UNFC Official Tours Shan State to Push Peace Process

By Nyein Nyein 23 December 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A top leader from the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) is now touring northeast Burma to discuss approaches on how to boost participation in the peace process.

Naing Hong Sar, vice chairman of the UNFC, visited the UNFC’s member groups in Shan State. The UNFC has taken on a leading role in negotiating the peace process between its seven ethnic member groups and the Burmese government.

On Thursday, Naing Hong Sar met representatives of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in Panghsang, the UWSA capital. The UWSA—Burma’s largest ethnic armed group—recently condemned the Shan State parliament’s decision to label ethnic armed groups of the Northern Alliance as “terrorist organizations.”

“This meeting is a way for us to discuss further collaboration,” said Khu Oo Reh, the UNFC secretary. “We need to find a way to work together with the government on the peace process.”

Maung Maung Soe, an ethnic affairs analyst, told The Irrawaddy that the UNFC’s effort to hold meetings with ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State “is a preparation to negotiate with the government with a collective voice.” Many of the ethnic armed groups that have not signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) are based in the far northern, eastern, and southeastern sections of the country.

In recent weeks, planned informal meetings between the Northern Alliance and the government have been delayed, reportedly because the Northern Alliance members demanded that the UWSA be allowed to send observers to the talks. The Northern Alliance consists of four ethnic armed groups—the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Arakan Army (AA).

“The KIA is the chair of the UNFC,” said Maung Maung Soe. “If the government focuses on building a ceasefire with the four groups of the Northern Alliance, we expect a signing of the NCA could then become possible. But the current problem is they have not been willing to sit at the negotiating table.”

Since Nov. 20, planned negotiations between the UNFC and the government have been postponed over disagreement about an appropriate date to hold the talks, said Khu Oo Reh. But he expects the two sides will meet before the second round of the 21st Century Panglong conference, which is slated for February.

Hla Maung Shwe, a Peace Commission advisor, told The Irrawaddy that the government planned to continue the political dialogue process, both formally and informally.

The government has proposed a meeting with the UNFC around Jan. 5.

While the KIA and its Northern Alliance partners are engaged in conflict, they have left the remaining members of the UNFC in a state of limbo. Those other armed groups—the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Wa National Organization (WNO), the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), and the Arakan National Council (ANC)—now must wait to advance the peace process.

On Monday, UNFC officials attended a meeting of the Joint Coordination Body (JCB) for Peace Process Funding, whose aim will be to allocate funds from international donors for peace-related programs. The JCB will consist of eight representatives from the government and eight from the ethnic armed organizations, including NCA signatories and non-signatories.

Monday’s meeting was also the first time in four months that UWSA officials attended a peace process event, according to Maung Maung Soe. In September, UWSA representatives walked out of the Union Peace Conference complaining about unfair treatment of their delegates.

Attendees at the JCB meeting discussed principles for ceasefire implementation, negotiation and dialogue, peace-supporting development, and a national reconciliation and peace center. The next JCB meeting is scheduled for Dec. 28.