An alliance of ethnic armed organizations agreed on Thursday to meet with Myanmar government peace negotiators in war-torn Shan state on Saturday to discuss a possible end to recent clashes with national troops, following an assurance from neighboring China that the rebels will be safe during the talks, those with knowledge of the matter said.
The four groups that comprise the Northern Alliance — the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Arakan Army (AA), will hold discussions with members of the Myanmar Peace Commission (MPC) in the eastern Shan town of Kengtung, sources said.
The TNLA, MNDAA, and AA have been engaged in fierce clashes with Myanmar forces since Aug. 15 when they launched coordinated attacks on five locations in northern Shan state and Mandalay region, killing 15 Myanmar soldiers, policemen, and civilians. The KIA was not involved in the attacks.
The three ethnic armies said they conducted the armed assaults in retaliation for offensives by Myanmar soldiers against them in areas under their control.
The attacks sparked fresh fighting in Shan’s Kutkai, Muse, Lashio, and Kyaukme townships, forcing thousands of villagers to flee their homes and breaching a temporary cease-fire that the Myanmar military declared in five of its military command regions, including Shan state.
The cease-fire expires on Aug. 31, the day of the meeting.
The groups decided to participate in the meeting after China said it would guarantee them safety during the talks amid heightened mutual distrust on both sides because of the hostilities.
Sun Guoxiang, special envoy for Asian affairs from China’s foreign ministry, met last week with the ethnic armies to tell them that Beijing did not accept the armed conflict, which has increased instability in the border region, and pressured them to stop fighting ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1.
“We agreed to meet because the Chinese government said it would be responsible for safety during the Kengtung talks,” said AA spokesman Khine Thukha, adding that the Arakan force would be represented by AA deputy chief Major General Nyo Tun Aung at the meeting.
“The talks will focus on a bilateral [cease-fire] agreement,” he said. “We believe the talks will be constructive if there is a sincere will for having peace in the nation. But they [government negotiators] will be the ones who destroy the peace process should they force what they want.”
The ruling civilian-led National League for Democracy (NLD) government under leader Aung San Suu Kyi wants to end decades of civil war in the county to move ahead with the creation of a federal democratic union.
But the process has stalled, and only 10 of Myanmar’s more than 20 ethnic armies have signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA).
‘Fighting will continue’
The members of the Northern Alliance have not signed truces with the government and continue to engage in sporadic fighting with Myanmar forces in their quest for greater autonomy and ethnic minority rights within a federal system.
When the Northern Alliance met informally with the MPC earlier this year, however, the ethnic armies expressed a willingness to sign bilateral peace pacts with the Myanmar military before holding discussions on whether to join the NCA. They exchanged further proposals in subsequent meetings in two different towns in Shan state in April and June.
One of the sticking points in the discussions has been the government’s insistence that the AA stop its military operations in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, and limit its activities to Laiza, headquarters of its Northern Alliance partner, the KIA, since the AA was formed a decade ago to wage war against the national military.
Hostilities between the AA and Myanmar forces intensified in northern Rakhine state in late 2018 and again in January, when Arakan fighters attacked police outposts. Ongoing clashes have driven tens of thousands of civilians from their homes, and left dozens of others dead and injured.
San Aung from the Peace-Talk Creation Group said another bone of contention has been getting the parties involved to agree on mutually convenient locations to meet.
“Ethnic armed groups have often been unable to attend talks in placed designated by the government,” he said. “The government can’t go where ethnic armed groups can go, so this has delayed [the process], but they eventually agreed on Kengtung after some negotiation.”
Given the severity of ongoing clashes in both Shan and Rakhine state, the meeting participants will not likely reach an agreement to end the hostilities, said military and political analyst Maung Maung Soe.
“The fighting will continue,” he said. “Intense fighting has occurred in Rakhine state with attacks on a strategic hill on which government troops are stationed, so I don’t see that the fighting will ease up.”
“Talks may be possible amid intense fighting, [but] it will be difficult to discuss a cease-fire in Rakhine state,” he said. “It’s impossible for them to come to terms unless one or the other genuinely compromises.”
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.