Ethnic Armed Group Leaders Discuss Security Sector Reform

By Saw Yan Naing 9 August 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Ethnic armed group leaders are holding a three-day workshop on Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Burma, which started on Monday in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.

Participants include members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) ethnic armed alliance, alongside the Karen National Union (KNU) and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF)—two groups that, unlike UNFC members, signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the previous government last year.

Discussions have focused on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)—one of the key demands of the Burma Army in the peace process with respect to ethnic armed groups. The latter have responded with demands for reforms in Burma’s security sector, including the formation of a “federal army” incorporating ethnic armed groups.

Participants expressed concern at apparent efforts to fast track DDR and SSR processes simultaneously with political negotiations, and the Burma Army’s insistence that ethnic armed groups accept the terms of both the NCA and the 2008 military-drafted Constitution as a pre-condition for full participation in peace talks.

“We are discussing our strategy on security related affairs, and exchanging thoughts. We have invited others from Burma to hear their views and advice,” said Nai Hong Sar, a spokesperson for the workshop.

Representatives of ethnic political parties in Burma, who are members either of the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) or the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF), also took part.

The participants shared their disagreements with the positions of the government and the Burma Army on the NCA, which was signed by only a minority of ethnic armed groups. Signing the NCA is currently a precondition for full participation in the Union Peace Conference scheduled to begin in Naypyidaw on August 31.

Ethnic armed group leaders said they were worried by the plan of the government and Burma Army to implement DDR and SSR simultaneously with peace negotiations.

Participants also expressed disagreement with the Burma Army’s demand that ethnic armed groups “accept” the 2008 Constitution and “follow democratic processes” outlined in the charter, and with recent political proposals from the government that offer only limited autonomy for border regions where ethnic armed groups are currently based.

They also signaled frustration with the Burma Army’s insistence of there being only “one armed force” in Burma, with regards to future SSR—an apparent rejection of the demand of ethnic armed groups for a “federal army.”

International security and conflict specialists also took part in the workshop, sharing their knowledge and experience, alongside women’s rights activists and civil society leaders.

The “SSR/DDR and Security Policy Workshop” was organized by the Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center, an organization that supports political dialogue in Burma’s peace process.

Meanwhile, representatives of ethnic armed organizations that signed the NCA are holding a separate meeting in Chiang Mai with leaders of the UNFC.