On 22 April, 2022, junta leader, Min Aung Hlaing, in addition to announcing his so-called “year of peace”, called for peace talks with ethnic armed organisations (EAO) – but not all stakeholders to the conflict were invited.
According to the campaign group Progressive Voice this statement is not backed up by the military’s actions on the ground, where they have massacred civilians and set villages alight across Sagaing Region and conducted airstrikes in Karen and Mon States with wanton destruction.
Progressive Voice says that the military junta is disingenuously using peace talks as a guise to divide EAOs and other revolutionary forces and to induce the international community into believing the junta is genuinely seeking peace.
The timing for the calls to peace are no coincidence.The Myanmar military is suffering terrible losses and casualties on the ground at the hands of the People’s Defence Forces (PDF) and ethnic resistance fighters, as well as a steady stream of defections within all ranks.
Padoh Mahn Mahn, spokesperson of Brigade 5 of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) – the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU) – said to Myanmar Now that “They offer peace to one side so they can free up their troops to fight another. It’s not a sincere offer that might actually lead to a political solution. It is a call for surrender in the guise of peace. This is their old tactic.” Shamelessly, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission issued a statement in support of the junta’s leader Min Aung Hlaing’s peace call, while remaining deliberately silent about the grievous human rights abuses committed by the junta since the attempted coup – once again shielding the junta’s crimes and failing the people of Myanmar.
Additionally, in the lead up to the ASEAN-US Special Summit and the Consultative Meeting on ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance to Myanmar, the junta wants to project cooperation, rather than their usual obstructionism.
Yet, EAOs and the people of Myanmar are not fooled by this, with the – Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), KNU, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the Chin National Front (CNF) – among those rejecting the invitation on the basis that not all stakeholders were included in the invitation. Additionally, without these stakeholders and other pre-conditions – such as the military exiting politics – they would not be able to reach a robust political solution to Myanmar’s crisis.
Some less influential EAOs have accepted this invitation, with three of the four Northern Alliance members remaining silent (Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA)).
While the junta professes peace, the reality for civilians on the ground is dire. From 29 April to 2 May the junta troops and military backed plain clothed Pyu Saw Htee militia burnt down 1,300 homes in a matter of days in Sagaing Region’s Ayadaw, Shwebo and Khin-U Townships, ruining homes and livelihoods.
For those who flee from the junta’s onslaught, no place of shelter is safe. Nine internally displaced persons were massacred at a Buddhist meditation center on 2 May in Sagaing’s Oak Pho, Budalin Township. They were forced to sit in a line and shot execution-style by the junta’s Light Infantry Division 77. The nine victims were nearly all elderly and unable to escape the junta’s ambush of the meditation center.
Amidst these atrocities, the junta continues to bombard civilians in Karen and Mon States with airstrikes, including on 2 May in Lay Kay, Bilin Township, Mon State, injuring three villagers, destroying eight houses, and a monastery. According to the KNU, 7,000 civilians have been displaced from nine villages in Bilin Township and are currently sheltering in the jungle.
The junta continued airstrikes in Hpa-pun, Karen State on 1 May, using drones to locate their targets. The junta is using airstrikes from fighter jets in Karen and Mon States because they cannot win on the ground.
IDPs are in grave need of humanitarian assistance, yet ASEAN under the chairship of Cambodia is stagnating and only inviting the junta-led Task Force to address the humanitarian crisis – a crisis that is rooted in the junta’s ongoing atrocity crimes.
On 11 May, 765 Myanmar, regional and international organisations called on ASEAN to engage with the National Unity Government (NUG), EAOs and local organisations in the distribution of humanitarian aid and durable solutions to the Myanmar crisis.
These tactics are a continuation of past behavior, such as manipulating the Panglong Peace process and the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement for their own ends, trying to drive wedges between EAOs, while simultaneously continuing cycles of conflict against ethnic communities when supposedly in a “ceasefire”, particularly in previous two decades in Kachin, Karen, Shan, Chin and Rakhine States.
Western countries alone have pumped $100 million USD into the peace process during a time when the military had zero political will for a genuine peace process, as demonstrated by the 1 February, 2021 attempted power grab. This peace process was during a period which saw the military junta perpetrate the Rohingya genocide, land grabbing, sexual and gender-based violence in ethnic areas, and brutal conflicts in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States.
Progressive Voice is calling on the international community to not repeat the same mistakes of the past and yet again accept the junta’s bad faith posturing towards peace. Instead, they must stand with the people and work towards a solution that ensures that the military steps away from politics and comes under civilian control.
Experts have opined that the Myanmar military is a terrorist organisation as defined in national and international law and their empty peace gestures carry no weight.
The junta’s reign of terror can be broken through the international community’s support for the NUG, EAOs, civil society, ethnic groups and the people of Myanmar in their long struggle for a genuine federal democracy.
Simply put, the international community must not fall into the junta’s ‘peace’ talks trap, and instead step up actions to sever the junta’s access to funds, weapons and legitimacy – to end their reign of terror.