Ethnic Armed Group Leaders meet US Delegation

By Lawi Weng 5 October 2016

RANGOON – Leaders of ethnic armed groups, including those from the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), met with a US delegation at the American Embassy in Rangoon on Tuesday, according to both UNFC and embassy sources.

A spokesperson for the US Embassy confirmed to The Irrawaddy that a meeting took place between US Ambassador to Burma Scot Marciel, Lt-Gen Anthony G. Crutchfield—Deputy Commander of the US Pacific Command—and representatives from ethnic armed groups including those in the UNFC, but did not comment further.

They were joined by representatives of armed groups who have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) including the Pa-O National Liberation Organization, the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, the Karen National Union, the Restoration Council of Shan State, and the Chin National Front.

“The US Embassy invited UNFC leaders and leaders of NCA signatory armed groups to meet the [Deputy] Commander of the US Pacific Command on his visit to Burma,” said attendee Nai Pon Nya Mon, deputy executive director of the Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center; Lt-Gen Anthony G. Crutchfield came to the country for three days this week.

“They have plans to meet the Burma Army, therefore, they arranged a meeting with ethnic leaders too.”

The US Embassy in Rangoon confirmed on their official Facebook page on Wednesday that they held a meeting with senior government and military officials in Naypyidaw to “discuss how civilian control of the military functions in the United States.”

Vice chairman of the UNFC Nai Hong Sar, who also joined the meeting, told the Irrawaddy Wednesday that the US delegation “asked about the situation of the peace talks, what difficulties we have had and asked us what they could do to help.”

The delegation also discussed State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the US and the lifting of US sanctions, according to Nai Hong Sar.

“They told us they will help the Burma Army with education and to help and protect civilians, but not to fight ethnic armed groups,” he said, referring to fears that renewed military to military cooperation between the US and Burma would mean bad news for armed ethnic groups.

Nai Hong Sar said he told the US delegation that despite the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference, the Burma Army had not changed their attitude to peace. “They continue to fight our ethnic armed groups, so we do not trust them,” he said.

As the Burma Army ruled the country for over five decades it is hard to force reform of the military, Nai Hong Sar said. He told the US leaders that the international community needs to put more pressure on the Tatmadaw to bring about change in their practices.

The Burma Army has clashed with ethnic armed groups recently in Kachin, Shan, and Karen states. The US delegation reportedly asked about the conditions in these ethnic areas in the meeting.

“We told them that the Burma Army is not sincere in their wish for peace and therefore there is ongoing fighting,” Nai Hong Sar said. He said that the US delegation “replied that they also had some doubts over the actions of the Burma Army,” he added.

Nai Hong Sar also stated that the US delegation also allegedly said at the meeting that if ethnic armed leaders signed the NCA, then peace talks might be easier.

“We told them that we wanted to have an all-inclusive signing of the NCA but we need a tripartite meeting,” he said, including representatives of the government, political parties, and ethnic armed groups.

“We told them that we will sign the NCA when they [Burma Army] agree to our requests. We want to solve the conflict peacefully,” said Nai Hong Sar.

The UNFC and the Burma Army have not reached an agreement on the political framework, or format, of peace negotiations and the UNFC has therefore stayed away from meetings.

The UNFC argued that there is no balance in the representatives joining proposed peace talks as the proposals allow the government to send representatives from three groups while ethnic armed groups and ethnic political parties can only send one group.

“We are better not to join this football game,” Nai Hong Sar said referring to the framework of the talks. “They have parliament, military, and the government from their side while we can only have one representative at the meeting.”

“This is not fair and not sincere. Therefore, we are asking to have tripartite meetings,” said Nai Hong Sar.

Rik Glauert contributed reporting to this story.