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Myanmar’s Ethnic Armies to Meet to Sort Out Approach to Stalled Peace Process

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Some of the five ethnic armed groups that have not signed Myanmar’s nationwide cease-fire accord will attend talks with the committee responsible for holding political dialogue and convening peace conferences, as stakeholders in the country’s stalled peace process continue to iron out their differences, those involved said on Tuesday.

The Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) invited the United Wa State Army (UWSA), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA), and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP)/Karenni Army for a meeting on Nov. 1-3 at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) in Yangon, said Hla Maung Shwe, a member of the UPDJC’s secretariat group.

“Because this meeting will be held by a decision of the members of the UPDJC’s secretariat group, we have to hold it even if some representatives from the ethnic armed groups don’t attend,” said Hla Maung Shwe, who has been advising the government’s peace team under the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led administration.

The UPDJC’s 15-member secretariat group includes five members of the Myanmar military, government, and national parliament, as well as five representatives chosen by the ethnic armies, and five selected by political parties.

So far, only the NDAA and SSPP have confirmed their attendance, said Zaw Htay, spokesman for State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office, at a press conference on Monday in the capital Naypyidaw.

Khu Nyae Yel from the KNPP’s Loikaw office told RFA’s Myanmar Service that he forwarded the invitation to the group’s central executive committee for consideration.

“I heard that the committee members are having a meeting to decide whether the KNPP will attend,” he said. “I don’t know their decision yet.”

Current fighting between KNPP troops and Myanmar forces is creating more obstacles to the nation’s peace process, said political analyst Than Soe Naing.

Colonel Naw Bu of the KIO, the political wing of the KIA which has been engaged in skirmishes with Myanmar forces in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, said the ethnic army hasn’t yet received any instruction to attend the meeting, and that a key decision maker — KIO Vice Chairman General Gwan Maw — is traveling.

Nyi Yan, a spokesman at the UWSA’s office in Lashio in Shan state, said the Wa Army — Myanmar’s largest non-state military — would not attend the talks, state media reported.

RFA’s Myanmar Service was unable to reach him for comment.

The five invited ethnic armies are among the 11 groups that have not signed the government’s October 2015 nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA).

In the meantime, the government has invited leaders from the UWSA and KIA to a meeting on Wednesday with representatives from both the Myanmar Peace Center and the Northern Alliance, a grouping of four ethnic armies, including the KIA, that have not signed the NCA, in Kunming, capital of southwestern China’s Yunnan province.

The meetings are being held to try to overcome deadlocks in the country’s ongoing peace process.

The current government has held three formal rounds of its 21st-Century Panglong Conference since August 2016 and intends to hold three more during the remainder of 2018 and in 2019.

KNU’s participation on hold

Of the 10 armed groups that have signed the NCA, the Karen National Union (KNU) sent a letter on Oct. 27 to Aung San Suu Kyi, chairwoman of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center, saying that it is putting its participation in the talks on hold amid ongoing obstacles to the peace process.

The group cited displeasure with high-level discussions among the government, Myanmar military, and the NCA signatories that took place earlier this month to try to kick-start the country’s stalled peace process.

The participants at that meeting decided to extend dialogue to non-NCA signatories, and the ethnic armies agreed in principle to a key military demand that they fold their militias into a single national army, though they emphasized the need for further talks on integrating the various armed forces into one defense force.

But they balked at the Myanmar military’s demand that they agree never to secede from the union.

KNU Vice Chairman Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win told the online journal The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that top leaders from the ethnic armies, government, and military had failed to make progress on the issues of non-secession and a single, unified army when they met for the tripartite summit in Naypyidaw on Oct. 15-16, though they did agree did agree to hold further talks.

Another NCA-signatory group, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS)/Shan State Army-South, has said that it will not accept the Myanmar military’s conditions for non-secession and the integration of ethnic forces into the national army without a referendum on the issues in Shan state, Than Soe Naing said.

The KNU has said that it will not participate in the political dialogue framework review meeting on Nov. 1-3 in Yangon, nor in a meeting of the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST), a group comprising NCA non-signatory groups which the KNU chairs, on Nov. 5-7 in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.