UNFC to Elect New Leader in December

By Saw Yan Naing 30 November 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burma’s ethnic armed group alliance the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) will elect new leaders at its next conference in mid-December.

The leaders of the seven ethnic armed groups confirmed the elections after a three-day meeting in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand that concluded Wednesday.

At December’s conference a new chairman will be elected to replace current chairman Gen N Ban La who has been elected twice. The UNFC holds its congress every two years.

“Our current chairman said he wants changes in leadership, so new leaders will be elected,” general secretary of the UNFC Khu Oo Reh told The Irrawaddy.

He said the bloc’s leaders and representatives also discussed progress in peace negotiations made under the current leadership’s two-year term and the escalating conflict in northern Shan State.

The UNFC’s Delegation for Political Negotiation had expressed concern over conflicts in northern Shan State to government peace negotiators when they met in Rangoon in October and November, according to Khu Oo Reh.

“They [government peace negotiators] said they would submit our concerns to ‘higher leaders,’ but we haven’t heard any official response,” said Khu Oo Reh. “We are sad that they are taking their time to respond to us while human rights violations are happening.”

He said “higher leaders” referred to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing who are in a position to respond.

He said UNFC leaders had also proposed a meeting with the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) in early December before the conference, but they had not confirmed with the NRPC.

The UNFC leaders will also discuss how to join national-level political dialogue and the next Union Peace Conference—also known as the 21st Century Panglong Conference.

UNFC members are not allowed to officially take part in national-level political dialogue or the second peace conference as they are not signatories of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). There is, however, the possibility that they will be invited to attend as observers.

According to Khu Oo Reh, the UNFC also contacted former member the Karen National Union (KNU) to ask if they would rejoin the bloc. The KNU reportedly responded that they would hold a meeting to discuss their cooperation with the UNFC.

Sources close to the bloc said that the UNFC believes that the KNU will rejoin the bloc if new KNU leadership comes into power. The KNU has postponed its next congress and leadership elections until March.

The UNFC currently has seven members including the powerful ethnic armed group the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). All UNFC members failed to sign the NCA with the previous government.