Three Armed Groups Opt Out of Talks With Former Govt Peace Delegation

By Lawi Weng 26 April 2016

Three ethnic armed organizations actively fighting the Burma Army have decided against meeting a former government peace delegation in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai next month, according to a leader from one of the groups.

Tar Bong Kyaw, the general secretary of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that his group, as well as two allies—the Arakan Army (AA) and the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—would not meet with the representatives led by former Lt-Gen Khin Zaw Oo.

The TNLA general explained that they were opting out of the talks because they would not be considered “official.”

“We didn’t believe that they could help with anything for peace in this meeting,” Tar Bong Kyaw said.

The alliance of Arakanese, Kokang and Ta’ang armed groups “want to meet those who can really work for peace,” he added, referring to representatives from the new Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) government, which took office earlier this month.

There is tension between the three ethnic armed groups and the military due to recent clashes in western Burma’s Arakan State with the AA and in northern Shan State, where the TNLA and MNDAA operate.

The groups released a joint statement on Tuesday confirming that fighting with the Burma Army is ongoing in their respective areas, where they allege that government forces are engaging in offensives and increasing troop numbers. On state-run TV, Burma Army members were quoted as saying that they hoped to “eliminate” groups like the AA.

“[The Burma Army] employed strong military offensives in Rakhine [State],” Tar Bong Kyaw said of ongoing conflict between government forces and the Arakan Army. “They did the same to us. They should stop fighting if they want to have peace.”

In mid-April, Aung Min, the former chief peace broker for the Burmese government, reportedly contacted the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of nine ethnic armed groups who did not sign the country’s so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in 2015. It was said that Aung Min had reached out to UNFC vice chairman Nai Hong Sar about meeting the AA, MNDAA and TNLA for peace talks; the three groups had been excluded by the government from signing the NCA.

Once a representative of the government-backed Myanmar Peace Center, Aung Min has since taken steps to form a new foundation intending to work for peace, but it is not clear what role the organization will undertake in Burma’s future.