Ethnic Armed Groups to Meet Myanmar Peace Commission For Talks in China

Representatives from a coalition of ethnic armies based along the China-Myanmar border will meet with members of the government’s peace commission in southwest China on Wednesday to discuss ways to end decades of civil war, a spokesman for one of the militias told RFA on Tuesday.

The meeting will mark the first time that the Union Peace Commission is meeting with the Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), said TNLA spokesman Brigadier General Ta Phone Kyaw.

The three groups, which along with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) make up the Northern Alliance military coalition, have not signed the government’s 2015 nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) because of ongoing hostilities with the national army.

“The TNLA, AA, and MNDAA will meet with the government’s Peace Commission on Sept. 5 in Kunming,” Ta Phone Kyaw said, adding that he and others from the TNLA’s information team will attend the event.

“We will talk with them [Union Peace Commission members] about ways to stop the fighting and to start discussions,” he said.

“We hope to have a good result since we finally have a chance to meet with government’s peace commission,” he said, adding that the meeting is “a good step.”

In April 2017, the Northern Alliance joined a political coalition called the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) with three other ethnic armed groups — the United Wa State Army (UWSA) the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N).

By teaming up with the UWSA, Myanmar’s largest ethnic army with a force of some 30,000 troops, the Northern Alliance moved from being primarily a military alliance to a political one, according to a July 2018 report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) which collects data on political violence in developing states.

Sun Guoxiang, special envoy for Asian affairs under China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, has facilitated the meeting in Kunming, capital of southwest China’s Yunnan province, and is serving as mediator, Ta Phone Kyaw said.

China, which provided support to Myanmar to hold a third round of peace talks in July under the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government, has said that it firmly opposes any attempt to undermine peace and stability along the China-Myanmar border and any act deliberately obstructing Myanmar’s peace process.

China is also believed by security experts to be the direct or indirect source of weapons for many of the ethnic armies fighting the Myanmar government.

Previously, the Myanmar army refused to negotiate with the FPNCC and Northern Alliance on account of the inclusion in the coalitions of the AA, TNLA, and MNDAA, which all lack bilateral cease-fire agreements with the military.

All members of both coalitions, however, attended the third and most recent session of the government’s peace talks as observers and met in separate groups on the sidelines of the conference with leaders from the armed forces and government, including military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ongoing clashes in Shan state

Some ethnic armed groups have continued to fight the Myanmar military in the border areas in their quest for a federal democratic union in the country with a constitutional guarantee for a certain degree of autonomy for ethnic minorities.

The ongoing hostilities, particularly in Shan and Kachin states, have stymied the peace process and have led to delays in scheduling rounds of meetings.

So far, 10 ethnic armed groups have signed the NCA, which forms the foundation of the government’s peace talks.

Myanmar forces and the TNLA are engaged in hostilities in the northern part of Shan state, while the TNLA and the Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N), the armed wing of the Shan State Progress Party, are also fighting rival Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) troops.

TNLA and SSA-N troops have launched offensives on RCSS/SSA-S soldiers in Namtu township since July 5, military officials from the TNLA and SSA-N combined unit said Tuesday.

More than 2,000 people from Namtu township are fleeing to safer places because of fighting, they said, adding that they have warned local residents to exercise caution when traveling through the area.

Leaders of the combined forces also said that they will continue their offensives against the RCSS/SSA-S troops until they retreat from SSA-S headquarters in Loi Tai Leng, a town located in the mountainous region of southern Shan state.

The TNLA has been fighting both the Myanmar army and the RCSS/SSA-S in Shan state since late November 2015.

Troops from the TNLA have also clashed with SSPP/SSA-N forces at least four times around Namtu township since December 2017 over apparent territorial disputes, though both armies are members of the FPNCC, according to the ACLED report.

Overall, more than 10,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting in volatile areas of Shan state.

Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.