Mon civil society organizations, political parties and community leaders have urged the New Mon State Party (NMSP) to refuse to hold public meetings in Myanmar Army-controlled areas as a way of expressing their unhappiness with an Army order that not more 40 representatives from Mon community groups join the gatherings, which are intended to provide a forum to discuss the peace process, local sources said.
The NMSP, the political wing of the Mon National Liberation Army, signed the NCA in February with the Myanmar government and the Army, and had planned to hold public meetings in five townships: Nyi Zar, Wa Zin, Moulmein, Mudon, and Three Pagodas Pass.
After holding the public meetings, the NMSP planned to hold a national level peace dialogue in Ye town from May 5 to 7. The party is seeking suggestions from ethnic Mon communities to propose at the Panglong peace conference.
The community leaders urged the NMSP to disobey the order from the Army at the first public meeting, in Nyi Zar on April 9 to 11, and it subsequently invited 250 representatives from civil society organizations, political parties, community leaders and other groups to the event.
“The Army has told the NMSP to limit the number of representatives at the meetings to 40 people. Of course, they could still hold the meetings if they wanted but, from our viewpoint this is part of their strategy to suppress the Mon psychologically,” said Nai San Hlaing, an executive committee member of the Mon National Party (MNP).
The NMSP should not hold further public meetings if the Army places restrictions on the number of representatives who can attend, he said.
“If the NMSP holds them, our party will not send representatives. Our party will not participate in the meeting if the number of representatives is limited,” Nai San Hlaing said.
The NMSP plans to hold a second meeting in Wa Zin, which like Nyi Zar is in Mon-controlled territory, on April 26 and 27, and again plans to invite 250 representatives. But the party is still considering whether or not to hold the meetings in the other three locations, which are under the control of the Army, after Mon leaders urged them not to.
The CSO Network based in Mon State also told the NMSP not to organize the meetings to protect the dignity of the ethnic group. “The Army told them (the NMSP) that only 40 representatives could join the meeting. We told the NMSP that if they did what the Myanmar Army said our Mon people would look down on the NMSP. The NMSP will have no dignity if they acquiesce to the Army’s demand,” Nai Aung Htoo, a coordinator of the CSO Network in Mon State, told The Irrawaddy.
Nai Hong Sar, who is the vice chairman of the NMSP, said his party would negotiate further with the Army over the number of representatives allowed to attend the meetings in Moulmein, Mudon, and Three Pagodas Pass.
“We want to hold the public meetings in those three locations, so we will negotiate more with them,” Nai Hong Sar said.
“We accept their position,” he said, referring to the CSO, political parties, and community leaders. “Even in the NMSP we know that if we give in to the Army’s order, they will seek to further restrict our political movement in the future.”
The NMSP is worried, however, that if it does not hold the meetings in the Army-controlled areas, some Mon people may think the party was not giving them the opportunity to have their say in the peace process, and it was worried about future political cooperation between Mon people and the NMSP.
Before signing the NCA, the NMSP leaders did not think the Myanmar Army would restrict representatives from participating in public meetings. So, NMSP leadership did not raise the issue before signing the ceasefire agreement.
The NMSP also claimed that as part of the negotiations leading up to the signing of the NCA, the Army had promised to return two bases that it had seized from the MNLA last year. But, it has yet to do so.
The NMSP expected that they would have more time and a better relationship with the Army after signing the NCA, party officials said. But, the NMSP leadership now feels regret that the Army has used the NCA as a tool to restrict its political movement as well as the movement of its troops.
Before signing the NCA, the NMSP was able to freely organize meetings with no limitations on the location or number of representatives who attended. But now they cannot do that, said some members of the NMSP.