The Irrawaddy

UNFC Seeks Talks with State Counselor, Army Chief

Members of the UNFC’s DPN meet State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw on March 1.

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a bloc of ethnic armed organizations that has yet to sign up to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), has requested meetings with the State Counselor and the Myanmar Army chief later this month, hoping to revive deadlocked talks on peace negotiations.

The proposed meeting would be the group’s second with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The first was in March.

The UNFC requested the meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in a letter sent on Monday. Nai Ong Ma-nge, the UNFC’s spokesman for the delegation on political negotiation (DPN), said the group hoped to receive a reply within 10 days.

Negotiations on the UNFC’s eight-point proposal have been going on for 17 months, since 2016, but Nai Ong Ma-nge said the group’s leaders are ready to talk. “We hope the deadlock we are now facing can be sorted out when leaders of both sides meet and talk things through,” he said.

The DPN first proposed the meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of government, and Sen Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the military chief, before their last formal meeting with the government’s Peace Commission in mid-November.

After DPN leaders led by Khu Oo Reh met the State Counselor on March 1 to seek a way forward on negotiations, the bloc spokesman described the meeting as a success.

However, the deadlock has yet to be broken, and it still seems unlikely that the bloc will sign the NCA before the third session of the 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference in late January 2018.

Government peace negotiators contacted by The Irrawaddy on Monday said they were unable to comment on the meeting, as the DPN had also met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in March, but did not elaborate further. Government peace commissioners and U Zaw Htay, the spokesperson for the State Counselor’s Office, referred The Irrawaddy to the Peace Commission spokesman, who was not available to comment.

“We would seek to continue our discussion from the eighth and ninth rounds of talks, but two of the proposal’s eight points have yet to be agreed,” said Nai Ong Ma-nge, including a disagreement over an official description of the country to be added to the amendment in the UNFC’s eight-point proposal. They demand that it be part of the annex to the NCA. The government backs the terminology “Democracy and Federal Union” while the UNFC prefers “Federal Democratic Union”. The title is not yet contained in the NCA.

In the last week of November the New Mon State Party (NMSP) held an urgent meeting to discuss the peace process with Mon State Chief Minister Dr. Aye Zan, but the contents of the discussion were not made public.

Nai Ong Ma-nge, who is also a member of the NMSP, told The Irrawaddy earlier this week that the party discussed its stance with UNFC members at a meeting on Sunday, believing that continued negotiations are important for the peace process.