3 Ethnic Armed Groups Quit Peace Negotiating Bloc

By Kyaw Kha 5 June 2015

LAW KHEE LAR, Karen State — Three ethnic armed groups have submitted letters of resignation to the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), a negotiating bloc currently involved in peace discussions with the government.

The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA)—all of which are in active conflict with government troops—have requested leave from the bloc because they distrust government negotiators and feel betrayed by their ethnic counterparts.

NCCT chief Nai Hongsar confirmed on Thursday that the letters were received by the bloc’s leadership, but that the departure is not yet official. Representatives of the three ethnic armies said they would be open to rejoining in the future and are not seeking to suspend their membership of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), the nation’s main ethnic political coalition.

Tah Ban La, press officer for the TNLA, said the group will “continue to take an active role in the UNFC” despite the rift with the NCCT.

The decision to resign was announced at an ethnic leadership summit in Law Khee Lar, in eastern Burma’s Karen State, which began on Tuesday and will continue through Saturday. The summit was expected to be focused on finalizing a draft nationwide peace accord to which ethnic and government negotiators have already committed.

The draft, which was years in the making, does not include the MNDAA, TNLA or AA, leading to fissures among ethnic leadership. In recent months, the MNDAA in particular has been involved in some of the fiercest conflict the country has seen in decades, casting doubt on the government’s commitment to peace and arousing a sense of solidarity among other ethnic armed groups.

Some have urged their peers to abstain from signing a ceasefire agreement until all NCCT members are included in the deal, while others have vowed their camaraderie in more flexible terms. Phone Win Naing, head of the external relations department for the MNDAA, said the decision was made because the NCCT “does not have the kind of unity we want.”

NCCT member Khun Okkar warned that resigning from the bloc would leave the MNDAA, TNLA and AA even more vulnerable, as the NCCT would no longer be able to advocate o n their behalf.

“NCCT leaders can tell the government not to attack and harm the interests of its members, they can tell the government not to bully them,” Khun Okkar said. “But if they are no longer members, it is difficult for us to speak up for them.”