The obstacles to Suu Kyi’s peace push

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s hopes of ending decades of armed conflict will benefit from a peace policy that has the backing of all armed ethnic groups and the approval of the Tatmadaw.


State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has taken a leading role in trying to build internal peace, a task she pledged in January would be the “first priority” of her incoming National League for Democracy government.

Suu Kyi is working on convening the 21st Century Panglong Conference as soon as possible, reorganising the Myanmar Peace Center, which was established by former President U Thein Sein and has been re-christened the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre, and appointing NLD government representatives to the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee.

The UPDJC was created under the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement signed last October by the Thein Sein government and eight armed ethnic groups to draft a framework for political dialogue. It includes representatives of the government, Tatmadaw, the eight NCA signatories and political parties.

The push for peace under the NLD government has come amid fighting in Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan states between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups. Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing spoke earlier this month of the military’s desire for an end to internal conflict, saying it would work together “under the leadership of President Htin Kyaw for national reconciliation and permanent peace”.

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Is the attitude of the Tatmadaw, and the response from some armed ethnic groups, helpful for Suu Kyi’s efforts for peace? I would like to discuss the obstacles Suu Kyi may encounter as she strives to achieve peace and how they may be overcome.

An important event on the road to peace will be the 21st Century Panglong Conference, due to be held by the end of July and named after the Shan State town where General Aung San and Shan, Kachin and Chin leaders agreed a formula for federalism on February 12, 1947.

Asked about the conference by journalists, Min Aung Hlaing said the first such event had been initiated by President Thein Sein and the Tatmadaw would cooperate. However, the 21st Century Panglong Conference will be markedly different from the Union Peace Conference hosted by Thein Sein’s outgoing government in Nay Pyi Taw in January.

It was attended by representatives of the government, Tatmadaw, MPs, political parties, civil society groups and the eight armed groups that signed the NCA. Members of ethnic armed groups that did not sign the NCA were invited to attend but only as observers.

Suu Kyi’s 21st Century Panglong Conference will be inclusive, enabling signatories and non-signatories of the NCA to participate and discuss peace. There will be two sub-committees: one will hold talks with signatories and the other with non-signatories. It is unclear whether the Tatmadaw will agree to the participation of non-signatories because it holds the position that signing the NCA is a prerequisite for taking part in the peace conference.

Another potential problem for Suu Kyi is whether she will be able to persuade non-signatories to sign on to the NCA.  Some ethnic armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Army, Shan State Progress Party (Shan State Army-North) and New Mon State Party, refused to sign the NCA because the Tatmadaw opposed the participation of the Kokang group, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, as well as the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army.

The Tatmadaw remains opposed to the MNDAA, TNLA and AA signing the NCA and says the three groups must disarm if they want to join the political dialogue.

Meanwhile, some armed groups, including the KIA, are insisting that they will only sign the NCA if it is inclusive. The ultimate objective of the Kachin Independence Organisation, of which the KIA is the armed wing, is political dialogue rather than a ceasefire. The KIO argues that when political problems are solved, the guns will automatically fall silent.

The KIO’s stand highlights the challenge Suu Kyi faces in achieving a NCA signed by all ethnic armed groups.

If Suu Kyi wants to realise her desire to end internal conflict she must set a clear and definite policy for achieving peace for which she has secured the prior approval of the Tatmadaw. Once the Tatmadaw has given its approval, negotiations can begin with ethnic armed groups that will lead to a NCA that finally brings eternal peace to the country.

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