Aung San Suu Kyi Invites Ethnic Militias to Meet Before Next Peace Conference

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has invited members of an alliance of ethnic groups that have not signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire pact for a meeting next week to discuss its demands before the next session of her signature peace conference, an alliance official said Friday.

Members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), comprising nine ethnic militias that did not sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the government in October 2015, have been asked to meet on Feb. 23 with Aung San Suu Kyi, who also holds the positions of state counselor and foreign affairs minister.

Aung San Suu Kyi is leading the country’s efforts to end decades of hostilities between the government armed forces and numerous ethnic armed groups via the 21st-century Panglong Conference held roughly every six months.

“We received the invitation letter from the government yesterday,” UNFC deputy secretary Tun Zaw told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We can’t reply yet, though, because our leaders are on trips.”

“The major item is to discuss the date and time of the meeting,” he said. “We have no reason not to accept the offer. We will reply to the government when our leaders return.”

The government invited the Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) under the UNFC to hold its fourth official meeting on Feb. 23 and 24 to discuss the alliance’s demands, including the declaration of a bilateral cease-fire by Myanmar’s military and the UNFC and an agreement on the composition of representation at the three-way peace negotiations.

The UNFC has also demanded a new constitution based on the outcomes of the Panglong Conference, an agreement on military codes of conduct, and the formation of a cease-fire Joint Monitoring Committee with representatives from the government, ethnic armed groups, and international representatives.

The UNFC informed Aung San Suu Kyi that these demands have not yet been agreed to, though the Myanmar Peace Commission has held three official meetings and one unofficial meeting with the DPN.

In October 2016, the DPN reached agreement with the government on other points it had raised with the latter’s peace envoy Myo Win, including extractive resource issues and cooperation between the government and ethnic militias to help local populations.

Aung San Suu Kyi held the initial meeting of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference at the end of last August and beginning of September as an effort to forge peace in Myanmar so the country can move ahead with political dialogue and economic development.

The government will hold the next meeting in March, though clashes between the country’s armed forces and ethnic militias are still under way in some parts of the country, such as Shan and Kachin states.

Troop deployment in Kayin state

The deployment of more government troops in Kya-in Seikkyi township in southeastern Myanmar’s Kayin state this week drove about 2,000 villagers to flee to safety in neighboring Thailand, local media reports said.

The villagers feared a new clash would erupt between government troops and the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), the military wing of the New Mon State Party (NMSP).

Three schools in the township’s Kyandaw and Japun Yedwin villages planned to close because of the threat, the reports said.

On Feb. 12, Colonel Aung Lwin, minister of security and border affairs in Kayin state, banned weapons and military parades at the 70th Mon State Day organized by the NMSP.

But the NMSP ignored the order and held a military parade at a ceremony in Japun Yedwin village near the border with Thailand.

On Wednesday, government soldiers seized two border tax collection stations on the Myanmar-Thailand border controlled by the MNLA and searched a communications office in Ye township.

NMSP leaders said they met with officials from the government army’s Southeastern Command on Thursday in a bid to ease the tension between the MNLA and the national army.

The NMSP signed a cease-fire pact with the government in 1995, but the accord was invalidated when the party refused to transform itself into a border guard unit under government control.

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