Stressing Unity, UNFC Forms New Team to Lead Peace Dialogue

By Nyein Nyein 22 February 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A meeting of ethnic armed groups in Thailand ended on Sunday with the forming of two separate teams tasked with resolving ongoing conflict in northern Shan State and leading peace negotiations with the incoming government.

During the four-day meeting in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, nearly 50 leaders of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) discussed developments in the country’s military and political affairs as well as the prospects for federalism.

One of the outcomes of the meeting was the creation of a five-member “negotiation team” led by Nai Hong Sar, a senior negotiator for Burma’s ethnic armed groups.

The body will aim to reduce tensions between UNFC member the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), a non-member.

“We will try to have both sides, who have expressed a desire to negotiate, meet. A ceasefire is necessary for public safety,” said brigadier general Sao Sai Htoo of the Shan State Progress Party, the political wing of the Shan State Army-North, a member of the UNFC.

The UNFC in December spoke with SSA-S members about ending the conflict, but no gains were made in cooling tensions. Over 4,000 people in Kyaukme and Namkham townships have been displaced after fighting, which first broke out late last year, intensified earlier this month.

“It is not that easy [to resolve],” said Khu Oo Reh, UNFC general secretary. “We have to find out the proper approach to negotiations.”

The UNFC also restructured its Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), which now includes 13 new members led by Khu Oo Reh, in preparation for political talks with the incoming government.

Some ethnic leaders contend that a genuine ceasefire is hampered as the current government has only expressed a desire to meet with ethnic groups individually, rather than with the entire UNFC body.

Burma’s chief peace negotiator, Aung Min, asked to meet with some of the strongest armed groups—including the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the SSPP, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the RCSS and the Karen National Union (KNU)—in Chiang Mai this week.

UNFC members, however, said that they do not want to meet as individual groups.

“We will only meet under the UNFC title,” said Khu Oo Reh. “And we are against the divide-and-meet policy that the [current] government is using.”

Current UNFC members are all non-signatories of the so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), concluded in mid-October.

The UNFC suspended two of its members, the Chin National Front (CNF) and the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), from the alliance after they signed the pact. The KNU left the alliance prior to the NCA signing.

Membership applications have been received from other ethnic armed groups, including the active Arakan Army, whose potential for joining the council was discussed at the meeting. Khu Oo Reh said that the UNFC suggested that the Arakan Army merge with the Arakan National Council, which is already a UNFC member.

“We formed an intervention committee for them [the two Arakan groups] to help a merger take place no later than May of this year,” Khu Oo Reh said.

The UNFC was formed in late 2010 to represent most of Burma’s ethnic armed groups during peace negotiations with the government. Many UNFC members were also members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which led negotiations with the union government during the peace process before it was replaced by a restructured body.