Three Armed Groups Barred from Peace Conference

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint & Htet Naing Zaw 29 August 2016

The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA), ethnic armed groups that have fought alongside each other in northern Shan State, will be barred from attending the Union Peace Conference.

The Burmese military had demanded, as a precondition to their joining formal peace negotiations, that these armed groups release a statement committing to give up arms, at some unspecified point in the future.

The three groups agreed to issue a statement, but insisted that the wording be changed from “the path of taking up arms” to “armed conflict,” in terms of what they would commit to giving up.

Deputy director-general of the State Counselor’s Office U Zaw Htay confirmed that the government would not be extending invitations to the three groups to attend the Union Peace Conference—now branded the “21st Century Panglong Conference”—because “an agreement has not yet been reached.”

He said the government would “keep the doors open,” but with the conference scheduled to begin on Wednesday, their absence seems certain. It also appears that the government, headed by the National League for Democracy, which has pushed an “inclusive” line on the conference, would not be able to invite the groups without the consent of the military.

The Burmese military has told the media that their request to the three armed groups was motivated chiefly by the high-intensity fighting they experienced with the MNDAA—and their allies the TNLA and the AA—in the Kokang region of northern Shan state in early 2015. The Burma Army sustained heavy causalities over three months of fighting.

The Burmese military has since viewed these three groups as a graver threat to national sovereignty than other ethnic armed groups in Burma, who have not been asked to make any commitments to disarm prior to joining peace negotiations, and most of whom have bilateral ceasefire agreements with the Burmese government.

Lt-Col Tar Phone Kyaw of the TNLA told The Irrawaddy: “We want to attend the 21st Century Panglong Conference. But, we can’t attend because the government has not invited us.”

The five-day peace conference, starting on Wednesday, will be repeated every six months under current plans, implying a long and complex process. The (military-controlled) Ministry of Home Affairs will oversee heightened security during the conference—higher than was seen during the 2013 Southeast Asian Games held in Burma—according to U Zaw Htay.

“Since we have received a threatening message from ISIS […] the Home Affairs Ministry will provide close-range security,” U Zaw Htay told a press conference in Naypyidaw on Friday.

The Straits Times reported on Aug. 2 that Burma’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, alongside top politicians and officials in Malaysia, was on a “hit list” purportedly from the Islamist terrorist group ISIS that was sent to Malaysian police the day before.

“We are planning to accommodate [participants] at six hotels in Naypyidaw, where full security will be provided, alongside health services,” said U Zaw Htay.

Of the six hotels, U Zaw Htay would only name the Kempinski and the Shwe San Ein. Transportation would be provided for all participants, he said.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.