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Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Military Chief Meet Ethnic Armed Groups in Latest Peace Talks Bid

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Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s military chief met on Monday in Naypyidaw with armed ethnic organizations that have signed the government’s nationwide peace accord for a first-time tripartite summit in a bid to reignite the stalled peace process. They met with leaders from the 10 ethnic armies that have signed the nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) to discuss obstacles to the peace process, which has been in motion since 2011, and basic principles for a future federal system of governance. Among those stumbling blocks are the national military’s stipulation for the formation of a single federal army, non-secession and self-administration policies for ethnic groups, the inclusion of ethnic groups who have not signed the NCA in the peace process, and the timing and order of peace talks. The groups want a federal democratic union in the country with constitutional guarantees for a degree of autonomy for ethnic minorities. But Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said at the meeting that the ethnic groups have to pledge not to leave the union before reaching a future peace deal. He cited Article 10 of the constitution, drafted by a military junta in 2008, which says, “No part of the territory constituted in the union such as regions, states, union territories and self-administered areas shall ever secede from the union.” “The term ‘non-separation’ is a long-term guarantee and something that we really need for lasting peace,” Min Aung Hlaing said. Aung San Suu Kyi echoed his sentiment, saying that it is “very important” to work for a union “where stakeholders neither wish nor want to secede.” Representatives from the ethnic armies that attended the summit said the parties made a little headway, but still have a way to go to iron out all their differences. Mya Yazar Lin, a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), said the parties discussed six issues, but still have yet to broach self-determination, non-separation, and having a single army. Mutu Say Poe, chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU) said that the discussants agreed on a timeline and sequence for political dialogue as well as simple policies for political discussions. “So far, we are 60 percent pleased with this meeting.” said Colonel Khun Okka, leader of the Pa-O National Liberation Army (PNLO). But Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong from the Chin National Front expressed displeasure that Min Aung Hlaing and the deputy army chief left the summit in the afternoon. “We are unhappy about it,” he said. “The chairmen of the ethnic armed groups are attending this meeting because we were told that the army chief would attend it. He came in and gave an opening speech, but we all want him to be in the important discussions. We would like to request that he come tomorrow and discuss the important points with us.”