Myanmar Peace Team, N. Alliance to Meet in Keng Tung on Aug. 31

By Nyein Nyein & Chit Min Tun 29 August 2019

YANGON, Myanmar & CHIANG MAI, Thailand—The government and the four-member Northern Alliance (NA) of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) will meet for peace talks in Keng Tung, eastern Shan State on Saturday, Aug. 31, the last day of the Myanmar military’s truce in the region, according to sources close to negotiators.

The talks between the government’s Peace Commission (PC) and representatives of the four-member NA—the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) and Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—had been postponed due to a dispute over the location of the meeting. The last discussion between the PC and NA was held on June 30 in Mong La Special Region 4, controlled by the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) in eastern Shan State.

Lamai Gum Ja, a peace broker from the Kachin-based Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG), told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, “The date has been confirmed as Aug. 31 and the venue is in Keng Tung. We do not know what will be on the agenda, but as they have been discussing the bilateral agreements, I think they are on the agenda.”

On Thursday, the KIA’s peace negotiation team, led by its general secretary, U La Nan, left KIA headquarters in Laiza for Mong La, according to General Sumlut Gun Maw, the vice chairman the Kachin Independence Organization, the political wing of the KIA. The KIA delegation will stay in Mong La and travel to Keng Tung on a day trip to attend the talks on Aug. 31, he told The Irrawaddy.

AA spokesman Khaing Thu Ka told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the group’s leaders “are discussing whether to meet the government; if China guaranteed [security], the situation would be different. It is too early to say.”

Aug. 31 is also the date on which the Myanmar military’s unilateral ceasefire in five military commands in the north and northeast ends. On April 30, the military extended its original four-month truce, from December to April, after meeting with the NA. It was extended a second time on June 30, after the government and NA met. Therefore, this upcoming meeting has extra significance as it occurs on the deadline of the military’s truce

Observers are hoping negotiations can resume and lead to an easing of the conflicts in western and northeastern Myanmar, where three members of the Northern Alliance—the TNLA, AA and MNDAA—are engaged in heavy fighting with the Myanmar military.

Talks stalled when the three groups—who call themselves the Brotherhood Alliance—voiced concern about the venue, although the KIA was ready to attend talks at the government’s previously proposed venue in Mong La, according to Lamai Gum Ja.

The Brotherhood Alliance launched a series of attacks on Aug. 15 on several targets including the military’s Defense Service Technological Academy in Pyi Oo Lwin in Mandalay and a military battalion in Naung Cho Township in Shan State, in response to mounting military pressure on the AA in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

At a press conference following the attacks, President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay said the door to peace talks was still open, but the Tatmadaw last Friday warned rebel groups that there would be consequences if they continued to launch attacks.

The rebels’ attacks against military battalions and public transport have continued, decimating border trade with China through the Muse and Chin Shwe Haw border trade zones. According to the Commerce Ministry, the total value of bilateral trade through Muse has declined from around US$5 million (7.6 billion kyats) per day before the fighting began to around $700,000 per day since Aug. 19—a decline of nearly 90 percent.

China has urged the groups to stop the offensive and has tried to broker talks between them and the Myanmar government and military. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it “strongly condemned” the attacks. Chinese Ambassador Chen Hai reiterated the condemnation during a meeting with Myanmar Army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing last Thursday.

At Wednesday’s meeting between Myanmar Minister for the Office of the State Counselor U Kyaw Tint Swe and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing, Wang said Beijing expected peace and stability to be maintained along the border, something the Myanmar minister vowed to ensure.  The instability in the region bordering China could affect the infrastructure projects—including trade zones and railways—planned under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreed by China and Myanmar.

Sources close to the government confirmed to The Irrawaddy that all four Northern Alliance groups have agreed to meet in Keng Tung. The government delegation will be led by PC vice chairman U Thein Zaw and its secretary, U Khin Zaw Oo, both of whom are former generals.