Ethnic armed groups ‘welcome’ to join military, says Min Aung Hlaing

NAY PYI TAW — Inaugurating the first Union Peace Conference on Tuesday, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing offered an olive branch to those assembled in Myanmar’s capital, among them the leaders of insurgent groups with a decades-long history of warfare waged against the nation’s defence services.

“Ethnic armed groups are welcome if they wish to join the Tatmadaw in defence of the Union,” the military chief said. “Without any suspicion, we open the door for ethnic armed groups remained to sign NCA. They will see the genuine eagerness of the people, the government and the Tatmadaw for peace.”

Tuesday’s meeting, attended by 700 representatives from the seven ethnic armed groups to sign the government’s nationwide ceasefire deal last October and National League for Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was the first of a five day political dialogue. The week’s discussions will focus on federalism, relocation of civilians currently living in internally displaced persons’ camps, taxation, resource management and defence.

Suu Kyi told the conference that she did not want any misunderstanding between the ethnic armed groups who had signed the government’s ceasefire and those who had withheld their support.

Her comments come weeks after the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic Palaung insurgent group based in northern Shan State, accused a pro-government militia aligned with the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) of launching an offensive against TNLA troops near the Chinese border.

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The Restoration Council of Shan State, the political wing of the the SSA-S, was one of the signatories of the nationwide ceasefire agreement on October 15, while the TNLA were one of five armed groups excluded from ceasefire negotiations by the government.

More than a dozen armed groups refused to sign the October accord, citing the government’s exclusion of the TNLA, the Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. The week before the ceasefire was concluded, the military launched a fresh offensive against the Shan State Army-North. Continuing until soon after the November 8 election, the conflict displaced an estimated 10,000 civilians. In recent weeks, the Tatmadaw has also clashed with soldiers from the Arakan Army in Rakhine State.

One of the most formidable figures at Tuesday’s conference was Karen National Union (KNU) chairman Saw Mutu Sai Phaw. The largest armed group signatory, most of the KNU’s central executive committee supported the accord, with the notable exception of vice-chair Naw Zipporah Sein.

Mutu Sai Phaw told delegates that despite the October deal, there would be no lasting peace unless Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution was amended to devolve power to the states, in a manner that ensured equal rights for ethnic minorities.

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