Presence of Myanmar Military Officials Raises Hopes of Progress at Peace Talks

By Kyaw Kha 17 September 2019

KENGTUNG, eastern Shan State—Unlike last month’s talks between government peace negotiators and representatives of the four-member Northern Alliance in Kengtung on Aug. 31, Tuesday’s bilateral ceasefire talks are being attended by Myanmar military officials.

On Tuesday, Myanmar government and military officials from the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) and representatives of the four members of the Northern Alliance (NA)—the Kachin Independence Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—met in Kengtung, eastern Shan State to hold talks aimed at reaching bilateral ceasefire agreements.

The presence of the military officials raised hopes that the current military tensions in western and northeast Myanmar could be reduced. The move also satisfies the ethnic armed groups’ demand that someone with the authority to make decisions that could lead to a de-escalation of military tensions be present at the talks.

Ethnic affairs analyst U Maung Maung Soe said, “The expectation [of a breakthrough] is 50-50, but it depends on the Tatmadaw’s perspective, and how they respond [to the armed groups].”

He said troop deployment is a key issue. Another is the inclusion of China in the ceasefire monitoring group. “If Tuesday’s talks are successful,” U Maung Maung Soe said, “the groups can meet sooner to sign bilateral ceasefire agreements.”

The talks were joined by NRPC vice chairman U Tun Tun Oo, who is also the Union attorney-general; President’s Office director general U Zaw Htay; Lieutenant General Yar Pyae from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief (Army); and Peace Commission (PC) vice chairman U Thein Zaw and secretary U Khin Zaw Oo.  Previous talks were led by the PC chairman, but the NA members had consistently requested that the meetings be attended by higher-level decision-makers.

Lt-Gen Yar Pyae also chairs the Tatmadaw’s Negotiation Team, which was formed on Dec. 21 when the military announced a unilateral truce in five of its regional commands. The team is tasked with negotiating with ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) who are not yet signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.

Another ethnic affairs analyst, U Than Soe Naing, said that even if there are no breakthroughs on troop deployments or reducing military tensions, the negotiators may try to rush the discussions, or seek an agreement that the talks be given a more permanent basis.

He said, “If they are really embarking on a peace path, military tensions need to be reduced. But right now, what we are seeing is some of the armed groups trying to seek an advantage while peace talks are ongoing. This is not good for peace.”

The military has extended its unilateral ceasefire, which was first declared in December, until Sept. 21. Three NA members—the TNLA, AA and MNDAA—announced a joint unilateral ceasefire from Sept. 9 to Oct. 8.

Despite the ceasefires, fighting continues in Rakhine State and northern Shan State, displacing thousands of residents. The three groups warned on Sept. 14 that the fighting could even intensify, as the Tatmadaw was conducting air assaults and reinforcing its ground troops with heavy mortars.