A Tatmadaw column is still present in territory controlled by the New Mon State Party (NMSP) even after a request that the troops be withdrawn was made last week when both sides attempted to defuse the military tensions, according to an official.
Around 200 troops from the Tatmadaw’s 283rd and 284th light infantry battalions and 28th and 32nd infantry battalions were reportedly deployed to Taung Pauk, Lai Ka Ni, and Wea Ka Lun villages, near the NMSP’s Mawlamyine District area, earlier this month, with villagers reporting the presence of soldiers after Mon Revolution Day on August 7.
According to a member of the NMSP, Tatmadaw columns left Lai Ka Ni and Wae Ka Lun villages three days. The troops remain in place in Taung Pauk Village however.
“A military column comprising around 30 troops still remains [in Taung Pauk Village]. There hasn’t been any development,” said the official from the NMSP.
A community elder from Taung Pauk Village told the Mon News Agency that the Tatmadaw has not visited these villages for two-and-a-half decades.
“The area between Zami and Win Yaw rivers was called Taung Pauk 24 Village in the past. Now, there are around 30 Mon villages here. The military hasn’t come here for 25 years. No fighting has broken out. But the villagers feel uneasy because they see the soldiers,” said the community elder.
Under the ceasefire agreement signed between the military government and the NMSP in 1995, Inn Khwa Village near Taung Pauk Village serves as the headquarters of the Mon National Liberation Army's (MNLA) Battalion No 1. This agreement was reaffirmed in state and Union-level ceasefire agreements signed by former president U Thein Sein in 2012.
A NMSP delegation, led by vice chair Nai Hong Sar, met with the Tatmadaw’s Bureau of Special Operations 4 in Ye township on August 16 to discuss the military columns, and to request that they be withdrawn.
Two major alliances of ethnic armed groups are set to meet in Pangkham, the headquarters of the United Wa State Army, this week, according to an ethnic leader. The meeting comes amid increased pressure on ethnic armed organizations to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement, and as alliances are fracturing along the lines of who appears ready to join the pact, and who does not.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Network Media Group that a delegation from the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) led by the chair Nai Hong Sar was en route to Pangkham as of August 22.
The Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee (FPNCC), a separate, new coalition led by the UWSA, has been holding its first plenary meeting since August 18. At the meeting, the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North, announced that it sent a resignation letter to the UNFC. The UNFC’s membership has dwindled to just four groups after two others – the Kachin Independent Army (KIA) and the Wa National Organization (WNO) – also resigned in April. Both the KIA and the SSPP are members of the Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee.
The UWSA sent a last-minute invite to the UNFC, asking them on August 20 to join the plenary meeting as soon as possible. According to the source, the UNFC members reportedly left the next day.
Nai Hong Sar is accompanied by Major General Bee Htoo, leader of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and U Tun Zaw, the UNFC’s joint general secretary. The two alliances are expected to discuss cooperation among ethnic armed organizations, according to the ethnic leader.
In July, following the UNFC’s central executive committee meeting, the council’s spokesperson Nai Aung Ma Nge told the press that the UNFC planned to meet with the northern allied groups – the FPNCC – in order to work together on the peace processes.
“We will cooperate in whatever [areas] we can cooperate in. Both of us are working for ethnic rights. We may not follow the same path, but our goal is the same, so there are many areas where we can cooperate,” Nai Aung Ma Nge said.
The UNFC is currently engaged in negotiations with the government’s Peace Commission to settle on preconditions before signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement.
The FPNCC meanwhile has not met with the government negotiators since a meeting held on the sidelines of the second session of the Union Peace Conference, also known as the 21st Century Panglong Conference, in May. The FPNCC has rejected the NCA, and says it will forge its own path to peace.
A company soliciting public backing for its rock quarry project received instead a deluge of fury and objections during a consultation held over this past weekend.
The Explosives Consultation and Application Myanmar Company held an initial public meeting with Kayin (Karen) State residents on August 19 to test the waters. About 300 residents attended the discussion with the ECA company’s managing director at the Mee Zan Village monastery.
The company wants to build a gravel factory in Mee Zan Village, which will necessitate quarrying on Mee Zan Mountain.
The local residents overwhelmingly objected to the plan, citing previous projects that have gone awry with consequences for the villagers.
“We have suffered from [rock quarrying carried out] by another company. We don’t trust any company. They said they will do whatever we want, but there’s no guarantee [they will follow our preference],” said Saw Shar Phaw Htunt, a community elder. “If we allow them to work here, we won’t be allowed to go around the mountain. We rely on this mountain so we must protect it. We won’t allow them [to do the project].”
Chinese state-owned Wanbao Mining – a company involved in the controversial Letpadaung copper mines –started a rock quarry on Mee Zan Mountain in 2011. The project was suspended in 2013 amid opposition from the public.
