Ceasefire extension renews hopes for wider peace in Myanmar

A military policeman stands guard as ethnic Shan girls march by in a parade in Mongla during the celebration to mark the 30th anniversary of a truce in Shan State Special Region 4, on June 30. On the same day¸ the Union Peace Commission met with Northern Alliance member groups in Mongla. Photo - EPA. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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NAYPYIDAW, Jul 7, 2019, Myanmar Times. At the end of June, Myanmar’s Tatmadaw (military) extended its unilateral ceasefire for another two months, till August 31. With the extension, the ceasefire announced on December 21, 2018 will last more than half a year. However, there have been no significant advances in the peace process yet, reported the Myanmar Times.

Since December 2018, talks involving the Tatmadaw, Union Peace Commission (UPC), and Northern Alliance, made up of armed groups which have yet to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), were held.

Just a few hours before the announcement of ceasefire extension on June 30, the UPC held informal talks with Northern Alliance member groups, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army (AA) in Mongla, Shan State.

During the meetings, the Tatmadaw proposed bilateral agreements with the groups to bring about a halt in fighting. All four groups had already sent their own proposals to the UPC at a meeting on April 30.

According to news sources, the proposal made by the military differs from that of the four groups and there might be difficulties in reaching an agreement.

Moreover, they have still been clashing with military forces in their respective areas.

The UPC has been trying to sign bilateral ceasefire agreements before proceeding with peace talks. The government hopes that if this is achieved then, the groups will consider signing the NCA.

When the military announced the unilateral ceasefire on December 21, 2018, it was in the hopes that peace negotiations could be carried out in five of its command areas: Eastern, Northern, North-East, East-Central and Triangle Region commands.

Spokespersons for the military have said the newest extension of the ceasefire gives ethnic people renewed hope and opportunities to achieve a lasting peace.

“We did it for non-NCA signatories in our five commands to negotiate to sign the NCA quickly,” said Major General Soe Naing Oo, head of the military’s True News Information Team, at a press conference held on June 22 in Nay Pyi Taw.

Tar Phone Kyaw, secretary general of the TNLA, said the group would consider the Tatmadaw’s opinions at the Mongla meeting where the UPC and Northern Alliance met.

Under the military’s proposal, the TNLA will have to resettle in Namhsam and Manton townships while the MNDAA will have to go back to the Hong Ai area, Tar Phone Kyaw wrote in the TNLA’s monthly journal. The AA will have to resettle in Kachin State where it was originally formed.

If an agreement is reached, the military has offered to withdraw its active units in four command areas, with only the regional units under the military’s Western Command in Rakhine State remaining in place, Tar Phone Kyaw wrote in his article.

The four groups also proposed to cease fighting and to negotiate for the signing of the NCA and the relocation of the military units, according to the article written by Tar Phone Kyaw.

In turn, Northern Alliance proposes that further political dialogue will take place under the framework of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), and the ceasefire will also be observed by the FPNCC and China, in addition to representatives from both sides.

Several attempts by Myanmar Times to reach the military and members of the Union Peace Commission for confirmation of the proposals were unsuccessful as of press time on Thursday.

When Tar Phone Kyaw was asked over the phone whether the TNLA had agreed to the proposals brought forward by the Tatmadaw, he said he had no comment then.

“It’s only a draft. It has to be re-negotiated. I’m not sure if they will accept our terms either, and vice versa. So, the draft will need to be negotiated again,” he said, adding that the military hasn’t made any reply to their proposals.

Although the Tatmadaw is open for dialogue with the other groups in the Northern Alliance, its stance towards the AA remains rigid. The AA has had numerous clashes with the military since its attempt to gain control in Rakhine State early 2018. The fighting between them has intensified this year, leading to civilian deaths and damaged homes. So far the fighting has displaced about 50,000 local people and an increasing number are getting detained and questioned in the state.

This week, a 28-year-old man accused of being an AA member from Shwe Htan Phyu village near Mrauk-U township, died while detained by the authorities.

The TNLA’s Tar Phone Kyaw and AA leaders think that excluding Western Command from the extended ceasefire period will allow the military to strengthen its forces for offensive moves against AA in Rakhine.

Although the military says that there were talks held during the unilateral ceasefire, the guns didn’t remain silent.

Although there were almost no battles in Kachin State, there were clashes between military forces and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and TNLA in Mine Pyin, Penlong, Kutkai, Kyaukme and other areas, the military said. The RCSS is a signatory of the NCA.

The ethnic armed groups expanded their forces and areas of operations during the ceasefire and also used the lull to raise funds, sometime through extortion, the military said during a press conference at the end of June.

Shan Nationalities League For Democracy Associate Secretary U Sai Leik says that the military can’t effectively negotiate for peace only with the Northern Alliance and should also include signatories of the NCA during the ceasefire.

“The military is like an obstruction at the gateway peace. It is blocking peace with two phrases: only one Tatmadaw and no separation. So, nobody can do anything,” U Sai Leik said.

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