CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) will join the two-day political dialogue framework review meeting in Rangoon beginning on Friday, just ahead of the Union Peace Conference scheduled for the end of this month.
Three weeks prior to the peace conference, stakeholders—from both the government and ethnic armed groups—are holding preparatory meetings with their respective groups in hopes of achieving all-inclusion in the peace process.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, representatives of the ethnic armed groups—both signatories and non-signatories of last year’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the former government—met to find a common stance on the framework for political dialogue.
Khu Oo Reh, the secretary of the UNFC, confirmed to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the group would attend the review meeting.
“We will review [the framework] and we will participate,” he said.
But two of the UNFC member groups—the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—had been excluded from the process thus far, after they requested to leave the alliance earlier this year. They did not join previous meetings with UNFC groups or with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in July, and they have since actively engaged in conflict with the Burma Army in northeastern Burma, along with the Arakan Army (AA). The TNLA, MNDAA and AA reportedly plan to form a new alliance with the country’s largest ethnic armed group, the United Wa State Army.
“The government is holding separate talks with these groups, and they will follow through on any agreement they reach,” said Khu Oo Reh, referring to talks on Tuesday in Shan State’s Mongla between a government delegation from the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) and the three groups to sort out their participation in the peace process.
Tar Bone Kyaw, secretary of the TNLA, told The Irrawaddy that the government’s delegates—former lawmaker Thein Zaw, former Lt-Gen Khin Zaw Oo and former information minister Aung Kyi—discussed the groups’ participation in the peace process, the nationwide ceasefire agreement and the framework review.
The Burma Army had previously demanded that the three groups disarm before joining the peace process.
Tar Bone Kyaw said the negotiation “was unsuccesful” regarding disarmament, “due to slight wording problems.”
He said, “We can’t make a statement pledging that we will abandon the armed struggle but Khin Zaw Oo [the former Lt-Gen] told us that we will be unable to participate in the peace process if we don’t.”
The Irrawaddy was unable to reach Khin Zaw Oo for comment despite multiple attempts.
Meanwhile, Upper House parliamentarians have questioned the inclusion of ethnic minorities in the Union Peace Conference.
Kyaw Tint Swe, the Minister of the State Counselor’s Office, who is also the vice-chair of both the NRPC and the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), responded that decisions would be made at the UPDJC meeting next week.
Some ethnic armed groups have said that the State Counselor’s plan to commence the peace conference on August 31 seems rushed, but Pado Kwe Htoo Win, a vice-chair of the UPDJC—which represents eight ethnic armed organizations—said the date allows for enough time to negotiate both in formal and informal meetings.
“We have to begin national level talks,” said Pado Kwe Htoo Win. “This conference shows that peace talks are really happening under the new government.”
Nang Lwin Hnin Pwint contributed to this report.