The Irrawaddy

UNFC Peace Talks With Govt Postponed

The Peace Commission and the United Nationalities Federal Council meet for informal talks in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Sept 25, 2017. / Nyein Nyein / The Irrawaddy

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – The seventh round of formal talks between the ethnic alliance the United Nationalities Federal Council and the government peace commission has been postponed until after the second anniversary of the signing of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) on Oct. 15, leaving the bloc unable to sign the NCA on the anniversary as expected.

The upcoming talk is planned to reach an agreement between the government and the UNFC bloc on its eight-point proposal, according to peace negotiators on both sides.

Only after the UNFC’s proposal is negotiated and agreed to, will the ethnic alliance sign the NCA.

Nai Ong Ma-Nge, the UNFC spokesman, said the government would be unable to meet on the bloc’s proposed date of Oct. 7 due to the Thadingyut holiday, postponing the date until later this month.

He added that the proposal needed to be thoroughly discussed and agreed to before signing the ceasefire agreement.

The government wants to see the bloc – which now includes the New Mon State Party (NMSP), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), Arakan National Council (ANC) and Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) – become signatories, in addition to the current eight ethnic armed groups, in order to further its peace process.

The SSPP, which is also a member of a northeastern alliance led by the United Wa State Army, requested to leave the bloc last month. But the resignation can only be accepted at the UNFC congress, held every two years. SSPP representatives have been present at ongoing talks with the government.

The first four points of the UNFC proposal were agreed to in principle at the sixth round of formal talks on August 11, according to U Aung Soe, a member of the peace commission.

“But the rest need to be reviewed and decided on by not only us, as it is related to the Joint-ceasefire Implementation Committee Meeting (JICM) and Joint-ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC),” he said.

Due to instability and Myanmar Army pressure on ethnic armed groups, including frequent engagements between the Tatmadaw and the northern alliance in northeast Burma; the Tatmadaw’s interference in restricting a military parade on Mon Revolution Day in August; and its reluctance to allow NCA-signatory the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) to hold national-level political dialogue in the Shan State capital Taunggyi – observers have noted that the peace process is in a predicament.

The bloc will not deviate from its stance in signing the NCA, said the UNFC spokesman, despite peace expert and stakeholder views during UNFC stakeholder consultations at the end of September that the peace process was deadlocked and the bloc should rethink its approach.

The northern alliance, whose members are actively engaged with the Myanmar Army has said it prefers an alternate approach in which the NCA is replaced.

The government said it is trying to negotiate with all ethnic armed groups in the country to build peace and prosperity, yet talks with other groups have not been held since June.

“We are trying to meet with other ethnic armed organizations, of which that are 21 recognized by the government,” U Aung Soe said last week.

But the government does not recognize the new northern alliance or its Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), and will only meet with the groups individually and not as a bloc, hindering a meeting.

Among the 21 ethnic armed groups, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) has said it is willing to sign the NCA only if it covers all Naga people including those living across the border in India.