Myanmar cease-fire committee member tells rebel group to lay down its arms

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A member of Myanmar’s cease-fire committee told an armed ethnic group to withdraw its troops from restive Shan state where it has engaged in fighting in recent weeks against another rebel army, as the government military prepares to take charge of security in the area, a committee member said Tuesday.

Retired Lieutenant General Kin Zaw Oo from the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC), made the comment to leaders of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), which has been involved in clashes with the ethnic Palaung/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in northern Myanmar’s Shan state.

“Lieutenant General Khin Zaw Oo told them [RCSS/SSA] to withdraw their troops from conflict areas in the northern Shan state,” said Nyo Ohn Myint from the Myanmar Peace Center, who is a member of the UPWC delegation. “The RCSS would have to move out of the area at a certain time, and they said they would surely do so.”

“The Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] is making plans to take charge of security in the area and has asked those concerned to abide by the points in the nationwide cease-fire agreement,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

The RSCC/SSA is one of the eight armed ethnic groups that signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) last October.

The TNLA, which was not invited to sign the NCA, has accused the government army of supporting the RSCC/SSA-South in the recent clashes, although the Shan rebels have denied the claim.

The government military wants to treat the armed rebel groups that signed the NCA equally and hopes to hold discussions for a cease-fire with the TNLA, observers told RFA.

The meeting occurred after the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of armed ethnic groups that did not sign the NCA, wrapped up a meeting in Thailand to discuss the recent clashes in Shan state and its peace negotiation strategy with the next government.

Aung Min, minister of the president’s office and the country’s chief peace negotiator, met with RCSS/SSA leaders on Monday to discuss the fighting, which began in late November but flared up again earlier this month, forcing thousands of people in Kyaukme and Namkham townships to flee their homes.

He wanted to meet separately with other UNFC members to get them involved in the peace process, but the alliance turned him down. The UNFC is calling for an all-inclusive peace process that excludes no groups.

The UPWC is trying to get UNFC members to agree to peace before the new government led by the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party takes over on April 1.

Foundation for democracy

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s military chief on Tuesday also urged armed ethnic rebel groups to disarm to build a peaceful foundation for democracy in the country.

In a speech at the Defense Services Command and General Staff College in Kalaw cantonment in Shan state, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing spoke about the need for ethnic rebel groups to lay down their arms and discuss their demands within the legal fold if they believe in a democratic system.

He also said that some changes, if deemed necessary, could be made to the 2008 constitution at an appropriate time, but gave no specifics, according to a report by the country’s military newspaper Myawaddy Daily.

The constitution, drafted in 2008 when a military junta was in power, contains a provision under which NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi is prohibited from assuming the country’s presidency because she has foreign relatives.

Months before the NLD won last November’s general elections by a landslide, Aung San Suu Kyi spearheaded efforts to change the provision, but lawmakers rejected the move.

Nevertheless, some political observers believe that she is trying to strike a deal to sidestep the provision and become president.

Reported by Wai Mar Tun RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.