NAYPYIDAW — The Peace Process Steering Team (PPST)—a committee representing the eight ethnic armed groups that signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)—called on State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing to declare a unilateral ceasefire in Burma’s northern conflict zones.
Delegation leader Pado Saw Mutu Say Poe pressed the ceasefire demand on Monday as the PPST met separately with both of Burma’s top decision-makers in Naypyidaw, according to PPST spokesperson Col Khun Okkar.
“Our delegation leader Mutu Say Poe has called on both the State Counselor and the army chief to stop the military operations in the northern areas of Burma, not just to reduce them,” Col Khun Okkar told reporters.
Neither the State Counselor nor the army chief gave any official response to the ceasefire demand.
“The two leaders did not make official remarks. They just evaded it,” said Col Khun Okkar. “However, they indirectly mentioned the cause of clashes in the northern areas. Maybe that’s why they did not talk about de-escalation and ceasefire.”
During the meeting, the Burma Army chief tried to justify the ongoing military operations. He presented evidence that certain ethnic armed groups had launched attacks on the Union Highway and were working to expand the territory under their control, said Col Khun Okkar.
“It appears that the government will be taking the lead role in the peace process, and the army will implement any ceasefire deal,” said Col Khun Okkar.
If it receives approval from the Burma Army, the government’s Peace Commission will hold talks with the Northern Alliance—an ethnic alliance of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Arakan Army (AA), he said.
Since Nov. 20, the four ethnic armed groups of the Northern Alliance have been involved in daily clashes with the Burma Army in Shan and Kachin states in areas close to the Burma-China border. The clashes have resulted in dozens of civilian and military deaths and caused thousands of villagers to flee their homes.
“Probably, there will be leaders from the Wa, Mongla, and three Northern Alliance members who may arrive in Naypyidaw in mid-February. And I think there may be some new NCA signatory groups before the end of February, ahead of the 21st Century Panglong,” said Col Khun Okkar—sending a signal that the Northern Alliance may be persuaded to sign the NCA.
The Burma Army has refused to recognize the AA as an official ethnic armed group, pointing out that it was only founded in 2009.
State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing have brought different approaches to the peace process. The government’s approach seems to be to try to understand the difficulties of NCA non-signatories and to work with them, according to Col Khun Okkar.
All ethnic armed groups must sign the NCA before they will be permitted to join the peace conference that is slated for late February. The Burma Army will not allow any non-signatory groups to attend, the PPST said.
The PPST has argued that the political outcome of the 21st Century Panglong will be legal and binding only if all groups are allowed to send representatives.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.