Myanmar Low-Level EAO Representatives Attend Junta Union Day Event

By The Irrawaddy 14 February 2022

Representatives from 11 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) attended Myanmar’s junta-organized event to mark the 75th anniversary of Union Day on Saturday in Naypyitaw, according to the regime.

Seven signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and four non-signatories commemorated the signing of the Panglong Agreement between the pre-independence government and ethnic minorities in 1947. Only a few, smaller EAOs were represented by their leaders and most of the groups only sent representatives.

There are 10 NCA signatories and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and New Mon State Party were represented by central executive committee (CEC) members. The Arakan Liberation Party was represented by its vice-chairwoman Saw Mra Yazar Lin and Padoh Saw Shwe Maung, former Dupalaya district chairman Karen National Union (KNU), attended.

Representatives of the Lahu Democratic Union, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army – Peace Council attended the event.

Union Day attendants.

Among the non-signatories present were the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), which sent liaison officers, the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) which was represented by a CEC member and the Arakan Army (AA) was represented by Aung Mrat Kyaw, a brother of its chief Twan Mrat Naing, and veteran politician U Oo Hla Saw.

The groups were criticized amid large-scale public boycotts of the junta event.

Non-NCA signatories like the Kachin Independence Army, Chin National Front, Karenni National Progressive Party, Karen National Union, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army are actively fighting the regime and did not attend.

AA spokesman Khaing Thukha said a representative was sent because it was in the people’s interest.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing greets the Union Day event attendants.

“We always attach great importance to the interests of our people. We, therefore, take a pragmatic approach to the needs of our people,” said Khaing Thukha.

It was seen as significant that ethnic Shan rivals, the RCSS and SSPP, both sent CEC members, despite fighting each other bitterly and refusing to hold peace talks.

The SSPP and RCSS were both unavailable for comment to The Irrawaddy.

Nyi Rang, who represented the UWSA, told The Irrawaddy that the ethnic group had traditionally attended the Union Day events.

“We always attend the Union Day events if we are invited. But we only attended the event and our presence did not mean we support any side,” said Nyi Rang.

Before the event, a KNU spokesman said the country’s oldest EAO had nothing to discuss with the regime after it had violated the NCA. Observers were surprised that the KNU’s former chairman of Dupalaya District was at the event.

Padoh Saw Shwe Maung retired as the KNU’s Dupalaya District chairman in January.

KNU external affairs chief Padoh Saw Taw Nee said: “We said the KNU would not attend it. The person who attended the event holds no position within the KNU. The people need to know the KNU did not attend the event.”

U Naing Htoo Aung, secretary of the parallel civilian National Unity Government, told The Irrawaddy: “People do not accept the military regime and the international community is well aware of its violence. No individual or organization supports any event organized by the notorious regime. Any group that has ties with the regime may see its popularity decline.”

Political analyst Dr. Hla Kyaw Zaw, who is based in the Chinese province of Yunnan, said the EAOs were driven by their own interests or concerns.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing greets the Union Day event attendants.

“Some EAOs were forced to attend the event. For example, the Wa [UWSA] and Mongla [NDAA] share a border with China and Beijing apparently wanted them to attend the event. So they had no choice.”

Earlier this month, the UWSA attended Chinese-brokered talks with the regime in Kunming, China.

The representatives, except for those from the UWSA and NDAA, met Lieutenant General Yar Pyae, who heads the junta’s National Solidarity and Peace Negotiation Committee, in Naypyitaw on Sunday.

Lt-Gen Yar Pyae explained the peace process planned by the regime and the representatives were asked to explain their groups’ positions. The junta’s peace committee also held talks with each delegation.

Padoh Saw Taw Nee said those attending the meeting were not decision-makers but low-level representatives sent to preserve ties.

“The regime has spent billions holding the event but when it sent an invitation, it invited someone [Padoh Saw Shwe Maung] who has no position in the organization,” he said.

“This shows that the regime lack rationality and is at its wit’s end because it is overwhelmed by the problem it faces,” he added.

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