Junta omits key stakeholders from Myanmar Union Day peace talks
2022.02.08 -- The Myanmar military junta invited ethnic armies to a ceremony celebrating a key date in the country's founding, but important stakeholders have been barred from attending and observers say the move will do little to further a long-stalled peace process.
On Sunday, the junta extended invitations to 17 of Myanmar's armed ethnic groups â€” including seven that have been unwilling to sign a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the military â€” to the capital Naypyidaw for the 75th diamond jubilee anniversary of Union Day on Feb. 12. The holiday commemorates the 1947 signing of the Panglong Agreement by ethnic majority Burmans and the country's minorities to form a union following Myanmar's independence from Britain on Jan. 4 a year later.
Officials with six of the 10 groups that signed the ceasefire agreement told RFA's Myanmar Service that they are "considering" attending next week's event and an accompanying set of "pre-peace talks," including the Restoration Council of Shan State, Arakan Liberation Party, Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, Pa-O National Liberation Organization and New Mon State Party.
Officials with the Karen National Union and the Chin National Front â€” two other groups that signed onto the ceasefire but have engaged in recent clashes with the military â€” said that they will not attend. Attempts to contact the All Burma Students Democratic Front and the Lahu Democratic Union about their plans went unanswered Tuesday.
Padao Saw Tar Nee, the foreign affairs for the Karen National Union's Central Committee, told RFA that the Karen National Union would not attend the ceremony because the military cannot be trusted.
"We have engaged in the peace process consistently, but ... the military has crushed the entire peace process by taking over the government. Since the coup, we don't have any reason to engage in dialogue," he said.
"Today, the strongest wish from the people is for the military to leave politics and retreat back to the barracks. The second is to build a federal democracy. In implementing these two demands, the military is the main barrier. We will only be able to build peace when the military is out of the picture."
Padao Saw Tar Nee said that far from using the event to kick off a restoration of security in the country, the military is hosting next week's ceremony "to trick the world" and draw its attention away from a myriad of failures that have befallen the nation under its rule.
Key stakeholders missing
Other groups said that talks with the military were a nonstarter if they did not include all stakeholders, including representatives of the shadow National Unity Government, Parliament's Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Committee of Representatives, and anti-junta People's Defense Forces (PDF) militias â€” all of which they said should play central roles in the resolution of any nationwide conflicts.
On Sept. 7, the National Unity Government (NUG), which includes former lawmakers ousted in the military coup, declared a nationwide state of emergency and called for open rebellion against junta rule, prompting an escalation of attacks on military targets by various allied pro-democracy militias and ethnic armed groups.
Khu Daniel, general secretary of Karenni Progressive Party, which has been fighting the military troops in Kayah state, said they would not attend the ceremony.
"We haven't received a formal invitation yet, but we will not attend even if we do," he said. "If the peace talks are truly free, [the junta] should not limit attendance. They should include all armed groups. They should certainly include the NUG and PDF forces who are fighting the military troops. Peace talks will only be successful only when they include all fighting forces."
Col. Sai Khem San, a spokesman for the Restoration Council of Shan State, said that while his group is considering the invitation, he could not confirm its attendance, and expressed concern that the military had chosen not to include the NUG and Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Committee of Representatives (CRPH).
"Our position is for inclusivity for all â€” political dialogues are not useful even if only one group is left out," he said.
Sai Khem San also expressed doubt about the success of talks while the military controls power in Myanmar and called on the international community to help mediate.
RFA was unable to reach officials with the NUG and CRPH for comment on the anniversary event.
Similarly, attempts to reach junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun about armed ethnic group responses to the military's invitations went unanswered Tuesday.
Distraction from political crisis
Only 10 ethnic armed organizations, or EAOs, have signed the ceasefire agreement with the government since 2015, when the document was inked in the presence of international observers and Myanmar's highest legislature.
The 10 groups suggested in June that the deal remains in place, despite an already flailing peace process that was all but destroyed by the junta's coup. However, they had said they would not pursue talks with the military, which they view as having stolen power from the country's democratically elected government.
Political analyst Than Soe Naing told RFA he believes the military is trying to distract the international community from Myanmar's political crisis with next week's ceremony, noting that most ethnic groups that plan to attend are relatively small stakeholders and will not shape the peace process in a meaningful way.
Meanwhile, the political situation in the country remains chaotic. Security forces have killed 1,529 civilians and arrested more than 9,000 others since seizing power, mostly during nonviolent anti-junta protests, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by fighting between the military and anti-junta forces in the country's remote border regions, creating a humanitarian crisis.
"They are planning the diamond jubilee event on an impressive scale, but the situation in the country does not warrant such a ceremony," Than Soe Naing said.
"They are just trying to mislead the international community. They are trying to trick observers into believing that they care about peace and are acting benevolently. But most political stakeholders in the country don't want to participate in their charade. Only minor groups may attend, which will not help the wider peace process."
Officials with ethnic groups who declined to be named told RFA that the Kachin Independence Organisation, the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and the Arakan Army will also not be attending the ceremony and talks.
They said the United Wa State Party, the National Democratic Alliance Army and the Shan State Progressive Party will only send low-level officers if they decide to attend.
Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
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