The Burmese military’s commander in chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, met with ethnic armed groups in Shan State on Sunday, calling for rebels to lay down their arms, according to ethnic leaders.
While a meeting between leaders representing most of Burma’s ethnic armed groups and the government’s peace negotiating team is ongoing in Rangoon, the commander in chief traveled to the Burma’s Army’s Northeastern Command in Lashio and held separate meetings with the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), the political wing of the Shan State Army-North.
The talks at the Myanmar Peace Center in Rangoon, which started Saturday and continued into Monday, are an attempt for the two sides to agree a single text for a nationwide ceasefire agreement—the signing of which has been repeatedly delayed.
According to the state-run New Light of Myanmar, Min Aung Hlaing told the two armed groups in Shan State that the army, known as the Tatmadaw, wants peace with Burma’s insurgents.
The newspaper reported Monday that the army chief met a delegation of the UWSA’s leadership, headed by Secretary Pauk Yuri, and an SSPP delegation led by the group’s Vice-Chairman Khe Tai.
“The Snr-Gen expressed he wishes to cooperate with the ethnic armed groups for the sake of the country, saying all national people are required to safeguard national security in unity,” the report said.
Maj. Sai La, spokesman for the SSPP confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the army chief assured the group that “the army backs the current peace and democratization process.”
However, Sai La said, “He [Min Aung Hlaing] said the armed groups should lay down their guns as there should only be a single army for the country.”
The issue of whether ethnic armed groups should completely disarm or be included in some form of federal army has been highly contentious in the ongoing peace talks.
Sai La added that there was no special reason for the SSPP leadership’s meeting with the commander in chief.
“We did not discuss any issues related to military affairs, nor the [peace] process,” said Sai La. Min Aung Hlaing holds regular meetings with those ethnic armed groups, like the SSPP and UWSA, with whom the government has individual ceasefires in place.
However, the SSPP did tell Min Aung Hlaing that they disagree with half of the principles in a “six point statement” the army has put forward, setting out its demands of rebel groups in the peace process, Sai La said.
The six points demand that ethnic armed groups: have a “genuine wish” for peace; keep any promises they make in the peace process; refrain from exploiting peace agreements; must not be a burden on the people; follow the rule of law in Burma; and respect the Burmese military-drafted 2008 Constitution.
Officials with the UWSA, which is Burma’s strongest ethnic army, could not be reached to discuss the details of their meeting with Min Aung Hlaing.
Min Aung Hlaing also met with 27 militia groups operating in Shan State, according to the New Light of Myanmar.