RANGOON — The joint chairman of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) has used a celebration on the Thai-Burmese border to make the case for a federal system of governance and the retention of ethnic armies, after ethnic leaders repeated their desire for constitutional amendments which would devolve power from Naypyidaw.
Nai Hong Sar had returned from the Panghsang summit, held from May 1-6 to discuss the draft text of a proposed nationwide ceasefire agreement negotiated between the government and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT).
The summit unanimously agreed to call for constitutional change in support of a “federal union which guarantees equality and self-determination”, while committing its signatories to renounce secession if a federal union was introduced.
Nai Hong Sar, who is also head of the NCCT, discussed the federal proposal while speaking in the Thai town of Sangkhlaburi, across the border from Mon State’s Ye Township, to mark the 258th anniversary of the end of the Mon Hongsawatoi Kingdom.
“We will ask to have a federal system when there is political dialogue in the country,” he told the predominantly ethnic Mon audience. “This is a common goal from all ethnic groups which was agreed to in Panghsang.”
In what is likely to prove a sticking point for future ceasefire negotiations, Nai Hong Sar added that any federal system should also include provisions for the maintenance of ethnic armies.
“We want to have an American style [of governance], where we can run our own state, and we can have our own army,” he said. “We agree to have one army in the country, but our state will have our own army because we need it in order to protect our ethnicity. They are trying to eliminate our ethnicity in order to fully control the whole country, this is why we ethnic groups need our own armies to protect our people.”
The Panghsang summit statement did not explicitly refer to the retention of ethnic armies, but did include a denunciation of human rights abuses by the Burma Army and called for an immediate end to assaults on Kachin, Ta’ang, Kokang and Arakan armed groups.
Nai Hong Sar said that the NCCT was continuing to push for the inclusion of ethnic armed groups that the government did not recognize as parties to the peace process.
“We wanted all ethnic groups to participate at political talks, but they do not want groups the Kokang, Palaung, and Arakan Army. This was a problem at our recent talks,” he said.
The Arakan Army and the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) are members of the NCCT but are not recognized by the government. The Palaung State Liberation Front, the political wing of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, is a recognized member of the NCCT engaged in ongoing conflicts with the Burma Army.