LAIZA — Representatives from Burma’s Wa and Mengla minority groups were invited but are not attending the third conference of ethnic armed groups being held in Laiza, Kachin State, at the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) this week.
The conference began on Thursday and will run through July 29, bringing together members of 12 ethnic armed groups in Burma that are members of the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) to discuss a long-sought nationwide peace agreement with the Burmese government.
Aung Myint, an information officer for the United Wa State Army (UWSA), told The Irrawaddy that his group had decided not to attend the conference because it has yet to properly study the draft nationwide ceasefire accord under consideration.
“We have studied the second draft only for a day,” said Aung Myint. “We asked for the draft from ethnic armed groups, but we didn’t get it. We got it from our friends just a few days ago.”
The Burmese government and ethnic minority groups have reached agreement on most of the provisions of such an accord and agreed to a second draft in May, but outstanding points of contention remain.
“We are still reading it [the draft]. We haven’t attended the previous meetings and have not yet studied the draft. So, we have nothing to discuss at the coming conference,” Aung Myint added.
He said his group supports the conference of ethnic armed groups, despite its absence from the six-day meeting. However, he evaded a question from The Irrawaddy about the role of the UWSA in Burma’s ongoing ceasefire negotiations.
“We need to study the content of the draft and should also be informed on what is embodied therein. We can’t just sign it without knowing what is in it,” Aung Myint said.
“We have yet to study the draft thoroughly and will accept it if we agree,” he added.
NCCT member Lian Sakhong said the team is prepared to ink the final ceasefire pact after the conference, having formed a leading committee to negotiate with the government on the final draft.
“There may be some points we need to debate seriously. In this case, it is important that a leading committee is in place to make decisions,” Lian Sakhong said.
“The meeting [on Thursday] will be fairly important as it will discuss how the entire conference will be held and how decisions will be made through voting,” he added.
The leading committee was formed ahead of the conference and is made up of two representatives from each of the respective ethnic armed groups.
The United Nations’ special envoy to Burma Vijay Nambiar and China’s envoy on Asia Affairs Wang Yinfang will attend the conference on July 28, according to deputy chief of staff Gen. Gun Maw from the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of the KIO, which is a member of the NCCT.
“The NCCT has also invited non-NCCT member groups such as the Naga, Wa, Mengla, Restoration Council of Shan State [RCSS], All Burma Students Democratic Front and United Nationalities Federal Council,” said Nai Hong Sar, who chairs the NCCT.
“NCCT reps will discuss with them on 28-29 July. The RCSS replied that it would attend the conference, but the rest have not replied yet. However, I hope they will come,” he said.
Attendance at the conference was expected by the 12 NCCT member groups and 22 non-NCCT member groups, though the number of non-member attendees could be fewer than 20 with the Wa and Mengla groups having pulled out and Naga representation uncertain.