Myanmar Junta’s Union Day Peace Talks in Doubt as Most EAOs Won’t Attend

By The Irrawaddy 11 February 2022

Uncertainty has grown over the likelihood of preliminary peace talks planned for the upcoming Union Day celebrations going ahead, as the majority of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) are not attending the event.

The military regime has invited EAOs, both the signatories and non-signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), to attend preliminary peace talks to be held alongside the 75th Union Day celebrations in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw on Saturday.

However, EAOs the junta has declared to be “terrorist groups” have not been invited to the talks.

There are ten NCA signatories and eight non-signatories. At least eight of them will not attend the junta-organized Union Day celebrations, while some other EAOs are planning to send only liaison officers to the event.

The Kachin Independence Army, the Chin National Front, the Karenni National Progressive Party, the Karen National Union, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, all of which are actively fighting the military regime, will not attend the event.

The All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) and the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) will also be absent from the event, although they have attended previous peace talks organized by the Myanmar military.

“We won’t attend the event because of the overall situation and difficulties including the political situation, COVID-19 outbreak, [difficulties with] travel and various other factors,” said ABSDF spokesman Sonny.

PNLO patron Colonel Khun Okkar said that he has urged PNLO officials to attend the Union Day celebrations, but the PNLO has told the junta that they are unable to attend for various reasons.

“We have two secretaries and they told me that they have said [to the military regime] that they were busy and sick and are therefore unable to attend. I have suggested that we should at least send a liaison officer as our representative. He doesn’t need to take part in the discussions. He can say he would consult with us and reply later. I told them that our relationship will sour if we don’t go at all,” said Colonel Khun Okkar.

Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing plans to hold a grand parade near the parliamentary compound in Naypyitaw for the 75th Union Day anniversary, becoming the first military dictator to preside over such a ceremony.

The regime said in an announcement that participants are free to discuss any topic at the peace talks, and that it wants to solve political problems through political means.

The parallel civilian National Unity Government, its parliamentary body the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and its armed wing the People’s Defense Forces are designated as “terrorist groups” and so are not allowed to attend the talks.

The regime is organizing the large-scale event amid the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Myanmar. Over 1,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported recently, according to the junta-controlled Ministry of Health.

Junta spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun told online news agency NP News that the regime has offered to provide air transport for EAOs attending the peace talks. He admitted that some EAOs are only sending a representative rather than leaders and decision makers.

There have been reports that the United Wa State Army, the National Democratic Alliance Army, the Lahu Democratic Union, the Arakan Liberation Party, the New Mon State Party, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army are likely to attend the event. The Irrawaddy could not independently confirm those reports.

The Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council (KNU/KNLA) told The Irrawaddy it is likely to send central executive committee members to the Union Day celebrations, but it is not sure to attend the peace talks.

“We received the invitation to the Union Day event first. The invitation to preliminary peace talks came later. So we have not yet discussed about whether to attend. Roughly speaking, the delegation will attend the Union Day event,” said KNLA spokesperson Colonel Saw Kyaw Nyunt.

“We are attending the Union Day event to show our respect for solidarity among ethnic people,” he added.

A political analyst said that the military regime is seeking to use the presence of EAOs to make a show to the international community that it has reached an agreement with them.

“Most of the EAOs will not attend the event. But EAOs like the RCSS that do not have firm stances and smaller groups may take part in it in consideration of their long-term interests. The peace talks may take place with a few groups, but it will not be the ones which the regime needs to build permanent peace,” said the analyst.

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