Myanmar’s military government has held talks with three ethnic armed groups on staging elections in areas under rebel control, a spokesman for one of the groups has said.
Leaders from the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), United Wa State Party (UWSP) and National Democratic Alliance Army – which have largely stayed out of a growing conflict that has gripped the country since the military staged a coup in February 2021 – are holding three days of talks in the capital, Naypyidaw, state media reported on Friday.
A spokesman for the SSPP, which controls territory in northern Shan state, said that the military had “asked us to let them hold free and fair elections in our area”.
“For us, we will not oppose their election,” the spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar also reported on the meeting between the ethnic leaders and the military leadership.
A spokesman for the UWSP did not respond to AFP’s request for comment on the meeting.
With a standing force of about 25,000, the UWSP’s military arm, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), is one of the world’s largest non-state militaries. The UWSA conscripts its military force by taking a family member from each household in its autonomous enclave on Myanmar’s northern border with China.
Myanmar’s military met with five smaller ethnic rebel groups last month, who later released a joint statement supporting the regime’s plans to hold polls.
Myanmar has some 20 ethnic rebel armies that have fought each other as well as the country’s military for decades over their demands for autonomy, as well as for control of the lucrative drugs trade and natural resources in the country’s borderlands that fund the armed movements.
During a speech to mark Myanmar’s Independence Day on Wednesday, the country’s military leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing doubled down on his plans to hold elections, though he gave no details about when they would be held.
The holding of a general election is widely seen as an attempt to normalise the military’s seizure of power through the ballot box and to deliver a result that ensures the generals retain control. The military will control the entire voting process and has spent the past two years enfeebling any credible opposition.
The army’s takeover in 2021 reversed nearly a decade of progress towards democracy after 50 years of military rule. Thousands have been arrested, including the democratically elected former lead of the country Aung San Suu Kyi. She has been held virtually incommunicado by the military, and rolling court appearances have resulted in her being sentenced to 33 years in prison on corruption charges.
Her supporters and independent analysts say the cases against Aung San Suu Kyi are an attempt to discredit her reputation and keep her from taking part in the election that the military has previously said would take place by August this year.
The military justified its takeover by claiming widespread fraud in the last democratic, multi-party vote in 2020, though independent election observers did not find any significant irregularities.