The first question asked by several ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) when the invitation to a peace conference in Panghsang (officially Pang Kham) on 6 April reached them was, as to be expected: “Why only 12 (EAOs)? Why not all?”
Naypyitaw’s reaction was also understandable. It had reportedly protested against the inclusion of three EAOs currently engaged in heavy fighting with the Burma Army: AA, MNDAA and PSLF/TNLA. (see attachment)
The Wa spokesman U Aung Myint aka Li Zhulie no doubt did his best to answer these questions. It wasn’t his fault that his answers failed to convince anyone.
The inevitable new question thus comes up.
What’s behind the Wa-Kachin-Mongla organizers’ decision to host such a conference? Or rather who? And more inevitably, was it China?
There are several indicators, according to observers:
- China, in 1994, had pressured the KIO to conclude a ceasefire with the then military government of Burma. Now, it no longer does.
- The same goes for the MNDAA, better known as Kokang Army, led by Peng Jiasheng that the Burma Army has yet to defeat after more than 2 months of fighting.
- The Chinese special envoy Wang Yingfan, during the 8 day marathon Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) negotiations, had tirelessly tried to lobby the government’s negotiators to put the Kokang issue on the agenda, only to be rejected by them.
The result was that although several nations had welcomed the successful completion of the NCA draft, China was not among them.
- The UWSA is also oddly acting out of style. In the past, it had always done its best to avoid confrontations with the government. Even when there were credible reports of clashes between the two sides, it had always disclaimed them. But now it doesn’t seem to care about Naypyitaw’s outcry against the inclusion of the AA, MNDAA and TNLA in the conference.
- Those that have been invited are all based along the Chinese and Thai borders. On the other hand, those on the Indian side, except for the AA that is headquartered on the Chinese border with the KIO, are invited. Notably the Chin National Front (CNF) of Chin State that shares the border with India’s Mizoram is unabashedly left out.
Clearly, Beijing’s aim is not against the EAOs signing the NCA. But it appears to be against Naypyitaw leaving out any groups, especially those that are based along the Sino- Burmese border.
It is also obviously concerned that if the conflict is allowed to go on, international intervention may be coming, the last thing it wants.
The best solution that will benefit all those concerned therefore appears to be the inclusion of all EAOs, as suggested not only by China but by all the EAOs.
Finally, whatever the conclusions are here, the upcoming Panghsang conference, 1-3 May, will be worth keeping an eye on.
Chinese president Xi Jinping, on meeting his Burmese counterpart Thein Sein, on 22 April in Jakarta, says China supports finding a solution to “northern Myanmar issue” via peace negotiations. He also “hopes to see new dynamics of the peace process in Burma at an early date.” (Xinhua)