MAI JA YANG, Kachin State — Four ethnic armed groups, including the United Wa State Army (UWSA)—the largest non-state armed group in Burma–were noticeably absent from an ongoing ethnic armed group summit in Kachin State’s Mai Ja Yang.
Leaders representing 17 ethnic armed groups gathered in Mai Ja Yang on Tuesday to seek common ground in working toward federalism.
Among the other absentees were the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K).
“Even before the Wa group received the [summit] invitation from us, they had set up a time and venue for talks with the government. They might have had difficulties choosing a delegation of leaders to attend the summit,” said Khu Oo Reh, chairman of the summit organizing committee.
Despite the fact that the UWSA did not attend the event, its ally—the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), better known as Mongla Group—joined the summit as an observer. Also, the Arakan Army (AA)—a TNLA and MNDAA ally—was present.
“The TNLA and MNDAA wanted to attend but there were difficulties for the time being. Please forgive their absence. They will be present and cooperate in the next stages,” said Khu Oo Reh, who is also secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).
The AA, TNLA and MNDAA are all members of the UNFC—a coalition of nine ethnic armed groups who opted out of signing a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the previous government in 2015. The UNFC has stuck to its all-inclusive policy regarding a ceasefire with the government, and opted out of signing the NCA because the former administration had not included the MNDAA, TNLA, and AA in the peace process.
The TNLA stated that it chose not to attend the summit because of concerns that its presence might affect other ethnic armed groups, citing previous demands issued by the Burma Army for participation in peace process. The military demanded that the TNLA, MNDAA and AA disarm in order to join the process, said TNLA general secretary Tar Bone Kyaw.
“We are ready to participate in the peace process if the National League for Democracy government and the Burma Army allow us to join like other ethnic [armed] groups in line with the ceasefire policy. But the Burma Army has insisted that we lay down our arms before joining the peace process,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Regarding the inclusion of the MNDAA and the TNLA in the peace process, Khu Oo Reh told reporters, “Our view is that we will continue discussions with the government. But, we think the concerned groups and the government should answer for themselves rather than us answering on their behalf.”
The NSCN-K is based on the India-Burma border and is an independent group with no alliance to other ethnic armed groups. The group has said that it will not attend the Union Peace Conference, which is scheduled for the end of August.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.