Myanmar’s junta, which suffered casualties and attacks in two far-flung regions controlled by ethnic armies this week, has been frustrated in its effort to revive moribund peace talks with powerful militias who won’t play ball with the unpopular military dictatorship, analysts and ethnic leaders said.
In Chin state, a rugged, poor region near the border with India and Bangladesh, the junta lost some 15 troops in an ambush Monday by a militia formed three weeks earlier to oppose military rule, while other Chin fighters wielding home-made rifles staged guerrilla-style attacks on army convoys.
As local residents said they killed four more soldiers Tuesday with improvised bombs near Chin state’s Mindat town, more than 650 kms away in Karen state, fighting between ethnic Karen rebels and Myanmar troops came close to the frontier with Thailand, forcing some 450 Thai residents of border communities to flee inland, Thai officials said.
Both regions of the multi-ethnic country the size of France had enjoyed years of relative calm until the Feb. 1 overthrow of leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government, which has been followed by 12 weeks of street protests and bloody military crackdown that has killed some 750 civilians.
This Chin state conflict erupted over the arrest on April 24 of seven local youths protesting in central Mindat in support of the National Unity Government (NUG), the parallel government formed by ousted civilian leaders. Chin fighters attacked government troops after they had refused to release the seven, killing 15.
On Wednesday the Chin People’s Defense Forces said thy had struck a deal that won freedom for the seven detained protesters in exchange for lifting a blockade of roads leading to government military bases.
“And it was done. They released the detainees,” said a member of the Chin group, who had mustered 150 fighters Tuesday for a showdown with heavily armed government troops.
In Karen state, meanwhile, an exchange small arms fire between troops from Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and government soldiers on Wednesday morning was followed bomb attacks and aerial gunfire from two Myanmar planes and an attack by two helicopters, said Gov. Sithichai Chindaluang of Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province.
Thai officials had no reports about casualties from the cross-border violence on Wednesday.
Reviving 2015 peace process
While fighting rebels on western and eastern fronts, and suppressing civilian protests against military rule, the junta is trying to revive peace talks with ethnic armies, a halting process that began in 2015 and brought 10 rebel groups into a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement but hit a roadblock even before the coup.
Peace negotiators from State Administrative Council (SAC), the junta’s formal name, met in the capital Naypyidaw with leaders of the Karen Army and the Peace Council of the KNLA on April 26, according to a military statement.
The peace process will continue in line with the NCA guidelines, Lt. Gen. Ya Pyay, chairman of the junta’s peace negotiating team, told the meeting.
However, many of the ten ethnic groups that signed the pact have stated they do not want to continue peace talks. Some have given safe haven to protesters and they have been courted by the NUC or by its related parallel parliament, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH).
“Once the NCA pacts were rescinded by the military coup, the ten NCA signatories themselves were reluctant to move forward,” said Than Soe Naing, a political analyst.
“It will be difficult for peace talks to be held without a solution between the CRPH and SAC,” said Kyaw Saw Han, a national security analyst.
“There may be requests to have talks privately through an intermediary, but peace talks will be difficult to be seen as legitimate if talks between the CRPH and SAC do not take place,” he told RFA.
Political analyst Than Soe Naing said the junta appeared to be looking to other ethnic militias, those who have remained outside the NCA process, for partners in talks.
Some militias back protesters
In early April, the junta’s peace negotiation team met with some officials of the United Wa State Army, a China-backed force in Shan state that is the most powerful of the country’s dozens of ethnic armed groups. Neither side disclosed information about the meeting.
The UWSA signed a peace agreement with the previous junta in 1989 and has not fought against anyone since.
The junta “dare not start a war with the UWSA,” said Than Soe Naing. “After 32 years of peace, the UWSA has formed a powerful, formidable army with Chinese help.”
The UWSA have said they have no need to join the NCA, but they lead an umbrella group of the ethnic armies mostly in northern Myanmar that have not joined the ceasefire agreement: Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army, Shan State Progressive Party, Kachin Independence Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army.
Calling themselves the Three Brotherhood Alliance, the Arakan Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army issued a statement in late March condemning the crackdown on protesters and warning they would support the resistance movement if the violence did not stop.
Shan State Progressive Party spokesman Lt. Col. Sai Suu, whose group chose not to meet the military regime representatives this month, said now was no time to talk peace with the junta.
“This is a point in time when everything has stopped in all directions. It’s a time to settle things. The current problems must be solved peacefully.” he told RFA.
Security analyst Kyaw Saw Han said the coup had hampered domestic peace efforts and progress was unlikely without talks between the junta and the elected government it ousted.
“Talks with northern groups will require Chinese intervention, and I think it will be difficult for China to intervene when the problems of (central Myanmar) have not been resolved,” he told RFA.
“I think we can hope for legitimate peace talks only when the current problems are resolved.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service, and by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Paul Eckert.