Ethnic groups call for more time before Panglong amid deadlock
ETHNIC armed groups are calling for more time before holding decisive peace negotiations in Panglong, referring to the preparations geared to meet the August deadline as rushed.
“For reviewing and amending the framework of the political dialogue, I think we need to take more time,” Colonel Sai La, spokesperson of the Restoration Council of Shan State, told The Myanmar Times following a meeting in Chiang Mai yesterday.
Khu Oo Reh, the leader of the Delegation for Political Negotiation, also told a Thai-based media outlet on August 9 that the non-signatory armed ethnic groups were not ready for the 21st-century Panglong Conference yet.
The calls for a deadline reprieve come as three ethnic armed groups and government negotiators appear to have hit a critical impasse.
A three-day talk between government peace negotiators and three Kokang groups concluded yesterday with a disagreement over a stipulation on surrendering weapons.
Led by vice chair U Thein Zaw, the government’s peace commission met with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (the Kokang group), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army in Mongla, territory controlled by third-party the National Democratic Alliance Army, from August 8 to 10.
U Zaw Htay, deputy director general of the President’s Office, told The Myanmar Times the armed ethnic groups did not agree on terms set out by the government.
“The main problem of the disagreement is over the wording ‘surrendering their stance of armed struggle’,” U Zaw Htay said.
By his account, the government demanded two steps be taken by the armed ethnic groups should they wish to be included in the peace process. First, they need to issue a joint statement describing their willingness to join the political negotiation, and also surrender their principal means of “armed struggle”.
If they accept the first condition, they will be invited to join a political dialogue framework review meeting to be held in the lead-up to the 21stcentury Panglong Conference.
For the second step, U Zaw Htay said for the duration of the peace negotiations the ethnic groups have to store their arms with a mutually agreed-upon third party.
“We do not demand that they surrender their arms into the hands of the Tatmadaw. They just need to place their arms in the hands of allies, like the Mongla or the Wa,” he said.
If the groups can comply with this second requirement, the government will allow them to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement and join the peace negotiators at the table at the Panglong meet, slated for August 31.
The Wa and the Mongla, two of the most powerful armed ethnic groups which run their own fiefdoms in Shan State, have built strong ties among other armed ethnic groups. The ethnic Chinese powerbrokers have reportedly formed a “Northern Alliance” with the three Kokang groups.
During a meeting with government officials presided over by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this month, the leaders of the Wa and the Mongla pledged that they will not split from the Union, and will instead support the peace process initiated by the government.
But the stipulations revealed by the government in Mongla, even if centred on the promised cooperation of mutual allies, still represent a sticking point for the Kokang groups.
It had appeared as if the Tatmadaw was of late softening its stance toward the three groups: inclusion, and the need for them to relinquish all weapons before joining the peace process.
That headway appears to have been reversed at Mongla.
A communication officer from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army told The Myanmar Times that the meeting ended with no decisive conclusion or agreement.
“They have not changed their stance much,” he said.
Officials from other armed ethnic groups could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Senior military officials previously pledged that the Tatmadaw would cooperate to help the new administration achieve peace within its five-year term. Senior Tatmadaw officials told a press conference in May that the three armed ethnic groups would have to surrender their arms should they want to participate in the peace process, a reiteration of a stance which contributed to the groups’ being sidelined from the peace deal signed last October.
The TNLA, the AA and the MNDAA have been waging a campaign against the Tatmadaw in the Kokang self-administered area since February 2015. The inclusion of the three armed ethnic groups had been a major point of contention over the course of the ceasefire negotiations between the armed ethnic groups and the then-USDP government.
Despite requests for an all-inclusive peace process, then-president U Thein Sein ended up signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement with just eight groups on October 15.
Following an ethnic summit at Mai Jai Yang in Kachin Independence Army-controlled territory last month, the ethnic groups cemented an agreement for unity and to push for a fully inclusive peace process this time.
It remains unclear how the government’s two-step requirements will impact this unity.
U Zaw Htay could not confirm yesterday whether there would be further talks between the three groups and the government.
The government has scheduled to hold a meeting of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, a tripartite committee consisting of representatives from the government, signatory armed ethnic groups and political parties on August 15.
That meeting is also supposed to address the duration of the 21st-century Panglong Conference.
The signatory armed ethnic groups are scheduled to meet with government peace negotiators on August 12 to discuss the timing and framework issues of the political dialogue.
Soldiers and civilians look out over Mai Ja Yang in Kachin State.