The Myanmar government and other stakeholders in the country's struggling peace process have pushed ahead the date of the third round of their negotiations to early May because ethnic armies in violence-ridden Shan and Rakhine states have yet to hold ethnic-based national-level discussions, people involved in preparations for the talks said Wednesday.
The government planned to hold the next meeting of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference in February, but officials, military leaders, and representatives from ethnic militias decided to put it off during a meeting of the Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) in Naypyidaw.
We have discussed when to hold this Panglong Conference and decided to hold it in early May, but we haven't determined the exact date yet, said Khun Myint Htun, vice chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), whose armed forces along with other smaller Pa-O military groups administer a zone consisting of three townships in southern Shan state.
Lieutenant General Soe Win, deputy commander-in-chief of Myanmar's armed forces, said leaders from ethnic armed groups who are decision-makers in the peace process attended the meeting.
Representatives from the eight ethnic armies that signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the government in October 2015 participated in the meeting, as did officials from the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Lahu Democratic Party (LDP), which recently signed on to the pact.
Yawd Serk, an ethnic Shan political leader who was chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and commander-in-chief of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), did not attend, nor did Saw Mutu Sae Po of the Karen National Union (KNU), which represents the interests of the ethnic Karen people in mountainous eastern Myanmar.
The RCSS, one of the dominant ethnic organizations in northern Shan state, canceled the scheduled Shan national dialogue after the Myanmar military, backed by the national government, prevented the holding of public consultations in the region.
The Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) is holding discussions with the RSCC about how to proceed, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported, citing Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay.
The committee headed by Aung San Suu Kyi oversees the drafting process of the framework for national political dialogue. It includes NCA signatories, political party representatives, and government representatives.
On Tuesday, the UPDJC discussed how the RCSS could conduct a national political dialogue to solicit public recommendations to share at the Panglong Conference, The Irrawaddy's report said.
Shan and Arakan parties
All leaders at the meeting on Wednesday agreed to hold a national-level dialogue on March 23 in Ye township in southern Myanmar's Mon State as well as five public consultations in other parts of the region under its control.
The government has suggested that ethnic national-level dialogues held by Shan groups should include lawmakers from the state and a meeting in Taunggyi with representatives of government, relevant organizations, and Shan legislators to prepare for the third round of the peace conference.
Colonel Sai Nyin of RCSS/SSA said he would discuss the government's suggestion with Shan group leaders.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who is spearheading Myanmar's peace negotiations, and Soe Win agreed to hold official meetings whenever any disagreements arise among the government, military, and ethnic armed groups, as well as to hold informal meetings, Khun Myint Htun said.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is trying to end decades of civil wars between government forces and ethnic armies, held the initial peace negotiations in August 2016 with the intention of convening other meetings every six months. The second round was held in May 2017.
But the peace process continues to hit roadblocks because of the military's inflexibility regarding certain principles for the peace talks and its unwillingness to allow public consultations in ethnic states.
The Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), an ethnic Rakhine political organization and an NCA signatory, proposed holding its public consultations in Kyauk Phyu, Mrauk U, Taunggup, and Sittwe in Rakhine state, and in Yangon, said The Irrawaddy, citing Zaw Htay.
But that is not possible because of the situation in the beleaguered state, he said.
A military crackdown that began in August has forced about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to safety in Bangladesh in what the United Nations and United States have called an ethnic cleansing campaign.
Myanmar and Bangladesh are now preparing to repatriate Rohingya who want to voluntarily return to the region, though the process has been delayed.
Peace commission and KNPP
Meanwhile, the government's Myanmar Peace Commission (MPC) and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the political wing of the ethnic Karenni army in eastern Myanmar's Kayah state, are planning to meet on March 5 or 6, instead of in May, commission spokesperson Aung Soe said Thursday.
Khu Daniel, a KNPP secretary, said the group will ask the commission to take action on the killings of its members allegedly by government troops in December.
When we meet with MPC leaders, we will discuss the unimplemented agreements from the previous Union and state-level meetings as well as the killings of KNPP members by government troops, he said, adding that the group's signing of the NCA depends upon the meeting's outcome.
On Dec. 19, Karenni troops manning a checkpoint discovered Myanmar army vehicles allegedly transporting illegal timber.
Though the KNPP soldiers allowed the vehicles to pass, Myanmar soldiers from the Regional Operation Command in Loikaw went to the Karenni army base later that night and killed a civilian and three ethnic soldiers the following morning, according to a statement issued by the militia.
The Myanmar soldiers took the bodies back to their base and burned them.
The Karenni army is among the groups comprising the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), the umbrella organization for ethnic militias that have not signed the NCA.
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