Karen General Quits as Head of Myanmar Peace Process Steering Team

The head of a group of 10 ethnic armed organizations that have signed a nationwide truce with the Myanmar government has resigned, citing dissatisfaction with the country’s peace process, one of his colleagues said Wednesday following the team’s two-day meeting in northern Thailand.

General Mutu Say Poe, chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU) and commander-in-chief of its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), stepped down from his position as head of the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST), KNU general secretary Tar Do Mu told reporters at a news conference.

Tar Do Mu was selected to replace Mutu Say Poe as one of the PPST’s two top leaders, he said.

After the resignation of the chairman, I will take over his responsibilities on the PPST, Tar Do Mu said during the news conference in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.

Sources close to the ethnic group leaders predicted on Tuesday that Tar Do Mu would replace Mutu Say Poe, and that vice chief commander Brigadier General Baung Khae would step in for Lieutenant General Yawd Serk, the other PPST leader who is chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and commander of its military wing the Shan State Army-South.

Representatives from the ethnic armed organizations who attended the informal gathering agreed to the leadership change in principle but decided that Ywad Serk would remain in his position until the end of an ethnic armed group summit in May.

The members have requested that the No. 2 leader of the team, the RCSS chairman, continue in his leadership position, so he will continue to be the leader of the group in the meantime, Tar Do Mu said.

The PPST leadership changes will be confirmed at the summit, he said.

During the two-day meeting, Mutu Say Poe expressed dissatisfaction with the current implementation of the peace process, saying it had deviated from the terms of the NCA agreement, and specifically from the goal of forging a federal democratic union that includes ethnic equality and autonomy rights.

Myanmar’s civilian-led government under State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has made the NCA a prerequisite for ethnic armies to participate in periodic peace negotiations, known as the 21st Century Panglong Conference or the Union Peace Conference, to try to end decades of armed conflict that have stymied the country’s transition to a democratic federal union.

About a dozen ethnic armies have yet to sign the NCA.

Getting back on track

To get the process back on track, leader from the 10 NCA-signatory groups will meet informally on March 9 with members of the Myanmar Peace Commission (MPC), who also will hold a separate unofficial meeting with KNU leaders.

The ethnic armed organizations that comprise the PSST have common goals for reaching a federal system, but different views on what kind of federal system they want, Mutu Say Poe said.

We are going to launch a road map for forming a federal nation, he said. It will be a step-by-step process to reach the goal. With regards to that process, we would like to present the plan to the government leaders and talk it over.

Leaders from the ethnic armed groups also discussed prospects for amending Myanmar’s 2008 constitution during the PPST meeting and pledged to change the charter to fit the needs of NCA signatories, according to an announcement they issued Thursday.

Myanmar’s parliament has established a joint committee to review and amend the constitution, drafted by a previous military junta that ruled the country, to bring it more into line with democratic principles.

Currently, we are going to focus on agreements from the NCA, said RCSS spokesperson Brigadier General Sai Ngin. According to the NCA, the prospect of amending the 2008 constitution will be based on the results from the Union Peace Conference. In other words, it depends entirely on the [state] parliaments.

The PPST representatives also formed a working group to discuss with government officials three agenda items they had outlined in a letter sent to Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in October 2018.

The three issues concern updates on earlier assurances by Min Aung Hlaing to secure peace by 2020 and by Aung San Suu Kyi that three Union Peace Conference sessions would be held in 2019; a review and renegotiation of all NCA mechanisms to ensure they are fair for all parties; and the formation of a consensus among differing opinions on the degree of federalism.

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