NAYPYITAW — The Myanmar Army made a conditional offer for three rebel ethnic armed groups to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) following a period of dialogue, according to Brig-Gen Tar Khu Lan, vice chairman of the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA), one of the groups that has yet to join the peace process.
Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win, the deputy head of the Myanmar Army, made the offer during a sidelines meeting with the leaders of the TNLA, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (Kokang), and Arakan Army (AA) – on Wednesday at the Office of the Military Commander-in-Chief in Naypyitaw. The three, together with the leaders from four other groups, had flown in to the capital to join the third session of the 21st Panglong Union Peace Conference, which is currently underway.
“He invited us to sign a bilateral agreement first, and then to purse a dialogue until we could reach an agreement on terms for joining the NCA,” Brig-Gen Tar Khu Lan, who attended the meeting, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
But the offer was conditional, as the ethnic armed groups would need to make an announcement that they had agreed to disarm before signing the bilateral deal, the TNLA leader said,
Tar Khu Lan said such a commitment would be difficult to make as it’s something TNLA members and the Ta’ang ethnic people are opposed to.
“I explained at the meeting that it wouldn’t work if the leaders sign (such a disarmament deal) without first obtaining the consensus support of their followers. So I replied that a decision could not be made alone by our chairman but needed to involve our peace-negotiating committee, which would lead us in choosing the right wording.”
The Myanmar military’s request for the groups to agree to disarm is nothing new. During an informal meeting in August 2016 between the three armed groups and the government’s Peace Commission, they were offered a similar terms for joining the NCA.
“They have previously asked us to release a statement [about disarmament]. But in the negotiations, the wording was a problem and now they have raised it again. If there are no changes to the wording (of the agreement) and the same terminology is used, it is not OK for us,” Tar Khu Lan said.
Because of the Tatmadaw’s insistence that the groups disarm, the negotiations between the Peace Commission and the three EAOs — the MNDAA, TNLA and AA — were postponed for a long time and the groups later joined the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC). Previously, these groups had collaborated with the now-defunct United Nationalities Federal Council, to find ways to join the NCA.
The TNLA said the meeting with the deputy army chief on Wednesday was constructive and that it would help support the peace process. The TNLA vice chair said his group also welcomed the offer to sign a bilateral ceasefire and eventually join the NCA.
“But it is the demand we pledge to disarm, as we were told previously there was no need to give up our guns until the time our desires are met,” he said.
The Office of the Commander-in-Chief said on Wednesday evening that matters related to the NCA, such as trust-building and peace-building issues, were discussed during the talks.
On the Tatmadaw side, the deputy army chief was accompanied by Lt-Gen Than Tun Oo from the Commander-in-Chief’s Office, other senior generals, and the secretary of the Peace Commission, former Lt-Gen Khin Zaw Oo. The TNLA’s Tar Khu Lan, AA Deputy Chief of Staff Brig-Gen Nyo Tun Aung and Phone Win Naing of the MNDAA represented their groups at the Wednesday meeting.
The MNDAA, TNLA and AA are members of the FPNCC along with the United Wa State Army, Kachin Independence Army, Shan State Progress Party and Mongla’s National Democratic Alliance Army. The FPNCC has instituted policies of exploring alternatives to the NCA, and to follow an allied position in political talks rather than trying to negotiate on an individual basis.