The ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that are not signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) have yet to decide whether they will attend the NLD government’s final peace conference session on Aug. 19.
The Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), an ethnic armed group in negotiations on joining peace talks with the government, said it would not be able to join the fourth session of the 21st-Century Panglong Union Peace Conference (UPC).
The government on Sunday sent invitations to the latest UPC session to seven ethnic armed groups who are non-signatories to the NCA: the United Wa State Army, the Kachin Independence Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the KNPP, Mong La’s National Democratic Alliance Army, Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army-North. The government will not invite the Arakan Army, which it declared a terrorist group in March.
The KNPP’s spokesman said the group is not able to join the talks, as the invitation specified that two senior leaders (with rank of secretary or above) should attend the opening ceremony on Aug. 19.
“We are busy next week and won’t be able to make it,” said Khu Plu Reh, a secretary of the KNPP.
UWSA spokesman and liaison officer Nyi Rang said he had not heard anything yet from his headquarters in Pang Hseng.
“The Naypyitaw government and our headquarters communicate directly and we, the liaison office, don’t know anything about it,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
The Irrawaddy was unable to contact the KIA and other groups to get their views.
The upcoming peace conference will be the last under the current government. Due to COVID-19 health concerns, the conference on Aug. 19-21 will be held with fewer delegates than previous sessions.
As part of COVID-19 preventative measures, those attending the UPC will have to arrive in Naypyitaw no later than Friday, as all delegates will have to be tested for COVID-19.
To accommodate social distancing and other preventative measures, the number of delegates has been reduced to one-third previous levels, and only a few observers from civil society forums will be allowed to attend, U Zaw Htay, a government spokesman, said in mid-July.
A total of 54 Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) delegates will attend, while the total number of participants is limited to 200.
Major General Zaw Min Tun, the military’s spokesman, said the Tatmadaw “hopes to get results that will support genuine peace,” as envisioned by the army chief.
Myanmar’s peace process has been in limbo since long before the coronavirus pandemic began, but negotiators are focused on finding ways to move the peace process beyond 2020—after the election and under a new government.
EAOs that have signed the NCA and the government’s negotiation teams have continued talks, meeting both virtually and in person seven times in the four months since travel restrictions were put in place in Myanmar due to COVID-19 in late March.
In early August, those negotiations resumed in Naypyitaw, weeks before the conference. On Monday, pre-JICM (Joint Implementing Coordination Meeting) talks were held between the negotiation teams of both sides.
On Wednesday, the EAOs’ Peace Process Steering Team (PPST), led by the chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State, will meet again in Naypyitaw to further share their common perspectives. The PPST also met on Aug. 6-8 but without its team leader.
Their discussions, which focus on setting a framework for NCA implementation, plans for the peace process beyond 2020 and establishing basic federal principles, are ongoing with many of the topics already set for agreement, according to Nai Ong MaNge, a spokesman for the PPST and a member of the Central Executive Committee member of the New Mon State Party, an NCA signatory.
The issues of troop deployments by armed forces (both the Tatmadaw and the EAOs), security reintegration and federal principles such as drafting state constitutions still need further negotiation, he said.
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