UNFC Members Divided Over NCA

By Saw Yan Naing 29 March 2017

RANGOON — Ethnic armed alliance the United National Federal Council (UNFC) faces a serious dilemma concerning the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) that stands to create a division within the organization.

The issue arose after two influential UNFC members said they wanted to replace the NCA with a completely new approach to the peace process, while five members of the UNFC aim to eventually sign the NCA.

The members in favor of signing the ceasefire pact are the New Mon State Party (NMSP), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Wa National Organization (WNO), Lahu Democratic Union and Arakan National Council (ANC). Wanting to abandon the NCA are the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP).

“If we are able to negotiate successfully, we will sign it [the NCA],” said UNFC spokesperson Nai Hong Sar, in reference to a second organizational conference originally scheduled for March, but postponed until May. “But, there are a lot of things that need to be discussed. If [the KIA and SSPP] send their representatives, we will need to discuss it with them.”

Nai Hong Sar added that if there is no progress negotiating with the KIA and SSPP—both of whom endorsed a new agreement at a summit organized by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in the town of Panghsang in February—it could lead to a division within the ethnic bloc.

“We have been negotiating the NCA together. We will try as hard as we can to work together in the peace process. We have that desire,” the spokesperson said.

Although there are five UNFC members who say they are committed to signing the NCA, it remains unclear whether three of them—the ANC, WNO and LDU—would even be allowed to become signatories by the government and the Burma Army. The future of the ANC, WNO and LDU appears uncertain as the UWSA also appears to have sidelined their role; the UWSA only invited larger groups such as the KIO, SSPP, NMSP and KNPP to attend the recent summit in Panghsang.

“If we sign the NCA, we will sign it under the name of the UNFC. That is a possibility. But we can’t talk about it with certainty,” said Nai Hong Sar.

Sources close to the ethnic armed organizations have said that the Burma Army wants the UNFC members to sign the NCA individually, and not as a bloc.

KIO insiders have also said that the KIO could leave the UNFC if it doesn’t obtain the position of chairmanship in the armed bloc’s conference in May. The UNFC could suffer from a major funding shortage if the KIO leaves.

The KIO risks losing trust from its fellow ethnic armed organizations if it suspends its membership in the UNFC for losing the chairmanship, analysts say. It is possible that the KIO could continue its association with the UNFC on the political front while its armed wing allies more closely with the four-member Northern Alliance in Shan State, which is believed to be supported by the China-backed UWSA.