Myanmar Military Launches Body For Talks With Ethnic Armies as Vote Count Goes On

Moving before an outcome is declared in elections expected to return Myanmar’s ruling party to power, the country’s military has unveiled a permanent committee “to continue peace talks as quickly as possible” with ethnic armies that have been fighting the central government for decades.

As ballot counting for Sunday’s elections moved slowly, and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) claimed a landslide victory, a statement issued by military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s office said “achieving success of eternal peace is a must for the state.”

“It is necessary to continue peace talks as quickly as possible,” said the statement, published late on Monday, which unveiled a committee made of five lieutenant-generals with peace talk experience who will hold negotiations with rebel groups.

“The Peace Talks Committee of the Tatmadaw must continue talks with the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement signatory ethnic armed organizations for further strengthening of peace in accord with the NCA, must continue peace talks with non-signatory ethnic armed organizations until they have signed the NCA and must hold necessary talks to accomplish the goal of restoring eternal peace,” the military’s statement said. Tatmadaw is the Burmese name for the military.

Myanmar’s halting peace process was begun in 2011 under Aung San Suu Kyi’s predecessor, who struck the NCA in 2015 that has been signed by 10 ethnic armies. At least seven rebel forces, including the largest and most powerful ones, remain outside the pact, with several engaged in conflict with the army

Aung San Suu Kyi won office in 2015 on a platform of establishing a civilian government after decades of military rule and reviving peace talks aimed at ending various ethnic insurgencies that have ravaged Myanmar since its independence from Britain in 1948.

The most recent session of four relatively unproductive rounds of talks with the military, ethnic armies, and political parties saw the army accept the concept of federalism, reversing 70 years of rejection of a federal union for the complex multiethnic nation.

RFA could not reach the military spokesman for additional information about the committee on Tuesday.

AA to wait and see

Analysts and ethnic armed groups had mixed reactions to the move, with some observers saying that the measure indicates the military’s interest in making headway in the peace process, but others suggesting that nothing would change.

The permanent committee offers continuity because it includes generals who took part in previous peace talks, said Min Zaw Oo, executive director of Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security.

“It is not good to change the members of a committee for peace talks because it takes time to build trust and understanding,” he said. “The members of the new committee have experience with this issue. That’s why I think it is positive to assign them [to the committee] before they retire.”

Lieutenant General Yar Pyae, who will lead the new committee, heads the body that monitors truces under the 2015 NCA.

Khine Thukha, spokesman for the Arakan Army (AA), which has been fighting Myanmar forces in Rakhine state for nearly two years, said the AA will wait and see if the new committee does anything differently.

“The military’s peace negotiation committee was formed in 2018 with eight members, [and] now there are only five,” he said. “We will need to judge this new committee by its works, and whether it is just a symbolic one or a genuine one for peace talks.”

Political analyst and writer Than Soe Naing said much depends on whether the army sticks to its old approach or tries something new.

“If they don’t abandon the approach that the AA will not be invited to the peace talks since it has been declared a terrorist organization, this committee will not make any difference,” he said. “Realistically speaking, both the AA and the military need to change their views and make compromises.”

RFA could not reach other NCA non-signatory ethnic armies for comment on the new peace committee.

The government military has been battling AA forces in parts of Rakhine and Chin states since late 2018, leaving 300 civilians dead and displacing about 226,000 others. Clashes between national troops and ethnic soldiers also continue to occur in Kachin, Shan, and Kayin states.

Opposition complaints

With results expected to be made public later this week, the NLD claimed a lopsided victory in elections to fill 224 seats in the upper house and 440 seats in the lower house of Myanmar’s national parliament. State and regional assembly members were also elected Sunday.

Political analyst Yan Myo Thein said the NDL capitalized on widespread concerns about the military’s influence in the country and voters backed the NLD “more than they did in 2015” when it took 235 lower house and 135 upper house seats.

“The election results show there is continuing support and trust in Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said.

NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told RFA on Monday that his party won enough seats to form the next government.

Meanwhile, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) raised complaints about election fairness.

Twenty-five percent of seats in national and regional assemblies are reserved for uniform soldiers under the 2008 constitution, written by the army.

USDP Chairman Than Htay said he reckoned that the pro-military party has won fewer than 20 seats this time, losing about half of the 41 parliamentary seats it gained in national elections five years ago.

“We still have not won as many seats as we expected, and results are coming in gradually, even today,” said Than Htay, who beat an NLD candidate in the vote for a lawmaker seat in the capital Naypyidaw’s military-dominated Zeyarthiri township.

“The parties did not get equal playing field before the election. That’s why it is a little hard for us to believe in this election,” he told RFA in an interview.

“We do not mean everything went wrong, but with the lack of equal opportunity [among the parties], we believe that the results will not be fair,” said Than Htay.

Reported by Thiha RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.