Mon News Agency’s reporter Min Tayza Aung recently sat down with Tar Parn La, the joint secretary and foreign relations officer of the Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA).
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: At the Pangkham Summit, the ethnic armed groups in attendance agreed to draft a new ceasefire agreement instead of signing the existing nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). The government is encouraging all groups to follow the path set out by the NCA. What will the TNLA do?
A: The Burmese government kept telling us to come onboard the NCA path, but the National League for Democracy-backed government doesn’t have the authority to be actively involved in the ceasefire issue. Only the Burmese Army has the full authority to make decisions about the ceasefire. That’s why the government’s invitation to join the NCA is not very meaningful. They are only expressing their desire.
The issue of drafting a new agreement is mentioned in Clause 7 of the Pangkham Summit statement, which was issued on April 19. The Union Political Dialogue Committee that we established will soon issue a paper to the government and to the Burmese Army about ending the civil war.
Q: Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have called 2017 the year for peace. What steps will your organization take toward peace?
A: The PSLF/TNLA has continuously strived to end the on-going civil war that resulted from the inability to reach a political agreement in not only our area, but also in all of Myanmar. [In pursuit of peace] we met with the [former Union Peacemaking Working Committee] UPWC led by Minister U Aung Min in Muse in July 2013 and also in Rulli, China. Then, we tried to meet with a six-member [government peace] delegation in Myitkyina in mid-May 2014.
In September 2014, the PSLF/TNLA submitted two letters to President U Thein Sein asking for a reduction of military tensions in the region and requesting a meeting. He didn’t offer any response while he was still in office.
In terms of the NCA-guided peace process, we have participated in the process from 2013, which was before the NCA was signed in 2015. But, in the end, the Burmese government barred our fellow [ethnic armed] organizations from taking part in the NCA process.
Shortly speaking, the PSLF/TNLA has always strived to end the wars that resulted from politics of the past. We will continue to try to negotiate in the future without changing the policy.
Q: What could the government and the Tatmadaw do to convince your organization to join the NCA? If these steps are taken, will you join the NCA?
A: Since early 2017, the PSLF/TNLA has wanted to follow the NCA path under the all-inclusive policy and nine-point proposal of the UNFC (United Nationalities Federal Council). We have released our views on the issue. All of us understand that the NCA is riddled with weaknesses and it cannot stop the wars. As everyone can see, conflicts are still breaking out, even with the groups that have signed the NCA. We have tried to follow the NCA path with the desire to end the civil war.
Now, we have agreed with our allied organizations to follow the Third EAROs (Ethnic Armed Resistance Organizations) position established at Pangkham instead. So, the PSLF/TNLA will follow a better path than the NCA.
Q: The Union Political Dialogue Committee said the NCA cannot serve as the route to peace. Why not?
A: There is no single path … in order to have peace and stability in the country and end the civil war. You need to open all the best paths. The NCA is riddled with weaknesses if you open it up and read it. The NCA has many weaknesses because it is written by combining five drafts – four drafts proposed by the Burmese government, and one draft proposed by the EAOs (Ethnic Armed Organizations). The Burmese Army also added six policies to the NCA. Clashes broke out after the NCA was signed and some EAOs have used the NCA to trespass territories and arrest, torture and kill civilians. The civil war has been fuelled by the NCA rather than resolved. That’s why I say the NCA cannot implement peace. [The Union Peace Dialogue Committee] has talked about overcoming the issues with a fair ceasefire agreement.
Q: Your organization, along with the Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, was involved in discussions with the government’s Peace Commission. Why did you decide to switch tactics and cooperate with the United Wa State Army (UWSA)?
A: We have switched to the path led by the UWSA because the path undertaken by the UWSA has more chance of ending the wars. The peace process and ceasefire implemented by the UWSA since 1989 still stand strong after 28 years without firing a single gunshot. The path undertaken by the UWSA has led to the development of Wa State and raised standards of living. So, the PSLF/TNLA is following the path undertaken by the UWSP/UWSA with full confidence.
It is also an effort to gather the EAROs to stand in unison and protect against military and political pressures and military offensives from the Burmese government and the Burmese Army.
Q: There are three different versions of federal Union. What is your stance on the government’s conception of democracy federal, the EAO’s ideals of federal democracy, and the Tatmadaw’s 2008 Constitution?
A: The PSLF has officially declared its denial of the 2008 Constitution since 2008. It’s impossible to negotiate the 2008 Constitution, which is desired by the Burmese Army. We can’t accept it. The entire country does not want the 2008 Constitution.
I don’t want to debate the terminology of a ‘democracy federal’ or a ‘federal democracy’. Our objectives are these:
(1) To obtain freedom for all Ta’ang (Palaung) nationals from oppression
(2) To form Ta’ang State that guarantees democracy and human rights
(3) To establish federal Union that guarantees autonomy.
Q: How do you plan to proceed if there is no good outcome in the negotiation for federal Union?
A: In order to have a good outcome frameworks need to be written clearly and restrictions need to be removed. If we can negotiate with the main players, instead of with many people, we believe that a constitution ensuring a federal Union where all people can live together in peace can be achieved one day.
Q: Will you attend the 21st-Century Panglong Conference if you are allowed by the government?
A: We will make a decision about attending the 21st-Century Panglong Conference in accord with what the Union Political Dialogue Committee decides.
Translated and edited by Burma News International