A Pan Say militiaman keeps watch on a bridge in Muse in Shan State, Myanmar's border town to China, on Jan. 12. Ten armed groups run the town, where a decades-old struggle for money, trade, resources and ethnic identity is playing out. (AFP photo)
Myanmar’s military has extended a unilateral ceasefire in conflict-torn Kachin and Shan states to June 30.
Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been living in camps for eight years in the two northern states, where a four-month truce expired on April 30.
The ceasefire extension came on April 30 as government officials held peace talks with the Northern Alliance of four armed ethnic groups — the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Arakan Army — in Muse, Shan State.
The military said the ceasefire was extended by two months so that talks can continue until the armed groups sign the national ceasefire agreement (NCA).
Manam Tu Ja, a Catholic and chairman of the Kachin State Democracy Party, welcomed the news and hoped it would lead to a bilateral ceasefire agreement between the government and the KIA.
“The cessation of fighting is a positive move and more talks will be held between the government, the military and ethnic armed groups who are yet to sign the NCA,” Tu Ja told ucanews.com.
Knut Ostby, acting U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator, expressed hope that the ceasefire extension “will further strengthen the prospects for Myanmar’s peace process.”
“The U.N. in Myanmar is prepared to work with the relevant parties on providing urgent humanitarian assistance to all people in need in the affected areas,” Ostby said in a statement on May 1.
He called on all parties to protect civilians and uphold the terms of international humanitarian and human rights law.
Myanmar’s military declared a four-month ceasefire in northern and eastern Myanmar on Dec. 21, but Rakhine State was excluded. The extension also excluded Rakhine, which has recently seen intense fighting between the military and the Arakan Army.
Fighting in Rakhine has spread since January from the north to Mrauk-U and the outskirts of Sittwe, the state’s capital city. It has claimed at least 24 civilian lives, while dozens are reported missing and dozens of policemen have been killed.
More than 33,000 people had been displaced in Rakhine and Chin states as of April 21 as fighting is still raging in Rakhine, according to a U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report on April 29.
Tu Ja is optimistic that the government, the military and the Arakan Army can discuss ways to reduce clashes despite Rakhine being excluded from the ceasefire.
“The Arakan Army joined peace talks recently with government officials so that they can continue to turn to a negotiation table towards ending fighting,” Tu Ja said.
The government of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to end Myanmar’s decades-long conflict but has not yet found a way to bring peace to the ethnic regions of Rakhine and Shan states.
The Arakan Army has widespread support from ethnic Rakhine who have felt marginalized and neglected by the union government for decades in one of the country’s poorest states.
The Arakan Army was formed in Rakhine in 2009 to protect ethnic Rakhine people and is estimated to have several thousand well-equipped soldiers.