Following Talks, NCA Signing Remains on Hold for UNFC

By Thu Thu Aung 11 August 2017

YANGON — Ethnic armed alliance the United Nationalities Federal Council  (UNFC) remains undecided on signing the country’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), following the sixth round of formal talks with the government’s Peace Commission, held at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center in Yangon on Thursday and Friday.

The UNFC has stood by a nine-point proposal that must be met in order for its five members to sign the agreement, and asked that it be added as an appendix to the NCA. Represented in the UNFC are the Shan State Progress Party, the New Mon State Party, the Lahu Democratic Union, the Karenni National Progressive Party, and the Arakan National Council.

Of the two-day meeting, government spokesperson U Zaw Htay said, “Half of the points were generally agreed upon as a result of the sixth round of talks. Discussion concerning the other half must be presented to the leaders of both sides for a final decision.”

U Twan Zaw, the UNFC’s joint general secretary, said on Friday that the policy framework was still unclear, and that leaders would need to approve any policy matters.

The remaining points of concern for the parties pertain to ceasefire rules, the military’s code of conduct, terms of reference for ceasefire monitoring, and the relocation of troops.

The UNFC has argued that the ceasefire monitoring team should include international legal experts and judges who are acceptable to both the government and the ethnic armed groups. They have also asked that natural resource and development projects in ceasefire areas be undertaken in consultation with locals and carried out in accordance with procedures laid out in the standards like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

In his opening remarks to the discussions on Thursday, UNFC joint general secretary Khu Oo Reh said that even after 14 months of talks, the trust level remained at “zero.” Meanwhile, government representatives said that they hoped the sixth round of talks would lead to a signing of the NCA.

Among the NCA’s eight ethnic armed group signatories, the Restoration Council of Shan State and the Karen National Union have pointed out weaknesses in implementing the NCA, which was signed into action nearly two years ago.

U Zaw Htay admitted that points exist within the political framework of the NCA framework that need to be amended, and that it would be reviewed with the ethnic armed organizations.

“The second round of the 21st Century Panglong conference was formed as a political debate for policy framework. The first round of the conference was just an opening ceremony,” he added, referring to the government’s peace conference. The third session is scheduled to be held no later than December.

Chair of the government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center U Tin Myo Win said he, “hope[s] for a pathway through the peace process to appear, by fulfilling the points of the discussions with UNFC as much as we can after presenting to the government.”

“If we can pass this point, the peace process will not stop or move backwards. It will keep going forward, toward peace,” he added.

The seventh round of talks between representatives of the Peace Commission and the UNFC will be held in September.