Yangon, Jan 6, 2023 (AFP): Myanmar's junta is holding talks with three ethnic rebel groups on staging elections in areas they control, a rebel spokesman said Friday, as the military prepares for polls the US has said will be a "sham."
The Southeast Asian country has about 20 ethnic rebel armies that have fought each other and the military for decades over autonomy and control of the drugs trade and natural resources in its borderlands.
Some have condemned the ouster of Aung San Suu Kyi's government when the military staged a February 2021 coup, and offered shelter and weapons training to the "People's Defence Forces" (PDF) that sprung up as resistance against the junta.
Leaders from the Shan State Progress Party, United Wa State Party and National Democratic Alliance Army -- which have largely stayed out of the post-coup conflict -- are holding three days of talks in capital Naypyidaw, state media said Friday.
The three groups control swathes of territory that have been relatively calm since the coup, which has plunged much of the country into turmoil.
They and the junta discussed on Thursday the "political needs of the groups and... building a Union based on democracy and the federal system", according to the Global New Light of Myanmar.
The military "asked us to let them hold free and fair elections in our area", a spokesman for SSPP, which controls territory in northern Shan state, told AFP.
"For us, we will not oppose their election."
A spokesman for the UWSP did not respond to AFP's request for comment.
With a standing force of around 25,000, the UWSA is one of the world's largest non-state militaries, conscripting a member from each household in its autonomous enclave on Myanmar's northern border with China.
China remains a major ally of the Myanmar junta and has refused to label the military's power grab a coup.
The military met with five smaller ethnic rebel groups last month, who later released a joint statement supporting the junta's plans to hold polls.
Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday repeated the military's plans to hold polls during a speech to mark Myanmar's Independence Day, though he gave no details about when they would be held.
Across Myanmar, there are regular clashes, with almost daily reports of killings of low-level junta officials, though details are often murky and reprisals follow swiftly.
The junta on Wednesday said its troops had repelled an attack in Kyainseikgyi township near the Thai border by PDF fighters and troops from the Karen National Union -- another major rebel group.
A spokesman from the KNU's armed wing later told AFP the military had called in air and artillery strikes and that eight of its fighters had been killed. - AFP