CHIANG MAI, Thailand—The Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), a Rakhine armed group, has asked the government to allow Rakhine people to hold a national-level political dialogue prior to the upcoming Union Peace Conference. If permitted, the public consultations—to be held in Rakhine and Yangon—would allow Rakhine people to contribute their views on what shape a future federal union should take, as Naypyitaw engages in political negotiations with the country’s ethnic armed organizations.
Active since 1967, the ALP is one of the ethnic armed groups claiming to fight for equality and freedom from oppression in Rakhine. It joined peace negotiations in 2012, signing a bilateral ceasefire in April that year. In October 2015 the ALP signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the government, and is now one of 10 ethnic armed groups to have done so. Only the NCA signatories are entitled to hold political dialogues.
All 10 of these EAOs have requested permission to hold political dialogues in their respective regions. So far the government has yet to officially reply, as the decision can only be made at meetings of the secretariat of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC). The next is expected to happen later this month.
The ALP has been pushing unsuccessfully to convene a Rakhine national-level political dialogue since 2017. The government has rejected its requests, citing instability due to the communal conflicts in the region, according to Daw Saw Mra Yar Zar Lin, the deputy head of the ALP’s peace negotiation team.
The ALP seeks to hold the dialogue in southern Rakhine State’s Thandwe and in Yangon. It made the proposal during a two-day meeting between the 10 ethnic armed groups’ negotiation team and government negotiators from the National Reconciliation and Peace Center in Yangon on Feb. 2-3.
“We propose two locations for these dialogues, in Thandwe as well as in Yangon, because we have many ethnic Rakhine in Yangon too,” she told The Irrawaddy on Monday, adding that it has proposed that the dialogue be held next month.
“We believe that the national-level political dialogue will help to achieve national reconciliation,” she said, adding that dialogue and related public consultations are integral to the peace process.
Neither the ALP nor the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), another NCA signatory, were able to hold ethnicity-based national-level political dialogues (NDs) in 2017 or 2018, while others, including the Karen National Union, were able to do so.
In 2019, Myanmar’s formal peace negotiations stalled. Formal talks recommenced only a month ago, with an agreement to resume the 21st-Century Panglong Union Peace Conference in April.
Sai Ngern, the head of the EAOs’ negotiation team on the political dialogue framework and a secretary of the RCSS, insisted last month that every NCA signatory is entitled to organize a national-level political dialogue before the peace summit.
The RCSS plans to convene its Shan national-level political dialogue in late March, having resolved a disagreement over the location.
Sai Ngern is currently leading the 10 EAOs’ negotiation team in discussions with the government on finding ways to move the peace process forward.
The Feb. 2-3 meeting between the representatives of the government led by Union Attorney-General U Tun Tun Oo, the vice chairman of the NRPC and the 10-EAO negotiation team at the Yangon’s NRPC office focused on preparations for formulating the implementation of eight points agreed at last month’s joint ceasefire implementation talks.
On Jan. 8 in Naypyitaw, the negotiators discussed how they would implement all of the Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting’s decisions, which cover eight points including the need for stronger ceasefires, convening the fourth session of the UPC, and continuing the peace process beyond the 2020 general elections, according to government spokesman U Zaw Htay.
He emphasized at a press briefing after Monday’s meeting that the participants agreed during the two-day talks to hold further negotiations to establish a stronger ceasefire and implement interim arrangements as outlined in chapters 3, 4 and 6 of the NCA text; a framework on the NCA’s implementation beyond 2020; and a common understanding of the NCA’s terms and definitions.
Both sides agreed to meet again on Feb. 16.
The decision on whether the ALP will be allowed to hold a national-level political dialogue will have to wait until after the next round of talks between the EAOs and the government’s negotiation teams on Feb. 16.
The ALP’s inability to convene an ND has damaged Rakhine people’s confidence in party’s political negotiation process; many believe this has been a push factor boosting support for the Arakan Army, which is currently engaged in active military conflict with Myanmar’s armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw.
Militarily strong, the AA has gained widespread support from the local community since it launched coordinated attacks against security outposts in January last year. It has continued to fight against the Tatmadaw in what it says is an effort to reclaim the sovereignty of ethnic Rakhine people.
Daw Saw Mra Yar Zar Lin added that the ALP “hopes the government will change” its thinking and allow the party to convene a dialogue this time.