime has set Monday as the deadline for EAOs to register for the talks.

“As the invitation for the talks is limited [in terms of participants] and not all-inclusive, we believe they won’t bring sustainable peace or end armed conflict. The talks don’t create a situation in which all stakeholders can take part, and we won’t join the meeting,” said a statement released by the Karen National Union (KNU), the political wing of the KNLA.

The regime’s invitation to the talks excludes Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and its armed wing, the People’s Defense Force (PDF), who have been fighting along with ethnic armed groups like the KNLA against the regime. Many people in Myanmar see the NUG as their legitimate government and the PDF as their army.

The KNLA’s refusal to join the meeting came a few days after another of Myanmar’s powerful ethnic groups, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), condemned the talks, citing the meeting’s non-inclusiveness.

The KNU and KIA’s rejection of the talks can be seen as a big blow to the junta, because they are among the country’s largest EAOs and have been fighting along with PDF groups in Myanmar’s north, northwest and south.

Apart from them, ethnic Karenni armed group the Karenni Army (KA) and Chin armed group the Chin National Army (CNA) also rejected the meeting. Like the KNU and KIA, both the Chin and Karenni armed groups are fighting along with PDFs in their areas of control in Myanmar’s northwest and southeast.

A local analyst who has been studying armed conflicts in Myanmar said the rejections by EAOs active in current battle zones mean there would be more fighting there, and expected that Min Aung Hlaing’s peace process would achieve nothing.

“With the major players boycotting his peace talks, how could they be successful?” he said.

On Sunday, the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) said it would not attend the junta’s peace talks, either. The CNA, KA and ABSDF all said the talks’ limitation on participants made them turn down the offer.

Myanmar has around 20 EAOs, of which only 10 have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement so far. The ABSDF, KNU and the CNA’s political wing, the Chin National Front (CNF), are signatories but have opposed the regime since the coup.

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