Ethnic Alliance Issues Conflict Deadline

By Lawi Weng 14 May 2012

The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an umbrella group that represents 12 ethnic groups in Burma, has issued the Burmese army with a deadline to end the ongoing fighting in Kachin State.

“If the Bamah Tatmadaw [Burmese army] does not stop its transgression and military offensive in Kachin State by June 10, our UNFC members, who have agreed a ceasefire with the U Thein Sein government, have decided to review the peace process and future programs, including the preliminary ceasefire agreement reached,” said a statement released by the group on May 10.

Due to the actions and attitude of the Burmese army and the government, it is impossible for us to correct the dreadful situation in the country, the UNFC said.

The deadline was issued after a meeting between representatives of the 12 ethnic groups was held near the Thai-Burmese border on May 8-9, during which, they said, they discussed the peace process and the current situation in Kachin State.

“We will review the peace process after June 10 if the government do not stop fighting in Kachin,” said the secretary of the UNFC, Nai Hang Thar from the New Mon State Party (NMSP).

The other 11 members of the UNFC are: Kachin Independence Organization, Karen National Union, Karenni National Progressive Party, Chin National Front, Shan State Progress Party, Pa-O National Liberation Organization, Palaung State Liberation Front, Arakan National Council, Lahu Democratic Union, Wa National Organization, and Kachin National Organization. Of the 12 groups, the majority are armed.

The Burmese government has continuously exerted pressure on the members of the UNFC to form political parties, contest elections, and join the political process through the medium of Parliament. However, the ethnic alliance has said it cannot engage because it does not accept the 2008 constitution.

Its leaders have repeatedly demanded that Naypyidaw amend controversial items in the constitution, including the reservation of 25 percent of all parliamentary seats for military representatives.

Nai Hang Thar said that the current government policy in pressuring the ethnic parties into accepting the current political process was no different from Naypyidaw’s prior policy of coercing the groups into serving in the Burmese army’s Border Guard Forces, a strategy that resulted in several ethnic armies breaking their ceasefire agreements with the military junta.

Several members of the UNFC signed or renewed ceasefire agreements with the Burmese government earlier this year, most notably the KNU, which is one of the strongest ethnic armies and one which has been fighting the central government for more than 60 years.

Although Burmese officials maintain the line that the political process of reforms is now “irreversible,” many ethnic leaders are wary of the involvement of the military and say they will not surrender their arms under the present conditions.

The UNFC statement said that the objective of the Burmese army’s military offensive in northern Shan State and Kachin State is to protect foreign investors’ mega-business projects. It called on the international community to “wait and see” how the situation in Kachin State develops before it suspends or lifts sanctions on Burma.

The Burmese army has launched an intensive military campaign in northeastern Burma, causing some 70,000 civilians to flee their homes—many to China.