Myanmar army chief offers peace talks with ethnic groups

Myanmar army chief offers peace talks with ethnic groups

The leader of Myanmar's military-installed government has offered to participate personally in proposed peace talks with ethnic minority groups that have long sought greater autonomy through an armed struggle.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said in a brief broadcast on state television that he wanted to meet the leaders of ethnic armed groups in person to negotiate an end to armed conflict across the country this year.

Spokespeople for two major ethnic minorities, the Kachin and the Karen, indicated no immediate interest in the offer.

Both groups are actively resisting attacks by the army, including by air and with artillery.

General Min Aung Hlaing's proposal is the latest in a series of armed ethnic organisations since the military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February of last year. None of the previous proposals has shown progress.

The armed groups that hold loose control of border regions where their ethnic groups predominate have been fought by the central government for decades.

There have been occasional cease-fire agreements but the armed groups seek permanent and comprehensive political solutions in response to their demands, something no Myanmar government has accepted.

The military had been able to contain fighting to ethnic-controlled areas, but has faced a broader challenge since its takeover last year.

Popular, non-violent protests against military rule were put down with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that has now become a civil war, extending violence to previously peaceful areas of the country.

Despite an overwhelming advantage in weapons and manpower, the security forces are unable to defeat the resistance, and now face a loose alliance of ethnic minority forces with newly formed militias opposed to military rule.

General Min Aung Hlaing has urged the ethnic armies not to support groups opposed to army rule, which his administration has designated as terrorists.

In his remarks on Friday he said he wanted to meet ethnic leaders for peace talks in order to allow Myanmar's people to enjoy the essence of peace and development. He said he wanted to meet with them in person, and that every leader could bring two other members with them.

He appealed to the ethnic armed groups to submit names of participants by May 9, and said a date would be set for the actual talks after negotiations.

He has previously made clear that he will not talk to the National Unity government -- an umbrella group resisting army rule -- or its armed units, which call themselves People's Defence Forces.

General Min Aung Hlaing promised on Armed Forces Day that the military would annihilate the People's Defence Forces.

Colonel Naw Bu, head of the Kachin Independence Army, a major ethnic armed group from northern Myanmar, said it was too early to comment on General Min Aung Hlaing's remarks.

He told The Associated Press his personal opinion was that General Min Aung Hlaing had proposed the talks because his administration was facing a military and political crisis.

Padoh Saw Taw Nee, the head of the Foreign Affairs Department of the Karen National Union, a major ethnic armed group in south-eastern Myanmar, said no one from his organisation would attend peace talks unless its demands were met.

He said that these included the military's withdrawal from politics, implementation of federal democracy and acceptance of international involvement in solving the country's crisis.

He said that the military government was failing in many ways, including in its battlefield offensives, because of the offer of peace talks.