Talks between 12 Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in May will evaluate unresolved issues in Myanmar’s peace situation, without touching on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement already on its fifth draft.
The May 1 to 3 meeting in Panghsang, headquarters of the Wa Army, involves the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and groups that are not yet in direct negotiations with the state, according to Gen Gun Maw, deputy chief of staff of Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
Aside from the UWSA, other nonNCCT entities are the Mongla group and Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), and Arakan Army (AA) and the Kokang‘s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). The government still refuses to acknowledge the latter two groups as participants in the nationwide ceasefire process.
The AA, the MNDAA and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), have been involved in heavy fighting with the Myanmar Army in northern Shan State in recent months.
The fifth draft of the nationwide ceasefire agreement, which was agreed on last March 31, will not be discussed in the NCCT-called meeting. But the NCCT peace outreach to EAO leaders could affect the final form of the agreement.
The ethnic groups could back the agreement and pave the path for its swift ratification, or force new discussions with the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) to include the interests of ethnic groups still out in the cold. Either way, the EAOs need to gather and talk about the latest draft among themselves first.
Past EAO leaders meetings were held in the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) capital of Laiza and Karen National Union (KNU)-controlled Lawkhila, with the military’s tacit knowledge and regime’s endorsement.
The Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, also needs to cooperate in the complex logistics requirements for the May 2015 meeting. Major challenges include transportation and security arrangements for widely-dispersed
Former meetings occurred in periods of thaw between the Tatmadaw and ethnic rebel groups. Relations have worsened since then, especially with the MNDAA, KIA, TNLA and AA, with daily offensives and clashes in the northern Shan State and Kachin State.
Apart from that, the military has openly voiced its displeasure at the UWSA’s inclusion of the MNDAA, TNLA and AA, which the regime doesn’t acknowledge as negotiation partners.
It even issued warning, invoking paragraph 17/1 of the Association with Illegal Organizations Act, and threatening to arrest those who might be involved. This raises the potential of arrest for EAO members and supporters anytime they pass through military-controlled areas. To do so would sabotage the meeting.
While the Panhgsang venue in Wa headquarters is geographically favourable to participation of MNDAA, TNLA and AA, the Laiza and Lawkhila will have to make use of Tatmadaw-controlled routes. Thus, the military’s endorsement of free passage for all EAO leaders is crucial.
The Tatmadaw should view the EAO meeting as part of the entire peace process package. The Thein Sein regime’s insistence and eagerness to start political dialogue before the November general elections means there is no time to lose. It will certainly be an embarrassment if the military lays stones on the road to peace for whatever reason.
It is time for the military to rethink its rigid posture, abandon its territorial gain offensives and opt for cooperation, especially where the forth-coming Ethnic Leaders’ Summit is concerned.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor
This Article first appeared in the April 30, 2015 edition of Mizzima Weekly.
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