The new ethnic committee led by United Wa State Army (UWSA) pledged to negotiate with the government to overcome the deadlock in the peace process, members of the committee decided after meeting in Pangkham of Wa’s stronghold capital this week.
The meeting of seven non-signatory armed ethnic groups to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which constitutes the new committee, Union Political Negotiation Committee (UPNC), was held from April 15 to 19.
The committee members discussed the means to overcome the deadlock in the current peace process and have agreed to adopt a policy paper, submitted by UWSA, as a common ground.
“The UPNC will then deliver the agreed policy paper to the Union government,” they said in a statement released after the meeting.
UWSA has been skeptical of the NCA, with its leader Bao Yu Xiang criticising the pact as “obsolete” and ineffective in solving decades of armed conflicts.
The major deadlock in the peace process has been the failure of inclusion of all armed ethnic organisations to the peace dialogue table.
During U Thein Sein’s presidency, three armed ethnic groups that are now members of Northern Alliance were rejected by the government from participating in the peace talks.
After agreeing that the NCA-based peace process was obsolete, the non-signatory groups formed the committee in February and have called for the replacement of the NCA with a better treaty.
The government and the Tatmadaw have not officially responded to the newly formed UPNC and its call to find a new peace negotiation course. However, the Tatmadaw’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has often said that all peace negotiations have to go by the NCA-based peace course.
Ta’ang National Liberation Army’s general secretary Tar Phone Kyaw said the new committee’s move would be to directly engage with the military by having dialogues, and not by means of arms.
“Since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi cannot exert power on the military establishment when Tatmadaw staged heavy offensives in ethnic areas under this 2008 constitution, we think the NCA-based peace course will not work. That’s why we have to find new ways,” he said.
Instead of standing on the side, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her cabinet should serve as facilitators to the negotiation between the armed ethnic groups and the military, he said.
“It is good if she serves as a facilitator while armed ethnic groups and the Tatmadaw have direct talks. But, in cases like future federal union building, the civilian administration has to take the leadership role,” said Tar Phone Kyaw.
In addition to establishing a fund for the committee, forming a secretariat group and negotiating body members of the UPNC, the committee said it is also open to ethnic political parties, armed ethnic groups and renowned individuals joining the committee.
“The members of the Union Political Negotiation Committee in the future will not have one-on-one talk with the Union Government of Myanmar, but would have collective dialogue under the leadership of the committee,” said the statement.
When former president U Thein Sein invited a dozen of armed groups to sign the NCA on October 15, 2015, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army representing ethnic Kokang, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Arakan Army were excluded, for waging war against the government in Kokang self-administered area in Shan State in February of that year.
Under the new civilian administration that took office in April last year, the government held the first batch of 21st Century Panglong Conference (originally the Union Peace Conference) with the inclusion of nearly all armed ethnic groups including non-signatory groups to the NCA with the exception of the three Northern Alliance members.
The Peace Commission of the civilian administration met with the three groups but they rejected the Tatmadaw’s demand that the groups must denounce their arms and sign the NCA should they want to participate in the peace conference.