RANGOON — Ethnic armed groups forming the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) will only be invited to the upcoming Union Peace Conference as observers, two sources from within the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) told The Irrawaddy.
The sources, who wished to remain anonymous, also confirmed that the government would not invite international observers to attend the conference, also known as the 21st Century Panglong peace conference, later this month.
The issue of invitations was discussed at a meeting of the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led UPDJC, which includes representatives from the Burma Army and eight ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), at a meeting in Naypyidaw last week.
Vice chairman of the UNFC Nai Hong Sar told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the bloc’s position had not changed and “if we are only to listen to the talks, we will not attend.”
Nai Hong Sar said the UNFC—a group of six EAOs who laid out eight points agreed to by the government and military to signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)—was yet to receive an invitation to the conference.
He said even if the government did invite UNFC members as delegates there was not ample time to conduct national-level consultations with civil society and other stakeholders within the EAOs’ areas.
The upcoming Union Peace Conference, scheduled to begin on May 24, will differ from the previous edition in August and September last year as many EAOs have said they will not attend—including the Northern Alliance comprised of NCA non-signatories the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA).
The TNLA’s Brig-Gen Tarr Jode Jarr told the Irrawaddy that the Northern Alliance members would not attend if they were invited as observers.
A spokesperson for the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), the political wing of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), Col Sai Hla said the RCSS and fellow NCA-signatory the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) were unhappy that they could not conduct consultations with local stakeholders—known as national level political dialogues—prior to the conference.
The dialogue collects public opinion on issues such as political rights, land disputes, and the environment. The dialogues—based on region, ethnicity and theme—are a mandatory step in the process laid out by the NCA.
The government, however, has not allowed the ALP to hold public consultations, citing the instability due to ongoing conflict in Arakan State and the Burma Army’s reluctance to allow the RCSS to gather the public in the Shan State capital Taunggyi has delayed the group’s attempt for ethnic-based dialogue.
In an interview with Shan Herald Agency for News, Col Sai Hla said he told UPDJC members at the meeting in Naypyidaw last week that he will only be able to bring views from the RCSS, not all of the Shan people.
Delegates to the Panglong conference will discuss issues relating to federalism based regional national level political dialogues conducted by the government, Karen National Union (KNU), the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), the Chin National Front (CNF), and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF).
“[The conference] will not reflect the country if it is only based on limited regional talks,” said Col Sai Hla.
Nai Hong Sar said the conference was useless if not all EAOs were invited to attend. He suggested the government had planned for a limited number of attendees to make it easier to agree on federal principals.