General Gun Maw, a leader of one of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups who attended peace discussions in the capital Naypyitaw last week, wowed the Internet over the weekend when footage of him singing The Beatles’ Let it Be at a karaoke party on the fringes of the conference went viral.
As vice-chair of the Kachin Independence Army, a rebel group engaged in fierce fighting with government troops over the last few months and excluded from the government-led nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), his attendance at the peace talks was a feat in itself.
“I believe re-establishing our communications is more important than our discussion in this conference,” Gun Maw told reporters as he arrived at negotiations.
Gun Maw’s comments were indicative of a conference that succeeded in welcoming rebels who were previously excluded from ceasefire negotiations, but failed to make concrete progress on ending decades of conflict and moving towards a federal state.
Expectations were low when Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi kicked off the much-delayed talks last week.
The Nobel laureate has struggled to make good on a campaign promise to end Myanmar’s 70-year civil war since winning landmark elections in 2015, which ended decades of military rule.
The third session of Suu Kyi’s signature Union Peace Conference had been postponed four times in the last year, as the still-powerful generals continued to engage in offensives against militants in the country’s north and east.
After five days of talks — attended by more than 1,100 representatives from the government, parliament, political parties, the military, ethnic armed groups and civil society organisations — NCA signatories agreed on 14 points covering politics, social affairs, the economy, land and environmental issues.
Key “security issues”, including disarmament, moving to a federal system of government and ethnic self-determination were largely off the table, according to peace negotiator Min Zaw Oo.
However, Suu Kyi, in her closing speech on Monday, touted separate “open and friendly” meetings the government and military have had with non-state armed groups in Myanmar’s north, which were previously barred from ceasefire negotiations.
The move from informal, secretive talks to formal discussions “showed that the military is willing to find peace with these groups,” Min Zaw Oo said. Bilateral negotiations with NCA non-signatories would continue in the following months, he added, but maintained that Suu Kyi had said the NCA, launched by a previous military government, was the “gateway for peace” and the only way to engage in political discussions.
There were “mixed feelings” about the conference among the 10 rebel groups who signed on to the NCA, Min Zaw Oo admitted.
Non-state armed actors party to the government’s peace accord voiced frustration at the lack of movement on core issues affecting their groups and communities.
“It took a year to hold this conference, but we are not satisfied that those 14 points can help build democracy and a federal system in our country,” Salai Lian Hmung, General Secretary of the Chin National Front in the country’s north-west, told reporters in the capital.
For many critics, the Myanmar military continues to appear insincere in their claims that they want peace.
The national army retains control of three key ministries and 25% of parliamentary seats, as mandated by the military-drafted 2008 constitution.
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