Reaction Mixed to Military's Announcement it Won't Extend Ceasefire

By Kyaw Myo 1 April 2019

NAYPYITAW — A spokesman for the government said it would not comment on the military’s recent announcement that it will not extend the unilateral four-month ceasefire it started on Jan. 1.

The military, or Tatmadaw, announced the ceasefire in December in a move it said was aimed at fostering constructive peace talks with ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) or more limited bilateral deals with the military.

The ceasefire — which encompasses the military’s Northern Command, Northeastern Command, Eastern Command, Eastern Central Command and Triangle Region Command — expires on April 30.

At a press conference on March 25, the military’s Maj. Gen. Soe Naing Oo said the four months were enough to move the peace process forward.

“We have the fighting ability. But we don’t want to fight with our brothers; thus we called the ceasefire,” he said at the time.

On Friday, at a press conference in Naypyitaw, government spokesman U Zaw Htay said some progress had been made during both formal and informal talks between the government, military and EAOs.

“The Tatmadaw will review the ceasefire period depending on the progress. And it is up to the Tatmadaw whether or not to extend it. The government can’t tell the Tatmadaw what to do,” said U Zaw Htay, director-general of the President’s Office.

He said the Peace Commission, the National Reconciliation and Peace Center and the military’s negotiating team, led by Gen. Yar Phae, have found some common ground with the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) and the Karenni National Progressive Party, adding that the latter would be holding more formal talks with the military and peace center on signing the NCA later this month.

“If they can reach more agreements to de-escalate the fighting, the Tatmadaw might consider [extending the ceasefire]. It is up to the Tatmadaw,” he said.

The government and military are also set to meet twice in April with the Kachin Independence Organization, which the Peace Commission has asked to comment on a proposed Deed of Commitment it has proposed.

The military will also meet with the Restoration Council of Shan State and SSPP to discuss troop deployments and the return of families who fled their homes to escape the civil war in Kyaukme and Hsipaw townships.

Col. Khun Okkar, of the Pa-O National Liberation Army, was skeptical that an extension would do much good.

“There is still no clear sign that the meetings in the five military regions have the potential for success. There has been more bargaining and exploitation by the two sides in those months, and there have been no achievements. So it will be meaningless to extend the ceasefire if there is no prospect for favorable results beyond four months,” he told The Irrawaddy.

By announcing that it would not extend the ceasefire a month before it was due to expire, he added, the military was trying to pressure the EAOs into making concessions.

Lower House lawmaker U Sai Thiha Kyaw, who represents Shan State’s Mongyai Township, also held out little hope that the talks would succeed, noting that fighting had continued in some areas.

“They should not ignore people’s suffering on the ground, and [the two sides] should focus more on political dialogue during the ceasefire period,” he said.

According to its monthly press conferences, the military has since late December fought with the SSPP the most. Between Dec. 21 and March 23, it says, there were 30 battles between EAOs and the military and 40 between EAOs themselves, more than 380 cases of trespassing, 32 cases of extortion, and 38 cases of recruitment by EAOs.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.