Assessing Round One of Junta-Sponsored Peace Talks

The UWSA has continuously demanded an autonomous state. Rather than federalism and democracy, the UWSA is more interested in acquiring the official status of statehood. The Wa ethnic armed group has described the post-coup crisis as an internal issue of the Bamar ethnic people, and said it would not take sides as it does not want to see its involvement causing further conflict.

By Gaung 22 Aug 2022

Written By Gaung

A first round of peace talks between Myanmar’s military regime and 10 ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) have ended with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing promising federalism, self-rule and self-determination on the condition that these EAOs do not demand secession from the so-called Union.

Among the EAOs that held separate talks with the generals were seven signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and three non-signatories.

The first group consisted of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA); the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC); the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO); the New Mon State Party (NMSP); the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP); the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS); and the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU). Non-signatories that joined the peace talks were the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) and the Shan State Progress Party.

Calling 2022 the “Year of Peace,” Min Aung Hlaing has been trying to persuade EAOs to meet him around a table for discussions ostensibly aimed at ending the country’s long-running civil war. But to many at home and abroad, Min Aung Hlaing’s push for peace talks has appeared to be little more than a sham aimed at easing international pressure on his regime.

Details of discussions have not been disclosed in a formal way, but EAOs that joined the peace talks can roughly be divided into four groups based on publicly available information.

What EAOs Want

The first group eyes statehood and self-rule for their people; the second wants to ease military tensions with the regime; the third are emphasising and exploring the possibility of a federal charter; and the fourth ask primarily for development of their respective regions.

The UWSA, the most powerful EAO in Myanmar, and the NDAA focused on statehood and self-rule at their talks with the junta boss. Two rival ethnic Shan groups, the RCSS and SSPP, travelled to Naypyidaw in hopes of defusing military tensions with the regime.

The NMSP has called for a charter that guarantees federalism. The PNLO anticipates a Pa-O State under a new federal constitution.

The NMSP is interested in drafting a state constitution based on the basic principles necessary for the building of a federal democratic union. Constitutional issues include federal factors such as national equality, the state’s constitutional rights, the boundaries of Mon State, and the membership structure of the Union.

Like the NMSP, the PNLO, if a new or amended constitution is drawn up in Myanmar in the future, is expected to achieve a state based on the principle of the emergence of new states.

Meanwhile, the sole purpose of the two Karen organisations — the DKBA and the KNU/KNLA-PC — seems to be to assure their continued survival. Items on the agenda in those meetings were establishment of a federal Union and regional development. As splinter groups from the Karen National Union, the DKBA and KNU/KNLA-PC might be under pressure to attend the talks with the regime.

Whoever is in power, the ALP will feel compelled to meet him or her to ensure its survival. The ALP has been divided, and public support for the armed group is dwindling as it is growing distant from the Arakanese people, who favour an ascendent Arakan Army instead. Therefore, the ALP has been forced to maintain a role in the peace process being pushed by the military regime. At its meeting with the junta leader, the ALP called for genuine federalism and the development of Arakan State.

The LDU proposed establishment of democracy and a federal Union, and regional development. Compared with other EAOs, the LDU is relatively weak and not very popular with its people.

The UWSA has continuously demanded an autonomous state. Rather than federalism and democracy, the UWSA is more interested in acquiring the official status of statehood. The Wa ethnic armed group has described the post-coup crisis as an internal issue of the Bamar ethnic people, and said it would not take sides as it does not want to see its involvement causing further conflict.

The NDAA, another powerful ethnic group that is based in northern Shan State, has also demanded that its territory be officially recognised as a self-administered region. At their meeting with the junta boss, NDAA leaders discussed regional development, agriculture, and economic affairs including tourism and its border trade with China.

Although the main federal issues were discussed in the meeting between the Shan groups RCSS and SSPP and the military junta, it can be considered that the two ethnic armed groups are approaching some kind of recognition by attending the meeting as both groups have disputes over the military conflict area.

The SSPP met with the military junta at a time when tensions were running high between the two sides, as the Myanmar military was pressuring the ethnic armed group to relocate its military bases in Mongshu Township, Shan State. Prior to the military’s seizure of power, there were clashes between the SSPP and RCSS and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in parts of Shan State that have frequently been subject to territorial disputes.

Many Opt Out of Regime’s Initial Peace Push

Although every organisation that joined the latest peace talks had its own purpose in engaging with the military junta, the fact remains that only 10 out of more than 20 ethnic armed groups in Myanmar attended Min Aung Hlaing’s rebooted dialogue.

More than half of the country’s ethnic armed groups have yet to engage substantively with the military junta, and given the current intensity of fighting between some of those armies and junta forces, it is likely that several of the groups will never agree to sit down with the regime.

The military junta’s peace push with EAOs has also completely left out armed groups affiliated with the parallel National Unity Government (NUG), often collectively referred to as People’s Defence Forces (PDFs). Political analysts have criticised the exclusion, positing that no realistic resolution to the country’s civil war can be achieved without bringing these groups to the table as well.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has, nonetheless, invited Myanmar’s EAOs to peace talks for the third time since April. In a televised address on August 8 concerning the extension of an emergency rule declaration for another six months, the regime leader said he would hold a second round of dialogue with EAOs that he has previously met with, and also invited the remaining EAOs to join what would be their first face-to-face talks with him in the post-coup period.

“Please come officially forward onto the political stage. We are keeping the door wide open to discuss these things. Please come forward boldly,” implored Min Aung Hlaing, who has put thousands of dissidents behind bars since his putsch.

In summary, the main thing that can be said of the discussions with those EAOs that have engaged with the regime is that there is no more than a general level of friendly talk under the heading of federalism. The potential end result of the military’s first round of peace talks remains uncertain, and as yet there is no indication that the equality, self-determination and self-governance that the EAOs want has been secured or guaranteed.