CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Representatives of eight non-state ethnic armed groups who signed last year’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the previous government held a two-day meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand to review their peace program agenda, according to ethnic leaders.
Leaders of the eight ethnic groups, including Saw Mutu Say Poe, chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU) and Lt-Gen Yawd Serk, chairman of Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), joined representatives from the respective groups at the meeting.
No official statement was made and the leaders would not speak to media, but participants said that the eight groups reviewed their peace agenda and terms of reference for the Union-level Joint Monitoring Committee of the NCA.
“We [the eight groups] have a peace process steering team [PPST] to represent us and lead peace talks. So, they are reviewing our work thus far,” said one participant who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Khun Okkar, an ethnic Pa-O leader and spokesperson for the groups, said that a meeting with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi will take place in Naypyidaw on June 28 to discuss an upcoming peace conference and that representatives from each of the eight NCA signatory groups have been selected to attend.
Additionally, ethnic Chin, Kachin and Shan leaders will hold a meeting in Thailand next week to discuss the upcoming “21st Century Panglong Conference,” which will be modeled after an original interethnic summit in Panglong, Shan State, in 1947; Chin, Kachin and Shan representatives were once signatories—along with Suu Kyi’s father, independence leader Aung San—to the original 1947 Panglong Agreement, which promised equal rights to Burma’s ethnic minorities.
Some current leaders have expressed their willingness to continue dialogue with the government and the Burma Army, saying that it appears to be the only option to resolve ongoing conflict between the military and Burma’s ethnic armed groups, who have been fighting for federal reform and greater autonomy.
One ethnic leader said, “We know that there are weaknesses in the NCA, but it is impossible to rewrite a new one to replace it. We will keep discussing it to see if we can sort it out and improve it.”
When asked about the Burma Army’s suggestion that ethnic armed organizations disarm, demobilize and reintegrate—a process known internationally as DDR—the ethnic leader said there was no pressure to implement these steps in the near future, as they still needed to hear Suu Kyi’s stand on the process.
When asked why the Burma Army had excluded groups like the Arakan Army (AA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) from peace talks, the source speculated that the Burma Army remains angry after suffering heavy attacks by the MNDAA last February; it is believed that the AA and TNLA assisted the MNDAA in the conflict.
In February of 2015, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported that 47 Burma Army soldiers died during those battles.