The government has issued an official announcement that the fourth round of the Union Peace Conference (UPC) will commence on August 19, and they will invite seven ethnic armed organizations not signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
Not receiving an invite is the Arakan Army (AA), which the government has designated a terrorist organization and with which the Burma Army has been engaging in intensifying clashes in Rakhine and southern Chin states.
Those who have been asked to join the conference include the 10 NCA signatory organizations, as well as the Kachin Independence Army, Karenni National Progressive Party, Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), United Wa State Army, National Democratic Alliance Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
TNLA spokesperson Maj Tar Aik Kyaw said that the exclusion of the AA from the event w’as discriminatory.
“We already announced that we, the Three Brotherhood Alliance, would attend the UPC together if the government invited all three organizations. We won’t attend the UPC if they do not invite one of us,” he said, referring to the alliance of the AA, MNDAA and TNLA.
He also pointed to the non-signatory armed organizations’ lower participatory status in the UPC as a government attempt to “create a good image” rather than hold meaningful discussions to resolve conflict.
“We can attend the opening ceremony of the UPC, attend the dinner party, and take photos. It makes no difference whether they invited us or not,” Maj Tar Aik Kyaw told SHAN.
On the first day of the conference, government representatives, parliamentarians, Tatmadaw and ethnic leaders will deliver policy speeches, and the Union Peace and Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) secretariat will meet in the afternoon. The UPDJC meeting will continue into the second day.
On the last day, the attendees at the conference are expected to sign Part III of the Union Accord.
Since only NCA signatory organizations and the government can sign the accord, observers have pointed out that participation of non-signatory ethnic armed groups is particularly limited.
Political analyst Maung Maung Soe said that the government should have invited all non-NCA signatory ethnic armed organizations so that peace talks could move beyond the conference.
The government had at least six meetings with the AA, TNLA and MNDAA between 2018 and 2019 in order to discuss a potential bilateral ceasefire. By not inviting the AA to the UPC, Maung Maung Soe said that the whole alliance was being alienated.
“If the AA is left out of the meeting, it will be difficult to continue. The TNLA and MNDAA will not attend the peace conference without the AA,” he explained.
The AA is also one of seven members of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC)—none of which have signed the NCA.
Representatives of the SSPP have said that their organization will only attend the UPC if the government invites the whole FPNCC.
SSPP spokesperson Maj Sai Than Aung said that his expectations for the conference were low, and that his organization was still waiting to see if an invite was extended to the FPNCC.
Nai Aung Ma-ngae, a spokesperson for ethnic armed organizations signatory to the NCA, told media outlets that these signatory groups issued an official request on August 5 to the government to invite non-NCA signatory organizations to the UPC.
The government responded by inviting the organizations, with the exception of the AA.
“They need to remove all restrictions if they want to implement the peace process. Peace cannot be restored under the restrictions and discrimination that they have made,” TNLA spokesperson Maj Tar Aik Kyaw said, referring to the government and military. “Therefore, peace cannot be restored, no matter who comes to power,” he added.
In addition to the fighting in Rakhine and Chin states, the Burma Army has recently sent more troops into northern Shan State and engaged in frequent clashes with the TNLA, SSPP, and the NCA signatory the Restoration Council of Shan State.