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Ethnic summit kicks off in Panghsang

File photo of the United Wa State Army. (Photo: DVB)

The leading figures within Burma’s ethnic rebel groups have arrived in Panghsang, northern Shan State to attend the latest round of talks concerning a possible nationwide ceasefire.

Peng Jiasheng, the leader of the Myanmar Nationalities Alliance Army (NMDAA), is among the leaders in the de facto capital of Special Region 2, which is controlled by the powerful United Wa State Army (UWSA). Peng Jiasheng’s ethnic Kokang rebel group has been locked in a ferocious war with the Burmese army in the nearby Kokang region since early February. Naypyidaw has suffered heavy losses in its attempts to retake Special Region 1, the Kokang administrative zone which hugs the Chinese border to the north of Panghsang.

The leaders of twelve major ethnic armed groups are attending the summit that kicked off on Friday, hosted at UWSA headquarters.

Attendees are due to discuss the proposed single-text of a nationwide ceasefire agreement, which was signed off by the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) representing 16 ethnic armed groups and the government’s Union Peace-Making Work Committee on 31 March.

Of the 12 groups attending the talks, nine are NCCT members. The UWSA is Burma’s most powerful ethnic armed group, with an estimated 30,000 personnel, but as yet have declined to join the NCCT.

The groups represented at Friday’s summit include the UWSA, Shan State Army – South, Shan State Army – North, Kachin Independence Army, Karen National Union, Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), National Democratic Alliance Army (or the Mongla group), New Mon State Party, Pa-O National Liberation Organisation (PNLA), the Karenni National Progressive Party as well as Kokang rebels the MNDAA.

The Burmese government, who will not have envoys at the Penghsang summit, previously urged for the MNDAA to also be barred from attending.

The Wa hosts extended invitations to the MNDAA Kokang rebels, as well as the TNLA and the AA, despite the demand from the government to exclude them.

“Our three member delegation is made up of the MNDAA commander Peng Jiasheng, second in command Yan Win Zhong, and myself,” said MNDAA spokesperson Tun Myat Linn.

“We are here to brief about the situation in our region, and to contribute to the discussion with our brethren,” he said, adding that he hopes the talks will pave the way for a successful signing of a ceasefire.

The talks were initially scheduled to last for three days, but have since been extended to six.

On Friday the TNLA’s general secretary Col. Ta Bhone Kyaw in Panghsang told DVB: “Representatives of all armed groups attending have arrived at Panghsang and a welcoming ceremony is taking place soon.”

“The security here is pretty thorough,” he added.

Ta Bhone Kyaw said the three-person strong TNLA delegation, headed by the group’s deputy-chairman Maj-Gen Ta Jat Kya, is joining its fellow ethnic groups in Panghsang to discuss progress towards the signing of a ceasefire agreement.

The New Mon State Party’s delegation will be led by the group’s Deputy-Chairman Nai Hongsa, while the Shan State Army – South announced that General Sai Yi is to lead its four-person delegation.

Previous talks in rebel-controlled areas have taken place at the Kachin Independence Army headquarters in Laiza, and the Karen National Union’s Law Khee La.

Media access has been restricted to only eight groups, despite 37 seeking permission to attend. Those groups in attendance at the meeting include Chinese state daily Xinhua, 7Day Daily, Eleven Media, Irrawaddy and Union Daily.