A top official of the Myanmar government's Peace Commission has met with representatives from the 7 major armed ethnic groups from the North on the sidelines of the ongoing second session of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw.
This is considered a positive sign for the national reconciliation and peace process in Myanmar, home to what's arguably the world’s longest-running civil war.
Tin Myo Win, Chairman of the Myanmar government's Peace Commission, has held a 3-hour meeting with the members of the 7 armed ethnic groups, 3 of which are attending the conference for the first time.
Tin Myo Win, Chairman of the Myanmar government's Peace Commission, meets the media after holing a three-hour meeting with the members of the seven armed ethnic groups attending the second session of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference in Nay Pyi Taw on May 25, 2017. [Photo: China Plus/Tu Yun]
"We all have the same goal, which is peace and the wellbeing of our people. We need to thank our government and the seven armed ethnic groups for this meeting. We are also thankful to China's coordination effort which has facilitated this meeting, in which the most important thing is trust," said Tin Myo Win.
The 7 armed ethnic groups from the North are attending the conference as special guests because they are not signatories to the government's Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, or NCA.
"Three of the seven ethnic armed groups had been excluded (from the political dialogue framework) by the government and particularly by the military. The fact that the seven ethnic armed groups can be here to attend the conference is itself a breakthrough. It could have never been achieved without the effort from the Chinese government," said Zhao Guo'an, a spokesman of the United Wa State Army, or UWSA, the largest ethnic army in Myanmar, also the most powerful of the 7 non-signatories who have come up with their own proposals.
Zhao Guo'an, Spokesman of the United Wa State Army, or UWSA, the largest ethnic army in Myanmar, meets the media after meeting Tin Myo Win, Chairman of the Myanmar government's Peace Commission on May 25, 2017. [Photo: China Plus/Tu Yun]
"The seven groups, headed by UWSA, have formed a Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee. But neither the government, nor the military would acknowledge it. We are only a political union speaking with one voice. We are also opposed to war," added Zhao.
The 7 armed ethnic groups want a modification of the NCA, where disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, or DDR, as well as security sector reform, or SSR, are prerequisites to political talks.
But Myanmar's army chief Min Aung Hlaing signaled that's not an option at the opening of the conference.
"As any democratic country does not allow demanding political rights with holding arms, it needs to perform DDR, SSR processes according to the reconciliation program for security measure resulted from political dialogues in line with the NCA's political roadmap," said Min Aung Hlaing.
Zhao Guo'an said they didn't trust the military.
"Once we disarm, it means we could be trampled by them at any time. They can do whatever they want. We have not faith in them. That's why the ethnic groups have their own armed forces. As we speak now and the peace conference is underway, I was just informed the military is heavily attacking the three armed organizations," said Zhao.
Without trust, it's very likely the peace process would encounter a deadlock.
But Yaw Bawn, an independent researcher in Myanmar, says there could be a silver lining if the government and the military have a "bigger heart."
"If you look at the armed conflict case in Colombia, for example, it is the government who initiated actively pursuing those armed groups. Even (though) in the first round of the referendums, people voted against the proposal agreement with the FARC rebels, the government actively pursued this road and now (the proposal has been) approved (by the parliament)," said Yaw Bawn.
He said what Myanmar needs now is political will.
It's understood that Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi will meet members of the seven armed ethnic groups on Friday.