Burma Ethnic Alliance Sets Up ‘Federal Army’ Office

Myanmar, burma, Kachin, UNFC, United Nationalities Federal Council, Army, Federal, federalism

Ethnic leaders are seen at talks in Laiza, Kachin State, last year. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The major alliance of ethnic armed groups in Burma, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), has opened an office for its “Federal Union Army,” an organization it hopes will pave the way for the involvement of ethnic fighters in the national armed forces.

The office in the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)-controlled border town of Mai Ja Yang has apparently been open for some months. But the existence of the office, named the Federal Union Army (Northern Command) War Office, has only just come to light.

Khun Okkar, joint secretary 2 of the UNFC, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that a delegation had been working at the office since February, but that the alliance—which comprises 12 ethnic armed groups across Burma—did not publicly announce it so as not to disturb the peace process.

Drawn-out negotiations toward a nationwide ceasefire agreement are ongoing, but new clashes in northern Burma in recent weeks have seen thousands more civilians displaced by violence.

“We opened a war office in the north in February. We let [KIA Chief of Staff] General Gam Shawng lead the northern command. The federal army and our UNFC are twins. Since we formed UNFC [in 2011], we decided to form it, but we kept it low profile.” said Khun Okkar.

He said the UNFC would open two more offices for the organization in Karenni State and either Karen or Mon state.

Khun Okkar said the purpose of the UNFC’s new organization was to prepare troops to be part of an army for all of Burma that would include ethnic soldiers. The proposal for Burma to have a federal army, incorporating ethnic armed groups, has been a key part of ethnic leaders’ proposals for ending decades of civil conflict.

“When there is a federal system in our country, we need to have federal defense army. To do this, we need to form it. This is our preparation. This army will stay under control federal union government,” said Khun Okkar.

He declined to share details of the ethnic armed groups’ vision for how the posited federal army would work. Some have suggested that a federal army would include ethnic units.

“We are working to have nationwide peace agreement. We have to be very careful when we talk about the federal army issue in order not to disturb the peace process,” said Khun Okkar.

At present, nearly all of the country’s major ethnic armed groups have signed bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government, with the exceptions of the KIA, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Shan State Army-North, all of whom have clashed with government troops since attacks on villages were reported over Burmese New Year last month.

The nationwide ceasefire talks have faced significant hurdles, with ethnic leaders complaining that the Burmese military’s demands are too large, and several meetings have failed to produce agreement on a single text for the agreement.

One of army’s demands is that ethnic armed groups must come under its command, and the military appears unsympathetic to calls for an armed forces reflecting a federal system.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief, has insisted change is not necessary, since ethnic people already participate in the Burma Army. Although all ethnic groups can sign up, the leadership of the army is almost exclusively from the Burman ethnic group.

5 Responses to Burma Ethnic Alliance Sets Up ‘Federal Army’ Office

  1. Yes. It is the right thing to do. Union Army is absolutely needed to counter dictator’s army. Regime’s army is not Union’s army at all but one man’s army. Regime’s army never protects the Union but serves as guards of dictator and dictator’s agendas.

  2. I will contribute at least $ 100 to support Federal Army. We need it so badly. Each ethnic can send at least one thousand soldiers to ‘Federal Army’. I just love what I read from the above article.

  3. I totally support and agree with the opening of Federal Union Army with all combination of ethnic armed organization. Because, the establishment of getting the Union Federal Army is very importantly an indicator that we all vulnerable ethnic people in Burma are getting now united and only possible way to achieve our ultimate goal of Federal Union of Burma with all equality and self-determination that we all ethnic nationalities have been longing for many years. It is a way for true liberation from the brutal oppression of Burmese Government Army over all ethnic people for more than 60 years. So, please keep going the strengthening of UFA across the country in the ethnic armed organization-controlled territory.

  4. it is the bold and rightful decision for all ethnics’ to be unity, unity and unity whatever it is. Don’t trust the child soldier ming aung hliang, born by fox than shwe.

  5. If ethnic groups could actually consolidate this newly formed Federal Union Army (FUA)and implement effectively, this would be the best thing for all ethnic groups and Burma as whole since everyone would feel included and has a sense of belonging, and thus this will lead to stability.

    But it is very doubtful if there is any chance of success. Forming alliance is nothing new in Burma’s protracted conflict. Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB), National Democratic Front (NDF) were among the most notable alliance (both politically and militarily) formed in 1970s. But they proved to be ineffective and eventually technically ceased to exist.

    The cause of such collapse is primarily due to their loosen organization structure. It is well-studied principle that effective control is necessary especially for armed forces to be effective – centralized chain of command is prerequisite for any military organization.

    Ethnic leaders have not been able to prove themselves that they are politically matured – solving problems among themselves through talks. (There are many underlying conflicts among ethnic armed groups themselves which need to be addressed. These internal conflicts are being utilized by the Burmese leaders for their ‘divide and rule’ tactic).

    To be successful this time, FUA has to be centralized for its command and control with clear rules and regulations that every member has to abide by, and there has to be effective way to enforce these regulation. Without such mechanism, FUA will not be able to challenge the government army.

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