Are frosty NLD-military relations finally thawing?
OBSERVERS are cautiously parsing two recent events featuring prominent military officers in the hope of reading their implications for national reconciliation and the success of the 21st-century Panglong Conference due to begin next month.
On Martyrs’ Day, July 19, military Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing joined State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Yangon for lunch following a donation ceremony and meetings with several religious and interfaith leaders. The following day at a press event, Lieutenant General Mya Tun Oo, the head of military intelligence, admitted military involvement in the deaths of five Shan civilians.
Some analysts warn against mistaking such apparently good omens for real progress unless and until they are followed by practical results.
Following last November’s election, relations between the military and the National League for Democracy were assumed to be edgy at best. The opposition party’s landslide victory at the polls had stripped the military of its protective political cover afforded by the Union Solidarity and Development Party. But four months into the change of office, observers are seeking signs of a thaw.
Martyrs’ Day was the first major public event conducted by the new government to be attended by the commander-in-chief. While ceremonies and the laying of wreaths occurred nationwide, Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing chose to pay his respects alongside NLD dignitaries before joining the state counsellor.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – joined by the two parliamentary Speakers, the chief justice, former Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann and the commanderin-chief – shared a meal with two prominent monks.
Before the historic event, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited the Military Museum in Nay Pyi Taw on July 15 and met with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). Photographs released by the commanderin-chief’s office showed the country’s two most prominent officials apparently smiling and joking together.
Political commentator U Yan Myo Thein cautioned against reading too much into the highly publicised meetings. “Everybody praised this close working relationship and believed it was the starting point for national reconciliation. But the photos don’t necessarily mean relations are good,” he said. The true test, according to analysts, will be how well the peace process goes.
“If relations really are good, we’ll see more than a few photo opportunities. If we see progress in the peace talks, then we can say there is a good relationship between the two leaders,” U Yan Myo Thein said.
The state counsellor aims to hold the 21st-century Panglong Conference before the end of August, and has stressed that her government is seeking to make the conference as inclusive as possible. However, the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army have been denied access by the Tatmadaw unless they give up their arms. Meanwhile, ethnic armed groups, and particularly those that did not sign last October’s so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement, have urged the government to push for the inclusion of the three groups.
“It’s important how Daw Aung San Suu Kyi negotiates with military chiefs over the conference. The inclusion of these three groups would be a sign of military support for government policy based on national reconciliation,” said U Than Soe Naing, a political analyst.
At Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo’s press conference, he declared government-Tatmadaw relations to be good, adding that the military had been actively participating in the implementation of government policy to build peace.
However, he added that no specific one-on-one discussions had taken place between Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on the convening of the 21st-century Panglong Conference.
“But we have learned that the government understands they should pave the way to the peace process in accordance with the NCA,” he added.
Addressing the inclusivity of the Panglong Conference, Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo reiterated that the three armed groups had to demonstrate a desire to relinquish armed conflict as a way of dealing with the government.
NLD spokesperson U Win Htein has said he believes the parties can find a way to convene the conference successfully on the basis of mutual understanding with the Tatmadaw.
“I understand relations between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the military leadership are better than last year, as our leader consistently seeks to achieve her goal of national reconciliation not only with the Tatamadaw but with all other parties. We will move forward with a positive attitude as the situation continues to evolve,” he said.
The state counsellor and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing met with prominent monks on July 19.