By NYEIN NYEIN
YANGON – On New Year’s Day, the alliance of three active ethnic armed groups that has been fighting Myanmar’s military in Shan and Rakhine states extended its unilateral ceasefire for two more months, until Feb. 29, saying it would help smooth negotiations.
The groups first announced the one-sided truce in September but the statement alone did not stop clashes, especially in Rakhine State.
The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), who refer to themselves as the Brotherhood Alliance, said in a joint statement that the ceasefire would help “build a peaceful environment before the 2020 election and to implement negotiations and peace talks practically so that a bilateral ceasefire agreement could be signed and the civil war could end”.
The groups said on Jan. 1: “We call on the Myanmar army to immediately bring an end to its offensive against each of the revolutionary armed organizations of all nationalities and express its genuine desire for a ceasefire and continue dialogue to finally sign ceasefire agreements.”
The three groups, however, say they will act in “self-defense” if attacked.
Myanmar’s military imposed its own ceasefire in the five military commands in Kachin and Shan states, from December 2018 to September 2019, excluding conflict-torn Rakhine State.
The military abandoned the truce in September, saying the three groups did not seem interested in signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
The three groups were unavailable for comment.
Daw Khin Saw Wai, the Lower House parliamentarian representing Rathedaung in Rakhine State, said they would wait to see whether the fighting would stop following the truce extension.
Clashes that intensified in November 2018 continue in Kyauktaw, Minbya, Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships in northern Rakhine State and Paletwa Township in Chin State.
“During their first ceasefire announcement, the fighting was more intense and we now have nearly 100,000 internally displaced people in northern Rakhine State. The IDPs face great difficulties to find food and shelter,” she added.
“Our people, like others, want to stay peacefully in their homes. Ending armed conflicts is better, but both sides need to negotiate and compromise to achieve peace,” said Daw Khin Saw Wai.
There were “no effective developments” despite the ceasefires announced by either side last year, said U Maung Maung Soe, a political and ethnic affairs analyst based in Yangon.
He said the fighting might have reduced in northern Shan State because of the three groups’ truce extension but clashes were more intense in Rakhine State.
Before their ceasefire, the three groups launched coordinated attacks against the military’s Defense Services Technological Academy in Pyin Oo Lwin and police outposts in Naung Cho, Shan State, on Aug. 15, leaving 15 people dead, including military personnel.
China criticized the attacks, saying they derailed the peace process and created instability in the region.
China’s border in Kachin and Shan states is where several of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects are being planned.
In December, the AA’s commander, Major General Tun Myat Naing, promised the group would not attack the Chinese oil and gas pipelines or the planned Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone in Rakhine State and the BRI projects in Shan and Rakhine states since Beijing agreed to recognize the AA. He told The Irrawaddy last month that China has asked the groups to maintain stability on its border. He said the requests were reasonable and the groups would “maintain good ties” with China.
U Ye Tun, another political analyst, who is also a former Lower House parliamentarian for Hsipaw Township in Shan State, told The Irrawaddy: “It can be assumed that there will not be another surprise attack, like the strike on Pyin Oo Lwin in August.”
He said the three groups’ move “should not be politically exploited” but be used to support the peace process.
“These announcements should help build trust: if there is no trust, we cannot build a sustainable peace,” said U Ye Tun.
Numerous informal peace talks between the various groups were held throughout 2019.
U Maung Maung Soe told The Irrawaddy: “The ceasefire can be truly implemented only after troop deployments are resolved through negotiations.”
Troop deployments were discussed at the Sept. 17 talks in Kengtung. He said the issue was still not resolved, despite further meetings on Dec. 14.
But he is hopeful that if the government’s Peace Commission, under the National Reconciliation and Peace Center, and military leaders meet the ethnic armed groups for further talks, a ceasefire could be agreed. “If not, fighting will become more intense,” U Maung Maung Soe added.
Fighting was reported Wednesday and Thursday in Paletwa, Myebon, Minbya, Buthidaung and Rathedaung, according to the AA.
The AA said the clashes occurred when government troops entered its territory in Paletwa and claimed that at least four soldiers were killed and others injured on Wednesday.
It added that the military’s artillery had been shelling and using fighter jets in Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships.
Nyein Nyein is Associate Editor at the English edition of The Irrawaddy.