Myanmar’s Armed Ethnic Groups to Meet With President, Military Chief

A delegation of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups will meet with President Thein Sein later this week to discuss signing an “all-inclusive” nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) that would include ethnic insurgents the government has left out of the peace process so far, a rebel army official said Monday.

The meeting will take place between Aug. 25 and 28 in the capital Naypyidaw, chairman of the All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) Than Khe told RFA’s Myanmar Service at the conclusion of the weekend’s Ethnic Armed Organizations Summit Senior Delegation (EAO-SD) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

“A representative team consisting of ethnic leaders will meet with the president and military chief with [Min Aung Hlaing] soon in Naypyidaw,” said Than Khe, whose student army signed a bilateral cease-fire with the military in 2013, adding that Myanmar needs to “end the civil war and move forward to political dialogue.”

“It is time to for all the ethnic leaders and the nation’s top leaders to meet. We are expecting that a decision for a final NCA will come from their meeting.”

Among the ethnic leaders who will attend the meeting are Karen National Union (KNU) chairman Mutu Say Poe, Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) vice-chairman General N'ban La, Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) chairman Abel Tweed, New Mon State Party (NMSP) chairman Nai Htaw Mon, and General Say Htin from the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP).

SD leaders Naw Si Phora Sein, La Ja and Pu Zin Kyone will also meet with the president in Naypyidaw, Than Khe said, adding that the exact date of the talks was yet to be confirmed.

According to Than Khe, ethnic leaders agreed on nearly all issues at the EAO-SD summit—which was extended until Monday—except whether to sign a final NCA, as some groups are holding out to ensure that the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and two other armed ethnic forces that fought government troops along with it in Shan State’s Kokang self-administered zone are included.

Ongoing tensions in Kokang have proved a challenge to Thein Sein’s goal of signing an NCA with the country’s armed ethnic groups ahead of Nov. 8 general elections. The MNDAA declared a unilateral cease-fire in June, but clashes have since been reported.

The Kokang conflict has killed several hundred Myanmar soldiers, and spilled over the border with China in March to claim the lives of Chinese farmers. Reliable figures for casualties are unavailable.

Than Khe said that signing an NCA at this point “might not be perfect,” but he expressed hope that it might be a “beginning step from which we can move forward” in discussions over military and political differences.

Odds of pre-election pact

Mahn Nyein Maung, a leading member of the KNU, told RFA that it was “difficult to say” whether an NCA would be signed before the election, as “every ethnic group’s situation is different.”

“The KNU has had a [bilateral] cease-fire with the government since 2012 and it is stable, but other ethnic groups’ situations are not like KNU and it will be difficult to include all of them [when the NCA is signed],” he said.

Mahn Nyein Maung said “at least four” groups, including his own, were ready to sign the NCA as is, and suggested working with the others as a next step towards an “all inclusive” agreement.

“The NCA is very important to our country, as we can’t solve political problems unless we sign it,” he said, noting that all ethnic groups have agreed that the pact would precede any formal political dialogue with the government to grant them greater autonomy and representation in the country’s parliament.

“If we only agree to do this if we get what we want, we will have nothing.”

A ninth round of peace talks between Myanmar’s government and ethnic rebel groups ended in a stalemate earlier this month as the two sides remained at odds over the number of insurgent armies to be included in the NCA.

Reported by Aung Moe Myint, Thin Thiri and Kyaw Kyaw Aung. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.