Three armed ethnic groups that the Myanmar government sought to exclude from a meeting early next month to discuss the draft of a nationwide cease-fire agreement will attend the summit despite ongoing clashes between their troops and the national army, group leaders who will participate in the meeting said.
The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA) will join 12 other rebel groups for a May 1-3 summit at the United Wa State headquarters in Pangsang, northern Shan state, where they also will discuss the country’s current political situation.
Aung Myint, spokesman of the United Wa State Army, said the MNDAA, also known as the Kokang army, TNLA and AA confirmed they would attend the summit, despite pressure from the government not to do so.
Armed ethnic fighters and government troops have been battling it out during the past few months in the Kokang region on the Myanmar-China border in Northern Shan state, as well as in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state and western Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The ongoing fighting complicates the government’s efforts to seal a nationwide cease-fire deal with the various armed ethnic groups.
But Aung Myint said he did not believe the fighting would be a barrier for the realization of nationwide peace.
“We can only move on to political dialogue after we sign the NCA [nationwide cease-fire agreement],” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Despite fierce fighting between the Kokang and government armies, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represents 16 armed ethnic groups, requested that President Thein Sein include the Kokang when the groups sign the final version of the NCA, he said.
Lieutenant Colonel Nyo Tun Aung, the AA’s deputy commander-in-chief, told RFA that his group had accepted the invitation to attend the summit and would send five representatives.
The fighting continues
The summit will be the fourth such conference and follow on the heels of last month’s signing of an agreement on a draft text of an NCA between the NCCT and the government’s Union Peace-Making Work Committee.
Khu Oo Ral, Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) vice chairman and United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) general secretary, said the UNFC chairman sent Thein Sein an open letter about the ongoing fighting.
“Everybody knows that we all are working very hard to sign the final NCA, but there is more fighting in more places, and it has raised questions about whether we can or cannot sign the NCA.”
“We want to sign it when the situation in the country is stable,” he said. “As we have said about the nationwide cease-fire, all fighting should be stopped before we sign the NCA.”
Khu Oo Ral chastised the government for trying to exclude the MNDAA, TNLA and AA from the summit.
“The government shouldn’t do this,” he said. “We should especially invite these groups and discuss with them more than other groups because they are currently fighting with government. They need to be in the summit.”
‘Serious about solving problems’
Khu Oo Ral also said he did not agree with a statement by Aung Min, minister of the president’s office, that the government would try to sign the NCA without the Kokang.
“I think he said this without thinking deeply,” he said. “We need to be serious about solving problems when we are talking about our country’s politics.”
He went on to say that the summit would be based on an all-inclusive policy and that the armed ethnic groups “could get the closest result even though if we can’t get the right result.”
In the meantime, government and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) officials are planning to hold an urgent meeting at the end of April to discuss their current clashes.
“We will hold an urgent meeting because there are more conflicts in the region,” San Aung of the Peace Coordination Group told RFA.
Colonel Zaw Taung from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Colonel Than Aung, minister of border security in Kachin state, will attend the meeting.
Representatives from both sides held a previous meeting on April 6 in Myitkyina, capital city of Kachin state.
New clash breaks out
Meanwhile, a new clash broke out on Monday between the government army’s infantry and a KIA brigade in Tanaing, Kachin state, forcing residents of Kaungywa village to flee.
“We heard noise from heavy weapons, and people from Kaungywa village left their houses and came to Tanaing, township administrator Htay Muang told RFA. “We have 92 people who fled from their village, and we placed them in a local church. Local residents have helped them with food.”
The Myitkyina-based Kachin Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG) is trying to negotiate between two groups.
There was also fighting between the Myanmar army and a KIA battalion on April 18 in Hpakant township of Mohnyin District in Kachin state.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun, Thin Thiri, Khin Khin Ei and Kyaw Myo Min. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.