Armed ethnic groups have rejected a proposal by Myanmar junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to sign a peace deal in exchange for the right to join the military as part of a border guard force, saying a resolution to Myanmar’s political crisis must come first.
Min Aung Hlaing made the proposal to absorb the ethnic armies into the military at a cabinet meeting in the capital Naypyidaw on Aug. 22, during which he also suggested addressing ethnic and regional rights in parliament and promised to allow them to operate businesses, a spokesmen for the groups told RFA Burmese.
But the ethnic armies need more than what Min Aung Hlaing is offering if he expects them to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), Khun Tun Tin, the First Vice Chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), told RFA.
“We will have to go through a lot. According to the NCA, there are many things like DDR (disarmament, demobilization, reintegration) and SSR (security sector reform) and others that we have agreed upon,” said Khun Tun Tin.
“We still need to implement these … Many of our [ethnic] allies had agreed that the country should have only one single army. But that can happen only after we get the political system that our groups want.”
The PNLO leader said the junta’s proposal can only be considered following the establishment of a democratic federal union system in Myanmar and after the groups achieve the right to self-determination.
“The main thing is we want a democratic federal union system,” he said.
Ten armed ethnic groups have signed the NCA since its introduction in 2015 in an effort to put an end to many years of fighting over minority rights and self-determination.
Despite this, the peace process hit snags in the years that followed, and was all but destroyed by the unpopular junta’s coup in February 2021.
Previously, all 10 said they would not pursue talks with the military, which they view as having stolen power from the country’s democratically elected government.
A total of 10 ethnic armies - seven signatories of the NCA and three other groups that did not sign it - accepted Min Aung Hlaing’s post-coup invitation to continue peace talks and have visited Naypyidaw twice, but no deal has been reached.
Col. Saw Kyaw Nyunt, spokesman for the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST) that includes the 10 NCA signatories, told RFA he is concerned about the idea of serving alongside the military that his and other ethnic armies have been fighting for years.
“Is this the essence of the NCA? We have to sign the NCA in order to build trust, and then hold on to our arms but triggers are turned off, and then attend political talks to solve political problems. That’s the essence?” he said.
“There are a few worries and ripples running through our organization or our individual groups about what the [junta leader] expressed at their cabinet meeting,” said Saw Kyaw Nyunt.
He said the PPST will try to implement the principles of the NCA, including the protection of the civilian population, amid the country’s political upheaval following the coup..
Groups that have not signed the NCA need not heed anything proposed by the junta, Lt. Col. Sai Su, spokesman for Shan State Progressive Party, told RFA.
“It's about the facts in the NCA. We had negotiations in the past that we would return to security integration only after a political settlement is reached, and only after minority rights are guaranteed, through political dialogue and all kinds of frameworks,” Sai Su said.
“We were still negotiating, not finished yet, and they rushed to sign the agreement, and that’s what is happening now. In fact, this does not apply to our group,” he said.
Others who did sign the NCA said discussions about working alongside the junta to guard the border can only take place once the military relinquishes control of the country and a democratically elected government assumes power. Under Myanmar’s Constitution, drafted in 2008 by a previous military-led government, a junta can only extend its tenure twice after a year has passed since a coup, for six months at a time. The regime is now operating under its second half-year extension of emergency rule since the Feb. 1, 2021 coup.
“We aren’t thinking about this issue very seriously now,” Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) spokesman Lt. Col. Om Khe told RFA.
They’d say what they want depending on the current political situation. But we believe that this issue should be talked about and discussed only when a true federal union can be built after finding a political solution.”
Min Aung Hlaing’s proposal is not a new strategy, ethnic affairs observers told RFA. They said the military has been trying since as early as 1988 to disarm the ethnic armies and end fighting by unifying them under the banner of the Myanmar military.
Political observer Than Soe Naing said that although weaker groups had laid down their arms in the past, the stronger ones have consistently refused to do so and serve under the army.
“I don’t think those groups are going to give up their arms even if they can see a policy that they want politically,” he said, adding that the ethnic armies’ resistance to the peace process has become even stronger since the coup last year.