Myanmar’s junta chief on Friday called for face-to-face peace talks with the country’s established ethnic rebel groups, as the military struggles to crush newer anti-junta militias that have sprung up to fight the coup.
Myanmar has about 20 ethnic rebel armies—many of which control swathes of remote border territory—that have fought each other and the military for decades over the drug trade, natural resources, and autonomy.
Some have condemned the ouster of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and offered shelter and weapons training to “People’s Defence Forces” (PDF) that have sprung up since the putsch and which analysts say have surprised the military with their effectiveness.
“I invite leaders of ethnic armed groups for dialogue,” junta chief Min Aung Hlaing said in an address on state media, calling for representatives to register by May 9 and adding he would meet them personally.
“We are all going to discuss honestly and openly… for the people to be able to enjoy the essence of peace and development,” he said, without giving a date for proposed talks.
The call comes amid daily clashes between junta troops and PDF groups, some of which are fighting alongside ethnic rebels in border areas.
Last week, the junta said its troops had displaced hundreds of PDF fighters as well as members of the Kachin Independence Army after days of clashes around Pinlebu town in the northern Sagaing region.
Heavy fighting has also been reported in Kayin state near the Thai border, with PDF fighters conducting operations alongside troops from the Karen National Union, another established rebel group.
Last month, Min Aung Hlaing vowed the military would “annihilate” PDF forces in a speech at the annual Armed Forces Day parade, which was attended by representatives from several ethnic rebel groups.
More than 1,700 people have been killed in a military crackdown since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.