CHIANG MAI, Thailand – After a five-day meeting of seven ethnic armed organizations in the Wa stronghold of Panghsang, the groups have formed a political negotiation committee to represent them in talks with the government.
The meeting, held from April 15-19, was a follow-up to talks in February this year, also in the region controlled by Burma’s largest ethnic armed group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA). A total of seven armed groups currently engaged in active conflict with the Burma Army participated.
The statement published in Panghsang on Wednesday said that all attending organizations would enter talks with the government as an alliance led by the UWSA, and that it rejected the path to peace determined by the government’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).
Two prominent members of ethnic bloc the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)—the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIA/O) and the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N)—took part in the Panghsang meeting, even though the UNFC—which has not yet signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement—has maintained that they will remain on the NCA path.
Also in attendance were representatives from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA)—also known as the Mongla Group, the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Arakan Army (AA).
The political leadership committee formed in Panghsang will be led by UWSA chairman Bao Youxiang; a secretariat team and a political delegation were also formed, according to Maj-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw, the secretary of the TNLA.
“We seek a new approach for the political dialogue as the current NCA path is not a true means to practically solving the political problems,” said Tar Phone Kyaw, highlighting a need to bring an end to fighting in Burma’s northeast.
The NCA, he said, “is a Tatmadaw-manipulated agreement and its implementation is similar to the 1993 National Convention, which ended up with the 2008 military-backed Constitution.” He added, however, that the Panghsang attendees understand the geopolitics concerning the southern non-state armed groups who have signed the NCA already, or are considering signing later.
Tar Phone Kyaw said that the political delegation team formed in Panghsang would “communicate with the government as soon as possible, for negotiation and to share our common policy paper,” but that they had pledged “not to meet individually for negotiations [with the government].”
The alliance’s policy paper outlines the ethnic national liberation efforts, the need for a guarantee for autonomy and the principles required to form a genuine federal Union. The positions are redefined from the UWSA’s policy paper shared during the first 21st Century Panglong peace conference session held last August.
A Call for Common Leadership
Four years ago, the UNFC firmly adopted the stance that all of its original 11 members engage in peace talks and political dialogue negotiations under the leadership of the UNFC. But the signing of NCA in October 2015 divided the bloc, leaving it with only seven members.
The coalition has said that its members will sign the NCA if nine proposed points they have put forward are agreed to by the government. Until last month, the UNFC had urged for “all-inclusivity” for more than 20 ethnic armed groups to be recognized by the Tatmadaw and to be part of peace negotiations.
This month, some of these groups—including the KIO and SSPP—have again called for common leadership, but this time, led by the Wa.
The Irrawaddy was not able to reach either the KIO or the SSPP spokespersons for comment at the time of publication, but the organizations have maintained they will remain in the UNFC while its postponed congress is planned for June. The KIO still holds a leadership role in the ethnic coalition, which was formed in Nov. 2010, at the start of the administration of Burma’s former quasi-civilian government led by U Thein Sein.
“It is unclear what position the KIO and SSPP are in,” said U Zaw Htay, spokesperson for the State Counselor’s office, adding that these groups have not yet officially said whether they will leave the UNFC to ally with the Wa-led committee.
The spokesperson added that he “wonder[s] how the KIO and SSPP will engage in the peace process.”
The government peace negotiation team led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had expressed hope that the UNFC member groups would sign the NCA before the 21st Century Panglong conference, slated to be held next month.
The time for the second session of the peace conference has not yet been set, but the government and the NCA signatories will meet on Monday, April 24, to negotiate a date.