At Talks in China, Beijing Urges Myanmar Rebel Groups to Stop Fighting

By Htet Naing Zaw 21 August 2019

NAYPYITAW—Beijing pressured ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) based in Myanmar’s northeast to stop the fighting in northern Shan State when its Special Envoy for Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang met with three active EAOs—the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—in Kunming, China on Tuesday, according to the TNLA.

China invited officials from the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), which is led by the United Wa State Army—Myanmar’s largest armed rebel group—to Kunming. The Irrawaddy has learned that China invited senior FPNCC leaders with decision-making authority to attend Tuesday’s talks. 

Khaing Thuka from the AA told The Irrawaddy that “the seven-member FPNCC was invited” but he declined to comment further on Wednesday, saying his superiors were still on their way back from China.  

Following a series of attacks by the TNLA, AA and MNDAA in the northeast, which killed 15 people—including military and police personnel as well as civilians—and disrupted trade along the Mandalay-Muse and Hseni-Chinshwehaw highways, the Chinese special envoy told the three groups that the fighting was unacceptable to China. 

The meetings followed China’s condemnation of last Thursday’s rebel attacks at a Foreign Ministry press conference in Beijing earlier this week.

The fighting between the ethnic alliance and the military continued on Wednesday. The groups have destroyed bridges and disrupted public transport, saying it is necessary to stop the Myanmar military from sending more troops into their areas. However, the groups’ actions have been criticized due to the disruption they have caused to border trade between Myanmar and China.  

Brigadier General Tar Bone Kyaw of the TNLA told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that “Chinese Special Envoy Sun Guoxiang, accompanied by the police chief of Yunnan [province in China], met with us [the three groups]. They said they do not accept our fighting. They do not like it and told us to stop it, whatever it takes. It is like they are pressuring us.”  

He said that if the alliance’s offensives are to stop, the Myanmar military’s operations in Rakhine [in western Myanmar], and the Kokang and Ta’ang regions [in northeast Myanmar] must also stop. He called on the military to stop committing what he described as war crimes in ethnic minority areas, adding that the government needs to work toward holding genuine peace discussions. 

“If our demands are met,” Brig-Gen Tar Bone Kyaw said, “the fighting will stop. We agreed about the [need for] negotiations [with the Myanmar government] as raised by the Chinese side. We can meet if it will happen now, but there is a problem with the venue. The Myanmar Tatmadaw [military] wants us to come to Naypyitaw or Lashio. We told them that we could not, as there is fighting [ongoing]. We want to meet them either in Wa [Region] or Mong La.” 

The government has already proposed meeting the groups in Mong La, in the Special Region 4 in eastern Shan State; it made the proposal just days before the alliance of EAOs launched their attacks on Aug. 15. 

Government spokesman U Zaw Htay told reporters in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Tuesday that the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) responded that they are willing to meet but the TNLA, AA and MNDAA did not reply. U Zaw Htay added that even if they are undecided on the venue, if the two sides could correspond with each other over the draft texts of the government’s proposed bilateral ceasefires with the EAOs, it would help to have that done before they meet. 

“But neither a response nor a remark was heard from them. Besides, the Aug. 15 attacks happened and you can image how much that has hurt our negotiation efforts. We, along with the Peace Commission, met with Sun Guoxiang and shared our positions and our arguments with him [earlier],” U Zaw Htay said. 

The government spokesman reiterated that the groups’ destruction of an anti-narcotics X-ray machine at a checkpoint in Naung Cho Township had undermined the government’s efforts to conduct anti-drug campaigns in the region, which is notorious for its widespread drug production.

The government was aware of the Kunming meeting on Tuesday, U Zaw Htay said, but he did not know what the outcome would be. He added that while the Myanmar government appreciates China’s role as a peace broker “only the citizens of Myanmar can come to negotiate and make a decision”. 

U Maung Maung Soe, a Yangon-based political and ethnic affairs analyst, said China summoned the groups in a bid to end the fighting, re-open the trade routes and negotiate the needs of both sides, referring to the EAOs and the Myanmar government/military. 

“The annual trade is worth millions [of dollars], so it also hurts [China], as the fighting is occurring along the trade routes. That’s what they are thinking about. It is in their interest. On the other hand, they may also want to show that they are continuing their role in Myanmar’s peace process.” 

Nyein Nyein and Lawi Weng contributed to this report. 

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