Five ethnic armed organisations refuse to meet with Myanmar junta chief

Facing unprecedented armed resistance nationwide both from ethnic forces and newly formed guerrilla groups, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing recently invited leaders of ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) to an upcoming meeting, with Monday as the deadline to respond. 

“I will be personally meeting all attending leaders,” he said on April 22. It marked the first time that he had appealed to the groups personally since the February 2021 coup, and after previous invitations by other military officials were widely rejected.

At the time of reporting, five EAOs openly declined the offer: the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), Chin National Front (CNF), Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), Karen National Union (KNU) and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP). 

Min Aung Hlaing’s most recent appeal came nearly two years after he publicly accused ethnic forces of trickery during the Union Peace Conference in August 2020. 

The military commander-in-chief had warned EAOs against recalling the “ideologies of the 1950s,” a reference to the demands of ethnic equality and self-determination that accompanied the revolutionary struggles that grew out of the early years of Myanmar’s independence. 

He went on to cite a Burmese proverb: “Do not try to sell dog meat by showing the head of a goat,” suggesting that these groups had acted disingenuously by opposing his military and the central government. 

The statement was later mocked by critics for its irony, as Min Aung Hlaing’s own armed forces continued brutal offensives in ethnic states and stood accused of multiple violations of the now-defunct Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). 

“The only person selling dog meat by showing a goat head is Min Aung Hlaing himself,” KNU spokesperson Padoh Saw Taw Nee told Myanmar Now, dismissing the junta chief’s offer of peace talks as insincere. 

In April alone, the KNU reported that it had engaged in some 500 clashes with the military, many of which were reportedly the result of a large-scale junta offensive into Karen State’s Mutraw and Dooplaya districts—the KNU’s Brigade 5 and 6 territories.

In a May 5 statement, the KIO indicated that a meeting with the military leadership would only be fruitful when they were called on to negotiate with the armed forces as equals, noting that the root causes of civil war in Myanmar were yet to be acknowledged.

“We don’t believe we can achieve peace without tackling political issues,” KIO spokesperson Col Naw Bu explained. “That’s why this invitation will be about discussing the prolonging of the dictatorship, disarmament, and also military intent… talking to individual groups and then preparing to fight those that remain.” 

Members of the National Unity Government (NUG), an administration formed with the support of elected lawmakers ousted in last year’s coup, have also vowed not to engage with the military.

Yee Mon, the head of NUG’s defence ministry—to which the anti-junta People’s Defence Force (PDF) reports—recently told Myanmar Now that he would not send representatives to meet with Min Aung Hlaing, even if he were invited to do so. 

“The NUG and the PDF represent the people. Therefore, we cannot do anything that is against the people’s will,” the defence minister said. “The one firm goal that every citizen of the country has is to eradicate the military dictatorship once and for all. Therefore, we cannot make any deals or conduct any kind of business with the military council.

Five EAOs once signatory to the NCA are among the groups that will reportedly attend the upcoming meeting with Min Aung Hlaing. They include the Arakan Liberation Party, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council, New Mon State Party, and the Pa-O National Liberation Organisation. 

Also in attendance will be the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), based in Mongla, eastern Shan State. The organisation is a member of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Council, a seven-member bloc headed by the United Wa State Army (UWSA). 

Nyi Yang, a UWSA spokesperson, told Myanmar Now on Monday that “nothing had been heard from the command yet” regarding whether his organisation would send a representative to the meeting with the junta chief. 

Political analyst Than Soe Naing described the EAOs already confirmed to be in attendance as “small” armed groups “with very little power” that had previously benefited from collaboration with the military council.

“What peace are they going to achieve when the only attending groups have no conflict at all with the military council? They’ve already made peace with each other,” he told Myanmar Now. 

“Even if Min Aung Hlaing himself attends the meeting, it will not be successful or effective. It will provide no solution for the country’s peace,” he added.

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