In Person

UNFC’s Nai Hong Sar: Major Difficulty Lies in Negotiating with Burma Army

By Kyaw Kha 6 December 2016

There have been concerns about the prospects for peace in Burma since the Northern Alliance, comprised of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), began launching joint offensives against the Burma Army in northern Shan State on Nov. 20.

The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Kha spoke to Nai Hong Sar, vice chairman of the ethnic armed group coalition the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), to discuss the impact of recent clashes on the country’s peace process.

We have heard that in a recent three-day UNFC meeting the issue of the Northern Alliance was discussed. Can you tell us what was said about this?

We need to keep the peace talks going. And at the same time, they [the Northern Alliance] have adopted a new tactics. The military has long been carrying out offensives against them, and if they only act in defense, in the end they will lose. In military strategy, countering offensives with offensives is the best defense. And that’s what they have done.

What is the stance of the UNFC regarding the Northern Alliance’s offensives? Is there disagreement?

We have no disagreement. We don’t want the clashes to escalate. But inevitably, they had had to launch an offensive.

The KIA is a member of the UNFC, and it took part in the offensives. So, will there be changes in future peace talks between the UNFC and the government? Will the KIA still be included in peace talks?

Yes, they will, in order not to disrupt their peace talks with the government. All groups which can join will be participating in the peace talks.

What are the difficulties faced by non-signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in holding peace talks with the new government?

The major difficulty lies in negotiating with the Burma Army.

What are the difficulties?

It includes all-inclusion, tripartite talks [between the Burma Army, the government and ethnic armed groups] as well as participation of international dignitaries in the joint monitoring committee (JMC) in order to strengthen it. Besides the NCA, we think the JMC also should be strengthened as the Burma Army has attacked the RCSS [the Restoration Council of Shan State], one of the NCA signatories.

Ethnic armed groups previously said that political problems must be solved through political means. But in the military operations by the Northern Alliance, public interests were harmed and civilians were killed, which sparked criticism. What do you want to say about this?

We don’t want people to view this one-sidedly. Have they wondered how long government troops have been attacking the KIA and TNLA? Local people suffered huge losses in those clashes. Many businesses collapsed and many people were forced from their homes. If people don’t consider these things and only see the offensives by the Northern Alliance and resultant losses, it is extremely biased. They need to see both sides.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was asked about the clashes in northern Burma when she met Burmese nationals living in Singapore during a recent visit. She said people wanted peace, but that clashes continued because certain groups dared not build understanding.  What do you think of what she said? 

If [the government and military] want genuine and complete peace, offensives must be stopped. If the government stops its offensives, we ethnicities will also stop the offensives. I can guarantee that. We don’t want to launch offensives. We are carrying out offensives only for defensive purposes.

China should play an important role regarding the clashes in northern part of Burma. What is your assessment of this?

It is fair to say that clashes are going on at the China border. Some displaced persons have fled into China. Under such circumstances, China has the responsibility to complain. They have to complain when the interests of their people are affected. The instability may also disrupt their businesses.

Given the fact that China has complained, it would be better if [members of] the international community facilitated or joined our peace process as witnesses.

In Parliament, the Burma Army recently called for the branding of the Northern Alliance [members] as terrorist organizations. Does that move threaten all-inclusion policy?

That’s why I said people need to see both sides fairly. Some don’t know the fact that the Burma Army has been carrying out offensives and that the Northern Alliance inevitably had to respond to it.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko