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Myanmar’s ruling military held talks this week with three armed ethnic groups to organize elections in areas under rebel control in the run-up to general elections in 2023, nearly two years after the junta ousted the democratically elected government in a coup, Al Jazeera reported.

State media reported that leaders from the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the United Wa State Party (UWSP), and the National Democratic Alliance Army – which have largely stayed out of the conflict that has gripped the country following the February 2021 coup – are holding three days of talks in the capital.

A spokesman of the SSPP said the military had “asked us to let them hold free and fair elections in our area.” He added that the group will not oppose the military’s elections.

The negotiations come less than a week after junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing announced during the country’s independence day that the junta plans to hold elections this year, without providing further details.

The army had previously proposed to hold elections in August this year.

The army ousted the government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, putting an end to nearly a decade of progress toward democracy after 50 years of military rule.

The military justified its coup by citing major fraud in the democratic, multi-party election in 2020, although independent international observers found no substantial irregularities.

The junta subsequently launched a violent crackdown on protests that followed the takeover with thousands detained, including Suu Kyi. The military has effectively isolated the former civilian leader: She has been sentenced to 33 years in prison on corruption allegations.

Observers noted that the military has been holding negotiations with other rebel groups in the past weeks to receive support for holding elections.

They explained that a general election is widely seen as an attempt to normalize the military’s takeover, adding that Suu Kyi’s convictions are part of an effort to discredit her from participating in future polls.

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