Key ethnic armed groups in Myanmar have unsurprisingly rejected an offer by the country’s military junta to take part in a new round of peace talks.
According to a report in The Irrawaddy yesterday, representatives from a number of prominent ethnic armed groups rejected junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s recent offer to helm a new round of negotiations aimed at ending the long-running conflicts. The groups mentioned by The Irrawaddy included the Karenni National Progressive Party, Karen National Union, Kachin Independence Army, Chin National Front.
For decades, ethnic minority groups have fought for independence or greater autonomy from the central state. But the conflicts have flared up since the military coup of February 2021. In the 16 months since, these ethnic armed groups have entered into a loose alliance with a raft of new civilian militias, known as People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), which have been formed to oppose military rule. The attempts of the security forces to quash the PDFs have brought violent conflict to areas of central Myanmar that have not seen conflict for many years.
In a brief, three-minute broadcast on state television on Friday, Min Aung Hlaing said that he wants to meet the leaders of all ethnic armed groups in person to negotiate an end to armed conflict across the country this year, in order for Myanmar’s people “to enjoy the essence of peace and development,” the Associated Press reported.
The junta leader said he wants to meet with them in person, and that every leader could bring two other members with them. He appealed to the ethnic armed groups to submit names of participants by May 9, and said a date would be set for the actual talks after negotiations. “I urge all of you to collaborate for the benefit of all the people of the Union,” Min Aung Hlaing said.
Min Aung Hlaing’s offer of peace talks is a fairly transparent attempt to cleave off a number of ethnic armed groups from the PDFs and the broader civilian resistance that they represent.
The most obvious sign is that the invitation for peace talks excludes perhaps the chief party to the conflict with the junta: the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and the PDFs with which it is loosely aligned. The junta has previous derided these groups as “terrorists,” and at last month’s Armed Forces Day parade, Min Aung Hlaing pledged to “annihilate” the civilian militias that are waging a nationwide armed struggle against the military administration.
As such, it is unsurprising that those ethnic armed groups most opposed to the military coup and unlikely to countenance any return to the negotiating table – something that yielded little even in the years of reform and opening between 2011 and 2021, in which the military stepped back from direct involvement in politics. As Col. Naw Bu of the Kachin Independence Army told The Irrawaddy, “They have held talks with the [ethnic armed organizations] for more than 70 years and there were never good results. And there won’t be good results this time too.”
About the best that the junta can expect is the participation of a few peripheral ethnic armed groups, or larger mercenary groups like the United Wa State Army, which have long abandoned any ethnonationalist political agenda in favor of revenue generation and preservation of their lucrative de facto independence. Needless to say, whatever comes out of Min Aung Hlaing’s invitation – a sign of increasing desperation at a time of growing armed resistance – will do little to advance a solution to Myanmar’s current interlocking.