The Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee (FPNCC), an alliance of the strongest ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan states, has won a truce with the Myanmar military.
The military, or Tatmadaw. has tried to split the FPNCC for a long time but so far failed. Whenever it offered to meet with members one-on-one, the alliance insisted on engaging as a group.
Divide-and-rule is a common Tatmadaw tactic. It hasn’t always worked, but on occasion it has. The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), the first alliance of armed groups, collapsed under just such pressure.
The Karen National Union (KNU) and some other members of the UNFC abandoned the alliance after signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), marking a victory for the Tatmadaw. KNU Chairman Mutu Say Poe subsequently held several meetings with Tatmadaw chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, but this October abruptly suspended his group’s participation in the peace process, reportedly to settle internal differences about how to proceed.
Ethnic Mon leaders had predicted that the KNU would eventually back away from the process after growing wary of the Tatmadaw’s tactics. Their prediction has now come true. And now that the KNU has indefinitely left the peace talks, the Tatmadaw’s tactics look to have failed.
The Tatmadaw was worried the KNU would rejoin the UNFC or try to form a new alliance in southern Myanmar. For now the KNU is trying to build unity among all ethnic Karen armed groups, including the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council and the Karen border guard force. Any alliance it builds would be with the New Mon State Party and the Karen National Progressive Party.
The four-month ceasefire the Tatmadaw called last week in northeast Myanmar looks like a Plan B for the military. Yet some FPNCC members are worried that the move might split their alliance yet.
The ceasefire notably excludes Rakhine State, where the Tatmadaw is currently fighting with the Arakan Army (AA), an FPNCC member.
The AA’s allies in the FPNCC now have to figure out how to stay united and enter peace talks with the Tatmadaw while one of its members is effectively being excluded. The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army have been fighting hard with the Tatmadaw since 2015; they may want to give negotiations a chance and let their soldiers rest.
TNLA Brigadier General Tar Phone Kyaw said the ceasefire poses many risks for the FPNCC.
“Since the Tatmadaw ceasefire covers a limited area for a limited time, we will wait and see how strongly we are united, to what extent the FPNCC can provide leadership and foster unity,” he told The Irrawaddy.
“We will wait and see what comes of Min Aung Hlaing’s move. It could cause a great deal of confusion among us. So, in my opinion, what he has done is quite dangerous. But if the FPNCC can provide good leadership, and if it is united, the move will be good for us.”
David Mathieson, an Independent analyst on conflict and peace issues in Myanmar, said “ceasefire” was too grand a term for the Tatmadaw’s move and called it more of an “operational pause,” cautioning the international community against investing it with too much credibility.
Mathieson said there were many reasons the Tatmadaw announced its ceasefire.
He said it follows the failure of the NCA’s ceasefire monitoring mechanism, which he blamed mostly on the Tatmadaw but also on the current administration for lacking an effective plan, meddling by foreign interests, and the fact that most of armed groups that signed the NCA are bit players.
He said the Tatmadaw and its top leaders may also be trying to divert attention from the war crimes allegations it is facing over their crackdown against Rohingya communities in Rakhine State.
Mathieson said he did not believe the Tatmadaw’s claim that it was excluding Rakhine from the ceasefire because of the persistent threat from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army as it wasn’t strong enough to warrant such a decision.
He said the international community should not endorse the ceasefire if it does not come with unfettered humanitarian access to all conflict zones, and that they would be complicit in any subsequent violence the Tatmadaw commits if they do otherwise.
Finally, he said, if the Tatmadaw were serious about peace, it should have also issued a call to respect human rights. If it wants to be taken seriously, he added, it should stop detaining people for violating the Unlawful Associations Act and free unconditionally those it has. Then, its gambit may start to look more genuine.