Myanmar’s junta has announced a “goodwill” cease-fire with all ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), but observers say the move is part of a bid to take pressure off the military, which faces multiple domestic conflicts, and focus its efforts on eradicating the country’s People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias.
In a statement released late on Monday, the junta’s Office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces announced a unilateral, five-month cease-fire beginning Oct. 1 and lasting until the end of February 2022.
According to the statement, the cease-fire was made as a “gesture of goodwill” to welcome the 75th anniversary of Myanmar’s Union Day on Feb. 12, when the Panglong Agreement was signed in 1947 and Myanmar became a unified country, and to “promote the prevention and control of the coronavirus pandemic.”
During the cease-fire, the military will suspend all operations, aside from defensive measures and administrative work, it said.
The announcement was immediately viewed with suspicion by analysts, as well as PDF groups and EAOs, who said it was aimed at relieving tensions between the military and ethnic armies and focusing troop efforts on crushing the militias who oppose its rule.
Myanmar’s military has attempted to justify its Feb. 1 overthrow of the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government by claiming the party had stolen the country’s November 2020 ballot through voter fraud.
The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently repressed anti-coup protests, killing at least 1,139 people and arresting 6,891 others, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
On Sept. 7, the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) declared a nationwide state of emergency and called for open rebellion against junta rule, prompting an escalation of attacks on military targets by various allied pro-democracy militias and ethnic armed groups.
Many EAOs have been fighting against Myanmar’s military for the more than 70 years since the country’s 1948 independence. In the aftermath of this year’s coup, several groups have thrown their support behind anti-junta resistance fighters, while others are joining forces with the local PDF branches to fight the military.
Only 10 EAOs have signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the government since 2015, when the document was inked in the presence of international observers and Myanmar’s highest legislature.
The 10 groups suggested in June that the deal remains in place, despite an already flailing peace process that was all but destroyed by the unpopular junta’s coup. However, they say they will not pursue talks with the military, which they view as having stolen power from the country’s democratically elected government.
‘Dialogue instead of conflict’
On Tuesday, Thein Tun Oo, executive director of the pro-military Thaninga Institute of Strategic Studies, a group of former military officers, said the junta had opened the way for dialogue because it wants peace.
“The military … has become more and more inclined to hold dialogue instead of armed conflict and is always open to opportunities,” he said.
“There are different types of ethnic armed groups—some are NCA signatories, and some are not. If lasting peace is the goal, every group must be involved in the process. It shows there still is a place for those who want peace.”
Thein Tun Oo added that suspending conflict with the EAOs could allow the military to better understand the international perspective on developments in Myanmar.
The military’s statement on Monday had referred to a meeting earlier this month between Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Special Envoy Erywan Yusof and Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, during which the former proposed a cease-fire and the military accepted it.
Erywan Yusof, Brunei’s second foreign minister, was appointed special envoy to Myanmar in early August, months after ASEAN leaders agreed to a “five-point consensus” that would see the junta end violence in the country, enter into dialogue to find a peaceful solution to the country’s political crisis, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. However, the junta has taken few steps to implement the measures.
On Tuesday, Thein Tun Oo said the military would continue to crack down on the PDF, which the junta has declared a terrorist organization, and warned that if AEOs were to join forces with the PDF, they would inevitably face pressure from the military.
Call for detailed plan
Representatives of AEO and PDF groups told RFA that they see the military’s announcement as deceptive and largely self-serving.
Colonel Naw Bu, spokesman for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), told RFA that the military is “facing a crisis” that it hopes to solve through the cease-fire.
“I think they set a time limit of five months to deal with the nationwide military operation by the PDFs,” he said.
“I don’t believe this will lead to a [full] cease-fire and lasting peace.”
He said that if the military was committed to ending conflict, it should release a detailed plan to suspend all operations across the country.
A spokesman for the Karenni National Defense Force (KNDF), speaking on condition of anonymity, said the military is trying to divide the opposition with its announcement.
“What we see here is that the military is doing its usual thing,” he said. “It sows discord among existing forces.”
“This has been its way of negotiating cease-fires with some ethnic armed groups in the past. But now, it is offering negotiations with the EAOs with one hand and working to wipe out the newly formed resistance groups with the other.”
The KNDF was formed in Kayah state after the coup and serves as a local defense force affiliated with the NUG.
No national cease-fire
The military has announced some 20 cease-fires with EAOs since December 2018, but regularly excludes groups with which it is involved in heavy conflict, such as the Arakan Army in Rakhine state and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in northern Shan state.
Political analyst Maung Maung Soe said the latest cease-fire would be “ineffective” because PDF groups were not included.
“Such cease-fire announcements in the past have left out certain groups … and therefore, a cease-fire has never been achieved on a national scale,” he said.
“Because they have declared the PDF as a terror group, there is very little chance a real cease-fire will be achieved.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.