U Win Myint, an official from the ECA Myanmar Company, assured the local residents at the August 19 meeting that his company will not proceed without first obtaining public consent. He added that the planned project, if it the residents choose to greenlight it, could bring education, health and job opportunities to the area.
“We will write up a contract [to meet] the public’s demands. We will start work, with a license, only after we receive public approval. We won’t work without an understanding,” he said at the meeting.
“We won’t take over the entire mountain. We will try to fix it after the project ends. We will build parks,” he added.
ECA Myanmar Company operates rock quarries in the Belu area of Kayin State’s Myawady township and runs a gravel production company in Shan State’s Tachileik township.
Another ethnic armed organization has resigned from the United Nationalities Federal Council – an ethnic umbrella organization – amid ongoing negotiations over signing the ceasefire. The Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army – North (SSPP/SSA) reportedly submitted its resignation letter on August 12, becoming the third ethnic armed organization to leave the grouping since April.
The UNFC, a bloc of the ethnic armed groups that have not signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), has dwindled to just four members.
The SSPP/SSA’s vice chair, Major General Sao Khun Hseng, announced the resignation during an August 18-20 summit in Pangkham, the headquarters of the United Wa State Army (UWSA).
“I want to announce that we submitted a letter to the UNFC’s chairman Nai Hong Sar on August 12, 2017 to allow us to resign from the UNFC,” he said.
The UNFC is now left with just the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) and the Arakan National Council (ANC).
In addition to membership in the UNFC, the SSPP/SSA is part of the seven-member Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee (FPNCC) led by the UWSA. The FPNCC also includes the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which left the UNFC earlier this year.
The UNFC is currently negotiating with the government’s Peace Commission over preconditions before signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). Both sides have agreed on four out of the eight points.
The FPNCC by contrast has rejected the NCA, and has declared intentions to forge its own path to peace.
The SSPP/SSA has been a member of the UNFC since the grouping was established with 11 members in 2011.
Fighting will not end until the Tatmadaw changes its attitude, an official from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army said over the weekend during an ethnic coalition’s summit in northern Shan State.
“If there is no dialogue and the Tatmadaw does not change its attitude, fighting will not end no matter what kind of [ceasefire] agreement has been signed. The situation is very bad. It’s very difficult to stop the civil war,” Brigadier General Tar Bone Kyaw, general secretary of the TNLA, said during an August 18-20 meeting at Pangkham, the United Wa State Army’s headquarters.
The seven-member Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee (FPNCC) gathered to review its political dialogue policy, which currently stipulates that the groups will only meet with government negotiators collectively.
“The problem is that the Myanmar government wants to meet the Wa [the United Wa State Army or UWSA] and the Mongla [the National Democratic Alliance Army or the NDAA] separately. As you all know, the Tatmadaw has officially said we [the TNLA, the Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army] can only meet with them and participate in the peace process after we surrender our arms, so we are in a very difficult position,” he said.
In addition to insisting meeting’s occur only with all members of the alliance present, the FPNCC has rejected the nationwide ceasefire agreement, and has vowed to forge its own path to peace.
Leaders of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army attended the three-day meeting in Pangkham.
A coalition of ethnic armed groups that has rejected the current ceasefire-centred peace path met at the United Wa State Army’s headquarters from August 18 to 20.
The seven-member Federal Political Negotiation Consultative (FPNCC) discussed ways to overcome stumbling blocs that have prevented progress in peace talks, according to Brigadier General Tar Bone Kyaw, general secretary of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
“Our committee has previously stated that we will only meet as a seven-member group. The government won’t meet with us [collectively]. We discussed how we can overcome this obstacle and what kind of preparations we should make in the meanwhile,” he said.
Brig-Gen Tar Bone Kyaw added that the FPNCC has made no inroads with the government since the second Union Peace Conference in May when they held a closed-door discussion on the sidelines of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference.
“Peace dialogues have been halted and blocked,” he said.
He added that the government is trying to pursue the UWSA – Myanmar’s largest ethnic armed organization – for bilateral talks.
“The government is trying to approach the Wa [the UWSA] to meet with them. We are negotiating how to overcome this and what we should do to meet with [the government]. They [the government] want to meet us separately or meet us in sub-groups. For example, they want to meet the Kachin Independence Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Arakan Army and the TNLA in one group and the UWSA and the National Democratic Alliance Army in another group,” he said.
The FPNCC was formed in February as an alliance of groups that have not yet signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement. The groups later said they reject the NCA, and will forge an alternative route to peace.
In addition to discussing the possible composition of dialogues with the government, the FPNCC’s three-day Pangkham summit broached the topic of the ongoing fighting in Kachin and northern Shan States.
The meeting was attended by leaders of the UWSA, the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), the TNLA, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA).