Myanmar holds peace talks with Taaung rebel group in northern Shan State

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State-level peace talks between Myanmar’s government and the Taaung National Liberation Army (TNLA) took place for the first time in the border town of Muse, northern Shan state, on Wednesday.

The government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee was led by Aung Min, Minister for the President's Office while TNLA’s delegation was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Tar Phone Kyaw. The government side discussed ceasefire measures, opening a liaison office, regional movements of troops and the steps needed towards holding national-level peace talks.

“We agreed on basic facts. We could not reach agreement because our chairman was away and their army chief was not here. We discussed prevention of further clashes,” Aung Min said.

The TNLA — a group that represents the Palaung ethnic group living in northern Shan State not far from the border with China — have been engaged in a decades-long guerrilla war with the central government. The TNLA was transformed into a border guard force in 2005 but took up arms again because they felt oppressed and could not protect themselves, according to Tar Phone Kyaw.

TNLA’s ultimate aims were to free ethnic Palaung from oppression, promote democracy and human rights, fight against chauvinism and dictatorship, shape its own future and create a genuine federal system.

"Only two out of 13 townships were included in Palaung self-administered region when Myanmar held general elections in 2010. The government made a list of about 300,000 Palaung nationals in the region although the actual population was about 1 million. TNLA had to continue fighting for more territory," said Tar Phone Kyaw.  

Representatives from the media covering the talks were asked leave the meeting room when territorial and military affairs were discussed. After the talks, Minister Aung Min told the media that further talks would soon be held in the Palaung region though no agreement was reached in the present discussion.

“The president said peace efforts would be exerted on a nation-wide scale but he did not mention a timeframe. I said I would complete the process at the end of July. Peace with the ethnic minorities cannot be achieved on paper. It needs to be practical. We have held talks with five ethnic groups. They all agreed in principle,” said Aung Min.

Clashes between the Myanmar army and the TNLA occurred in Kutkai Township in northern Shan State in June of this year.

Brigadier General Aung Soe, of the army's Northeastern Command said clashes were due to armed groups still recruiting soldiers and extorting money by breaching the agreement conditions. Lt-Col Tar Phone Kyaw denied this saying the clashes were due to the militaries incursions into TNLA controlled territory.
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