Ethnic Armed Group Leaders Agree to Basic Federal Principles

By Nyein Nyein 10 April 2017

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Fourteen ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) approved a list of eight basic principles that they say will be the basis of a future federal union in Burma at a conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on April 8-9.

Both signatories and non-signatories of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) supported the principles, first drafted in 2005 t0 ensure the autonomy and equality of Burma’s ethnic minorities.

The principles are: sovereignty; self-determination; establishment of a genuine federal union; protection of ethnic rights, democratic rights and basic human rights; gender equality; a multi-party democratic system; and secularism.

“We approved them now as the EAOs were able to come together,” said Khun Myint Tun, the chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO).

The groups also passed the Panglong Manual, a guide to building a federal democratic system of government, following the Mai Ja Yang Summit held in Kachin State last July.

The manual defines the EAO’s understanding of the historic Panglong Agreement, signed between Gen Aung San and several ethnic groups in 1947.

Gen N’Ban La of the Kachin Independence Organization said in his opening speech on April 8 that having two authorities—the Burma Army and the National League for Democracy (NLD)— controlling the government’s ministries has created obstacles for peace negotiations.

“We have to overcome many difficulties,” he said. “The EAOs must be united despite our diversity and different ways of thinking.

“Our thinking has become complex and some organizations believe they can no longer follow the NCA path,” he said, referring to the Northern Alliance, of which his group is a member.

“As you all know, we have to consider the situation in northern [Burma] but I would like to request all of you to share your thoughtful recommendations,” he added.

All members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)—a coalition of seven EAOs who opted out of signing the NCA in 2015—were present.

These are: the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO); the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP); the New Mon State Party (NMSP); the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP); the Arakan National Council (ANC); the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU); and the Wa National Organization (WNO).

Seven signatories of the NCA were also present: the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS); the Chin National Front (CNF); the PNLO; the Democratic Karen Benevolence Army (DKBA); the Karen National Liberation Army – Peace Council (KNLA-PC); the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP); and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF).

The Karen National Union did not attend because its own congress was in progress.

The UNFC said it would sign the NCA when the government agrees to its terms. This follows an alleged rift in the bloc sparked during the Panghsang Summit in February when two member groups said they wanted to replace the NCA with a new approach to the peace process, while the others aimed to eventually sign the NCA.

“The EAOs that have not yet signed the NCA are still on the NCA path, and will continue negotiating on the foundation of their eight principles in order to sign,” Khun Myint Tun added.

The ethnic leaders also agreed to form working committees to draft defense and security policies, examine affairs related to the Joint Coordination Body (JCB) for peace process funding, and craft policy for the interim procedure between signing the NCA and the agreement’s conclusion.

In a statement on April 9, the leaders stressed the need to find solutions for negotiations between the government, the Burma Army and the EAOs to stop the Burma Army’s offensives in Kachin and Shan states as well as to find a solution to collaborating on the peace process.