Written by Gaung 

In the not-too-distant past, the government and ethnic armed groups reached an understanding and took a renewed approach to finding political solutions to political problems, noting the high cost of war to lives, livelihoods, the environment and much more.  

The signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) between the military (Tatmadaw), government and eight ethnic armed groups in 2015 marked an important step, but it was in some ways only the beginning of the political dialogue that was to come. 

The NCA path is currently difficult to navigate, however, in the wake of the February 1 military coup. 

There are ongoing military tensions between the Tatmadaw and the Chin National Front (CNF), the Karen National Union (KNU) — the largest ethnic armed group to sign the NCA — and several other ethnic armed groups. 

In addition, the NCA-based political dialogue must include members of the government, Parliament, military, political parties and ethnic armed groups, but with Parliament dissolved by the military regime, there are no lawmakers to ratify political dialogue agreements. 

Six Years Since Signing 

October 15 marked the sixth anniversary of the signing of the NCA. 

Eight ethnic armed groups — the KNU; CNF; Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS); Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA); Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council, Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO); All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF); and Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) — signed the NCA on October 15, 2015, under former President U Thein Sein’s administration. 

The New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) signed the NCA on February 13, 2018, under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, so there are currently 10 ethnic armed groups that have signed the NCA. 

In the six years since the signing of the NCA, the signatories have held the Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong four times, and managed to craft and agree to three parts of a Union Accord that would be one of the cornerstones of a future Myanmar.  

However, even six years after the NCA was signed, its vision of a country based on democracy and federalism has not yet been realised.

Lack of Inclusion Plagues Process 

Since August 2011, President Thein Sein’s government has invited ethnic armed groups to join its peace process. The Arakan Army (AA), along with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), were involved in initial negotiations for the NCA. 

At the time, the NCA was being discussed in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with the inclusion of all ethnic armed organisations (EAOs). Ethnic leaders wanted the Arakan Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Wa National Organisation (WNO), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) and Arakan National Council (ANC) to sign the NCA. 

However, Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Arakan Army could not be recognised as eligible to join the peace agreement. As a result, the Arakan Army was unable to attend the first 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference and deviated from the NCA route. 

At that time, the Arakan Army was building up its strength at the beginning of the revolution and was said to be under the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). It can be said that the Arakan Army was pushed out of the NCA route because of the contempt of the military and the government. 

However, the Arakan Army continued to pursue its original goal, the Rakhita Way. The Myanmar people were shocked to learn that the Arakan Army had launched a military operation in Arakan State and Paletwa Township, Chin State, to attack the Tatmadaw with sophisticated ammunition. 

The Myanmar military suffered heavy casualties as the Arakan Army created small and large battles and used guerrilla tactics to ambush the Myanmar soldiers. The Arakan Army was able to counter the Myanmar military with fierce battles, some lasting weeks and known as the Battle of Meewa on the border between Kyauktaw and Paletwa, Buddhaw Battle in Ponnagyun Township, Pharpyo Battle in Minbya Township and Aung Tharsi Battle in Rathedaung Township. The Arakan Army captured some Myanmar military battalion commanders and soldiers with shrewd battlefield tactics during the Battle of Meewa.  

The Arakan Army, which is among the youngest ethnic armed groups in Myanmar and has rapidly grown in strength in a short period of time, including in terms of manpower and finance, is well-received and well-supported by the Arakanese people today. 

At present, the Myanmar military and Arakan Army have reached the one-year mark in something approximating a ceasefire based on mutual understanding. Meanwhile, the ethnic armed group is attempting to control the administration, judiciary, policing, customs, taxation and economy in Arakan State. 

AA Sees Opportunity in Non-NCA Way 

The fact that the Arakan Army was not allowed to join the NCA path was ultimately a good opportunity for the ethnic armed group. If the Arakan Army had previously participated in the NCA process, it can be seen that it would not have been able to fully achieve its political goals. 

If the Arakan Army had signed the NCA at that time, it would have lost the support of the Arakanese people and would have been weakened and in a state of disarray in the liberated area. The Arakan Liberation Party and the Arakan Liberation Army (ALP/ALA) are a good example. 

The Arakan Army also has higher expectations than other ethnic armed groups and says there is no compromise on sovereignty. The Arakan Army’s political goal is to have a separate or “confederate” system of governance, and it appears to have decided to pursue a separate peace path, one step higher than the NCA. 

There are eight main ethnic armed groups that have not yet signed the NCA: the Arakan Army (AA); United Wa State Army (UWSA); Kachin Independence Army (KIA); Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP); Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA); National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA); Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA); and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). 

Will the Arakan Army, one of the above, join other armed groups in signing a peace agreement with the military in the near future, given the current ceasefire?

It remains to be seen.

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