Non-Signatory Armed Leaders Float New Ethnic Alliance at Panghsang

By Lawi Weng 3 November 2015

RANGOON — Ongoing discussions among ethnic rebel leaders attending a summit in Panghsang, Wa Special Region, could bring about the formation of a new alliance of ethnic armed groups that would for the first time include two of Burma’s largest non-state fighting forces, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA).

If an agreement is reached, formation of the alliance—constituting current non-signatories to a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement reached last month—would also see the dissolution of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a grouping of 11 ethnic armed groups created in 2011, according to summit attendees.

“We are still discussing about how to form. Our UNFC has become weak, we intend for the Wa and Mong La [ethnic armed groups] to participate in our new alliance,” said Nai Hong Sar, the vice chairman of the New Mon State Party (NMSP).

A name for the new grouping has not yet been decided, but each member group would appoint two representatives to serve as envoys to the alliance.

“We will focus on working together politically. From our group, we will appoint two people to work with the alliance,” said Sai Mauk, a central committee member of the Mong La-based NDAA.

Neither the NDAA nor UWSA are members of the UNFC, which has previously invited the two armed groups to join, only to be rebuffed. The UNFC has at times been a vocal critic of President Thein Sein’s administration and the Burma Army during peace negotiations between the government and more than a dozen ethnic armed groups that began in 2011.

Most recently, ahead of the signing of a multilateral ceasefire between the government and eight non-state armed groups on Oct. 15, the UNFC issued a statement questioning Naypyidaw’s sincerity amid ongoing Burma Army offensives against ethnic rebels in Shan and Kachin states.

“If the government is going through the fake motions of building peace for show but continuing to use the outdated policy of total annihilation based on chauvinism, which had been used by successive governments, peace in the country would still be far and distant,” the alliance warned.

While Burma’s ethnic armed groups have forged multiple alliances of varying effectiveness over the years, Tar Bong Kyaw of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) said the inclusion of the UWSA and NDAA would be a notable development.

“All our fighting armed groups will be involved in this new alliance group. One special thing is Wa and Mong La will join in it,” said the general secretary of the TNLA, a UNFC member.

The leaders of 11 ethnic armed groups that did not sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement last month are attending the Panghsang summit, with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), another non-signatory, also receiving an invite but unable to join.

In addition to the UWSA, TNLA, NDAA and NMSP, the proposed alliance would also include the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO), Kayan New Land Party, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), Arakan Army and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), all of which have sent representatives to the Panghsang meeting.

The three-day summit will end on Tuesday, and participants are expected to issue a statement about the outcome of the gathering.

Ahead of the meet-up, the UWSA said last week that attendees would discuss building cooperation between non-signatory armed groups and assess how to approach Burma’s political landscape in 2016 and beyond, when a new government could take power.

On the opening day of the summit, a spokesman for the UWSA said Burma’s largest ethnic armed group supported the “holding of a free and fair election, [with] good transparency,” on Nov. 8.

Among the 11 groups in attendance, some are UNFC members while others are not. Likewise, some UNFC members were signatories to the ceasefire agreement, while others abstained.