Ethnic Bloc Calls for Agreement on Federalism to Mark Union Day

By Nyein Nyein 3 February 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) has called for the signing of an agreement on Union Day, Feb. 12, related to the establishment of a federal union, while maintaining that it is “too soon” to sign a nationwide ceasefire accord.

According to a briefing paper issued by the ethnic alliance on Monday, the proposed agreement would help advance the commitment to establish a federal union “based on democratic rights and ethnic-based states, with full national equality and self-determination.”

If signed, the “Agreement Relating to the Establishment of a Federal Union” would also help build confidence in the peace process and hasten the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), the UNFC said.

“We have sent our proposal [to the government] and are waiting for a response,” UNFC general secretary Khu Oo Reh told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “We cannot tell whether it will happen or not as we have not yet met with government representatives [mediated through the Myanmar Peace Center].”

In its briefing paper, the UNFC affirmed its determination to sign the NCA and initiate a process of political dialogue with the government. However, the group said that the accord would not be finalized on Union Day due to outstanding issues in the draft text and a lack of trust caused by ongoing Burma Army offensives in the northern part of the country.

Ethnic leaders have cited ongoing conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States, including the Burma Army’s deadly attack on a Kachin Independence Army training camp on Nov. 19, as setting back negotiations.

On Jan. 21, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an alliance of 16 ethnic armed groups, also rejected President Thein Sein’s call to sign the NCA on Union Day, referring to a loss of mutual trust due to ongoing military offensives.

Observed annually on Feb. 12, Union Day marks the signing of the Panglong Agreement by Gen. Aung San and ethnic representatives in 1947, a document seen by ethnic groups as embodying ideals of equality, decentralization and self-determination that were never fully implemented.

Hla Maung Shwe, a leading member of the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), told The Irrawaddy that MPC representatives would travel to Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Thursday to meet with representatives of the NCCT and discuss a date for the next round of official talks with the government.

“If we are able to negotiate, an agreement could be signed, not [necessarily] limited to the nationwide ceasefire agreement,” Hla Maung Shwe said.

Other ethnic armed groups outside the UNFC also met recently to discuss the country’s peace prospects. On Jan. 30, representatives of the Karen National Union (KNU), the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) gathered in Mong La, Special Region 4 in Shan State, to discuss the NCA, according to SSA-S spokesperson Col. Sai La.

The KNU suspended its UNFC membership in September last year after criticizing the bloc for limiting the independence of individual member groups.

—Additional reporting by Khin Oo Tha