Ethnic Groups Meet to Discuss Political Demands in Peace Process

By Saw Yan Naing 29 July 2013

About 150 representatives from various Burma’s ethnic armed groups, NGOs and opposition members gathered in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, on Monday to discuss a joint strategy to promote their political demands during peace talks with the government in Naypyidaw.

The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of Burma’s 11 most important ethnic armed groups, including Kachin, Karen and Shan rebels, organized the conference, which will end on Thursday.

Nai Kwe Hong Mon, a leading UNFC member, said some 150 participants would attend the meeting, including non-UNFC members such as opposition politicians, non-governmental organizations and pro-democracy activists. “We invited our ethnic alliance and pro-democracy forces. We also invited the Democratic Alliance of Burma [an opposition umbrella group],” he said.

Burma government officials from Minister Aung Min’s peace negotiation team and the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) were not invited, however.

Rebel group representatives said the meeting would discuss a joint strategy aimed at reaching a political solution with Naypyidaw in order to end Burma’s long-running ethnic conflicts.

The UNFC has set out a roadmap towards a six point political framework, which it wants the government to accept before any national peace conference is held.

President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government has signed ceasefire agreements with 10 of the 11 main ethnic rebel groups in the past year. His government received much international praise for these steps and has promised to soon hold a conference with all armed groups in order to reach a “nationwide ceasefire agreement.” No date for this event has been set, however.

The UNFC’s technical team met with MPC officials in July in Chiang Mai to discuss the government’s proposal for “a nationwide ceasefire agreement.”

Mahn Mahn, the head of UNFC’s technical team, told The Irrawaddy recently that the groups would not agree to hold a national peace conference until the government accepts its demand for a time-bound schedule to achieve political progress.

Burma’s ethnic groups have been fighting decades-long rebellions against the central government in order to gain greater political autonomy for their regions and better protection of their rights. They also want to amend the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.

“We signed the ceasefires because we want to solve the problems politically. Before we sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement, we also have to reach an agreement on political frameworks,” said Mahn Mahn.

“We want to talk about our peace roadmap — we want them [government negotiators] to agree to implement our peace process roadmap.”

The UNFC members said they want to consult all ethnic armed groups, opposition parties and NGOs about their political demands, before engaging Naypyidaw on these matters.

Then the UNFC wants to agree with the government on a political framework. After this framework is presented to Burma’s public, are the ethnic groups willing to hold a national peace conference in the spirit of the 1947 Panglong agreement, ethnic representatives have said.

Burma’s independence hero General Aung San reached an agreement with the country’s ethnic groups in 1947 that would allow them a degree of political autonomy. His assassination that same year prevented the implementation of the agreement and the country was subsequently plagued by decades of ethnic conflict.