CHIANG MAI, THAILAND— Leaders from the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of ethnic armed groups, gathered in northern Thailand on Thursday to prepare for peace negotiations with Burma’s incoming National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government.
Nai Hong Sar, the vice chairman of the UNFC, told reporters that this week’s meeting would “focus on the analysis of the current political situation and finding ways to have an all-inclusive peacebuilding process.”
Although the coalition of 11 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) assisted in drafting Burma’s so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), the UNFC’s members largely opted out of signing the 2015 accord, citing a lack of inclusivity. The NCA was signed by eight out of the 15 armed groups recognized by the government, with an additional five groups excluded from participation.
UNFC members the Chin National Front and the Pa-O National Liberation Organization both signed the NCA. Their membership of the alliance was subsequently suspended.
Following the NCA signing, the UNFC said that they could not accept the political dialogue framework drafted by the government and the ceasefire signatories.
Nai Hong Sar explained that he and other leaders have been advocating for a tripartite dialogue involving EAOs, the government, and political parties. The current framework involves seven groups of stakeholders—government, Parliament, EAOs, the military, political parties, ethnic representatives, and special guests. Critics say that this approach gives the Burma Army a bigger presence and therefore an unfair advantage.
The UNFC vice chairman expects that an NLD-led government will be in a position to negotiate for the all-inclusiveness sought by the EAOs, as its chairperson, Aung San Suu Kyi, is frequently meeting with the Burma Army chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
“We uphold our demand that even if the process cannot have all-inclusive representation yet, we want the guarantee that the remaining groups will not be attacked,” Nai Hong Sar said.
He also explained that this UNFC meeting will serve as an opportunity to explore how the coalition might intervene in the ongoing clashes in northern Shan State between its member, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), an NCA signatory.
“We learned that both sides want to reduce the tension,” he said, adding that he doubts the conflict is being instigated by outside forces, as some have suggested.
In his speech to council members, Lt-Gen N’Ban La of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) urged fellow ethnic leaders to make “serious decisions” in this week’s sessions and work toward actions that would benefit the public.
“For the time being, we, the ethnic armed groups, have remained in stalemate,” he said.