Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has invited the leader of a most powerful ethnic rebel group in the country for a discussion on the group’s participation in the peace process, an official said Saturday.
The Myanmar Peace Commission sent a letter to Bao Youxiang -- chairman of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) based in southeastern Shan state -- for a meeting with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, according to Myanmar’s Presidential Spokesperson, Zaw Htay, on Saturday.
“State Counselor invited chairman of UWSA through the Peace Commission for a talk over peace process,” he told reporters at a press conference in Myanmar’s former capital, Yangon.
Dismissed for years by the Western countries and observers as a drug-trafficking cartel, UWSA with an estimated 25,000 heavily armed troops and strong ties to China has now emerged as the new collective leader of the country’s ethnic resistance.
The group recently hosted a meeting in their headquarters in a small town of Pangkham near Myanmar’s border with China in which seven rebel groups have decided not to sign the government’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) – a 2015 peace deal between previous government and 8 out of 15 rebel groups invited.
“Due to the lacks of all-inclusiveness, we believe signing the NCA can’t bring the peace,” the groups said in a statement late Friday.
“Instead we must forge a new path to peace,” it said.
The groups include United Wa State Army (UWSA), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA).
However a rebel leader on Friday said signing the NCA is likely after the representatives from the government and United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) – an umbrella association of seven non-signatory rebel groups to NCA -- reached an agreement in principle over nine points after a series of meetings this week.
“If military agrees to our nine-point proposal, ethnic rebels will sign NCA and join the peace process,” Khu Oo Reh, the leader of the UNFC delegation, told the local newspapers.
Since independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar (then Burma) has seen over a half-century of armed conflict involving ethnic rebels.
Replacing the military junta in 2011, former President Thein Sein’s administration started peace talks with rebels, which led to the NCA. However, several major rebel groups refrained.
Myanmar still witnesses some of the fiercest fighting between certain rebel groups and the military although the Suu Kyi-led civilian government took power in March, 2016.
Aung San Suu Kyi repeatedly called on the rebels to join the peace process by signing the NCA.
Myanmar is to hold the second meeting of the Union Peace Conference this month.