UNFC Affirms Internal Disagreements

By Saw Yan Naing 16 March 2017

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) alliance of ethnic armed organizations says top leaders within the bloc have different views on how to proceed with the peace process.

The comment came after a three-day emergency meeting in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. UNFC spokesperson Nai Hong Sar said some members do not want to engage in peace talks in line with the government’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), while others want to push forward with the NCA, on which the current political dialogue framework rests.

Eight ethnic armed groups have so far signed the NCA.

Cracks in the UNFC became more visible after its chair, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), and another UNFC member, the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), attended an ethnic summit in Panghsang organized by the China-backed United Wa State Army, the most powerful ethnic armed group.

Members of the Northern Alliance who did not sign the NCA—the Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—also attended the summit.

Nai Hong Sar said some UNFC members wanted to negotiate peace in line with the NCA while others wanted to engage in line with the Panghsang summit—where attendees criticized the NCA and called to replace it with a new agreement.

“There are two sides. Our opinions aren’t totally divided. We have to adjust in accordance with the situation,” said Nai Hong Sar.

“One group went to negotiate the nine points [of the NCA]. Another group wants to negotiate in line with the Panghsang meeting decision. This is a bit contradictory. We need time to resolve the disagreement,” said Nai Hong Sar.

Sources within ethnic armed groups say the KIO and SSPP do not want to negotiate based on the current NCA.

Other UNFC members such as the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) still hope to achieve peace in line with the NCA.

Nai Hong Sar said the UNFC postponed its annual conference which was scheduled for March 23 in order to allow time to resolve the differences. A new conference date has not yet been disclosed.

Observers say there will be a shake-up in the UNFC leadership after the second conference, saying the KIO might quit the UNFC if it loses its chairmanship position.

KIO spokesperson Naw Bu told the BBC Burmese service on Monday that the KIO will only decide what to do after the conference is held.

Nai Hong Sar has said UNFC members agreed to discuss restructuring the UNFC in line with the current political situation.

The UNFC has experienced divisions since former President Thein Sein introduced peace talks with ethnic armed groups.

Its former leading member, the Karen National Union (KNU), withdrew its membership in August 2014, stating the UNFC failed to carry out organizational reforms.

The Pa’O National Liberation Organization and the Chin National Front were suspended from the bloc in Nov. 2015 after signing the NCA, and the TNLA and MNDAA are on a pending list of suspensions from membership.