YANGON: Myanmar's government urged ethnic rebel groups on Tuesday to join talks to achieve a nationwide peace agreement even after one of the groups raided a government-controlled town in an attack that killed five policemen and five civilians, including a schoolteacher.
The office of military commander-in-chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing charged that the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, which represents the ethnic Chinese Kokang minority, had attacked Laukkai in northern Shan state on Monday as part of a long-term effort to create a "liberated zone under their control."
A statement from the commander's office said the Kokang and other ethnic rebel groups that have not yet signed cease-fire pacts were still welcome to take part in a peace conference later this month if they abandon armed struggle.
At the same time, it seemed to express pessimism over the prospects for participation by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army along with the Arakan Army and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army. The three groups, along with the Kachin Independence Army, last year formed a "Northern Alliance" to coordinate military action against government forces they accuse of carrying out attacks against them.
The government of Aung San Suu Kyi has been trying to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with the country's ethnic minorities, which for decades have been fighting for greater autonomy. Most have signed bilateral cease-fires, but combat continues in the north, which borders China. Lucrative border trade opportunities complicate efforts to reach a peace agreement.
On Monday, the government's National Reconciliation and Peace Center said the attack in Shan state caused problems for ethnic minority people in the area and jeopardized chances for improving the situation of ethnic minorities nationwide.
"I want to urge everyone to abandon the armed attacks that cause death and destruction for local ethnic groups and return to the peace table and join the peace journey that all ethnic citizens have been longing for," said the statement from the center, chaired by Suu Kyi.
The military's statement said the raid on Laukkai, which was eventually repelled, was part of a seven-pronged attack and that government security forces had suffered casualties in some of the other clashes. It said other groups that it did not name may have joined forces with the Kokang.