Three Armed Groups ‘Ready to Join’ Peace Conference

By Lawi Weng & Nyein Nyein 18 August 2016

The AA, MNDAA and TNLA issue a joint statement to media announcing their readiness to join the Union Peace Conference; meanwhile, govt awaits an official response.
Thursday, August 18, 2016

Three ethnic armed groups issued a joint statement on Thursday announcing their readiness to join the Union Peace Conference, scheduled to begin on August 31 in Naypyidaw.

The joint statement was written by three organizations in active conflict with the Burma Army, including the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
Although they were excluded from signing the country’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in 2015, the groups said they were also ready to cooperate and work with the government toward peace.

The decision to open the conference to all armed groups came in a meeting of the Union Peace and Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and hosted in Napyidaw on August 15. There, it was decided that the conference would be “all-inclusive.”

“We are pleased to learn that the UPDJC, under [the] leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi…has made a decision of all-inclusiveness of ethnic armed organizations in the peace process,” the groups said in the statement. “We are ready to attend the conference,” they added.

Tar Bong Kyaw, the general secretary of the TNLA, told The Irrawaddy that his group will participate if they receive an invitation from the government.

“We are ready to join,” he confirmed. “Daw Suu tried hard to negotiate with [the Burma Army] to bring us to the meeting. This took a long time, but if we look at the agreement from the UPDJC, we can join the conference.”

Yet Khin Zaw Oo, a negotiator from the government’s peace team and himself a former lieutenant general, said that he had not yet received the required “formal reply” from the three groups, as had been agreed in a recent meeting.

“We don’t have a plan to hold further talks with the three groups unless they pledge [to abandon the armed struggle] in their statement,” he said, pointing out that the statement released to media did not meet that criteria.

The Burma Army has been reluctant to allow these three armed organizations to join any upcoming proceedings lest they disarm, a demand which they have refused. Negotiations followed between the groups in question and the government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), including two meetings in the Mongla region.

Khin Zaw Oo maintained that the input of the AA, MNDAA and TNLA would not be given equal weight to, for example, that of the ethnic armed coalition known as the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)—whose members opted out of signing the NCA—as these three groups are currently engaged in ongoing fighting with the Tatmadaw.

The UNFC’s seven members, as well as the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Mongla Army, will also be invited to the Union Peace Conference.

The AA, MNDAA and TNLA’s joint statement expressed a wish to end fighting with the Burma Army by first negotiating, then signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement, and pursuing peace and development, national reconciliation and political dialogue.

Fighting has been ongoing in TNLA-controlled areas in particular, even as the date of the peace conference closes in. A report from the TNLA issued on August 13 said that clashes with government troops had recently broken out in three locations at once.