CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), representing an alliance of five armed ethnic groups, and the government will meet for a ninth round of talks to pave the way for the bloc to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), in Yangon’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center on Thursday.
Following an eighth round of talks last week (Nov 8-9), the two sides said they were close to reaching an agreement on the UNFC’s eight-point proposal – a list of key demands by bloc members to sign the NCA. The main sticking point is the future name of the country.
As the second point on their list, the UNFC has proposed that the country be officially described as the “Federal Democratic Union” but the government wants it to be the “Democracy and Federal Union.”
The government delegation, which also includes representatives of the Tatmadaw, is opposed to starting with the designation “federal”.
“It is because our generation has been indoctrinated to think of ‘federal’ to mean seceding from the union,” said U Tun Zaw, a spokesman for the UNFC.
Whether the bloc will sign the NCA is “totally dependent on the negotiations during the ninth round of talks [tomorrow],” U Tun Zaw said. He added that the alliance was sticking to its position that it would not sign the NCA until every item in its eight-point proposal had been agreed.
“We are now close to signing the NCA, but we cannot say exactly when,” said the UNFC’s chairman, Naing Hong Sar, during a speech at a political dialogue framework review meeting between the UNFC’s delegation for political negotiations (DPN) and the eight current signatories of the NCA on Monday in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The talks between the UNFC and the government have continued without conclusion despite the eight-point proposal having been around one and a half years.
“The main obstacle is the limitations regarding policy. If this rigidity continues,” Tun Zaw said, “hurdles will persist during the negotiations.”
Prior to their departure to Yangon, the senior leaders of the bloc discussed the advantages and impacts of signing the NCA at a executive committee meeting in Chiang Mai on Tuesday, where the top leadership of the five member organizations – the New Mon State Party (NMSP), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), Arakan National Council (ANC) and the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) – were present.
The SSPP has asked to withdraw from the UNFC, but they are still taking part in the group’s activities, as their request to leave has not been formally approved.