Eth­nic groups call for more time be­fore Pan­g­long amid dead­lock

The Myanmar Times - - News - LUN MIN MANG lun­min­mang@mm­

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.

Photo: Zarni Phyo

Sol­diers and civil­ians look out over Mai Ja Yang in Kachin State.

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