With the flare up incidence of March 18 in Arakan state Marauk-U, where the AA and as well the Tatmadaw are blaming each other for the shootout wounding seven civilian and lightly destroying a historical Buddha statue, the meeting in Naypyitaw between the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)-non-signatory Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) and the government-military regime for a possible optimistic peace talks seems unlikely.
Tatmadaw spokesperson Colonel Win Zaw Oo said Arakan Army (AA) shot at Tatmadaw Light Infantry Battalion 540 headquarters from four sides and also attacked their military convoy from local resident areas. However, Khaing Thuka, AA spokesman, rejected the allegations and said their troops were not operating in the area and that the Tatmadaw shooting spree is just a creation of fake battle to suppress and cow the Arakanese population for their sympathy on AA.
News outlet like Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, BBC, The Irrawaddy and other local media inquiries confirmed that the incidence has been a one-sided shooting spree of the Tatmadaw.
And as against this backdrop the Naypyitaw meeting will be held, speculations are rife if this will bring the warring parties any nearer to end the animosity, let alone reconciliation and political settlement.
While the Naypyitaw meeting is scheduled to be held simultaneously on March 21 and 22, first with the government National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) and the non-signatory EAOs, followed by separate meeting with the Tatmadaw the following day, the ethnic armies representatives line-up are mostly junior leaders, with no decision-making power on the spot.
The non-signatory EAOs participating are from the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).
The FPNCC is made up of United Wa State Army (UWSA), Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) or Mongla, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) or Kokang, Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) and Arakan Army (AA).
The KNPP is another EAO that has still not signed the NCA.
According to one reliable insider source the meeting will be attended by mostly junior leaders of the FPNCC.
Representatives of the UWSA will be Ah Ming and Nyi Rang; Kyaw Han for AA; Col Ta Ai Mao, Maj Ta Pan La for TNLA; Brang Nan and Hkun Nawng for KIO; and Li Jiakun for MNDAA.
Only NDAA and SSPP can boast representatives of some stature: Kham Mawng and Khun Hseng. The latter is vice-chairman and the former is well known as an important leader. He is accompanied by Sai Mao, who is NDAA chairman Sai Leun’s chief aide, which seem to indicate that apart from the latter two, others don’t expect much from the meeting.
From the part of the government and Tatmadaw, this deliberate attempt is to breath in some positive elements into the fast dying peace process, which the Tatmadaw’s unilateral ceasefire announcement in five military commands of December 21 last year not only failed miserably but risks deterioration to the point of total abandonment or grounding of the four years old political settlement negotiation process.
This all comes about as the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Karen national union (KNU) opted out of the peace process in November last year shortly after the ten-ten leadership meeting on October 15, 2018, initiated by the ten signatory EAOs to overcome the deadlock which were viewed as unfair and unequal.
But the commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing torpedoed the process by issuing ultimatum and threat instead of accommodating the EAOs’ demand. This in turn has prompted the RCSS and KNU to suspend their participation in the NCA-based peace process until today.
And with the stagnation of peace process unable to move forward, the Tatmadaw turned to a new tactics which led it to declare unilateral ceasefire on December 21 last year for four months that will end on April 30.
On February 23, Tatmadaw held a press conference in which it heaped accusations of the EAOs breaching NCA terms, followed by the offensives on SSPP and the other Northern Alliance -Burma members in northern Shan state.
The on and off armed clashes have been ongoing since February and the latest March 7 to 10 on SSPP offensives just died down, when the NRPC, with the consent of Tatmadaw, agreed to the meeting of all non-signatory EAOs on March 21 and 22.
Nobody knows why such a convoluted and mixed signals have been sent and what the government-military regime aimed at achieving from the forthcoming meetings. Especially, going down hard on the AA in Arakan state while the government spokesman said that negotiation door is open to it. Apart from that the Tatmadaw is pressured to call for unilateral ceasefire and inclusion of all excluded EAOs in the peace process by China, the allegations which the Tatmadaw neither denies nor rejects.
As such, with the Tatmadaw’s hard-line policy to crackdown on AA, strengthened by the commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing’s recent annihilation statement, plus the most EAOs sending only junior representatives to the Naypyitaw, a breakthrough or positive outcome could not be expected from the meeting except keeping the negotiation door open.