UNFC to Meet Government’s New Peace Negotiator in Chiang Mai

By Nyein Nyein 1 June 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of non-state ethnic armed groups in Burma have said that they will meet on Friday with Dr. Tin Myo Win, the Burmese government’s newly installed peace negotiator, after a two-day meeting of the alliance in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Consisting entirely of non-signatories to last year’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), the UNFC remains an influential bloc which the government is eager to woo into what Suu Kyi has styled a 21st Century Panglong Conference.

The UNFC’s Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), which comprises 13 members drawn from the member groups, will meet in Chiang Mai with a government delegation led by Tin Myo Win, who is best known as the longstanding personal physician of pro-democracy leader and current state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Khu Oo Reh, the secretary of the UNFC, currently heads the DPN.

“I received a letter from Dr. Tin Myo Win [on behalf of] the 21st Century-style Panglong Conference preparation committee. I replied today that our members agreed to the meeting,” Khu Oo Reh told The Irrawaddy.

Khu Oo Reh stressed the need for all communication from the government to the armed groups in the alliance to be channeled through UNFC structures, rather than through individual member groups and leaders, so as to preserve an “all-inclusive policy.”

Khu Oo Reh’s words appeared to reflect concerns over growing polarization among ethnic armed groups in Burma, evident not only in recent conflict between certain NCA signatory groups—of which there are eight in total—and non-signatories, but in requests in early May from the Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) to leave the UNFC.

Spokesmen from the TNLA and the MNDAA, interviewed by Radio Free Asia earlier in May, blamed “weak assistance” from the UNFC and its member groups in the face of assaults from the Burma Army over the last year—but the Burma Army’s insistence on marginalizing these two groups from formal peace negotiations may have contributed to their isolation from UNFC-member groups more eager for a timely peace deal.

Yet TNLA representatives have officially said that they simply do not want their group’s presence in the alliance to hinder the process.

Discussions on Thursday will touch on the two groups’ requested departure from the alliance, Khu Oo Reh explained, alongside the need to a hold a formal meeting with the eight groups who signed the NCA. Such a meeting has not taken place since the NCA came into effect.

Khu Oo Reh added that he has asked the TNLA and the MNDAA to join them in the Friday meeting with the government delegation.

On Tuesday, President Htin Kyaw formed several committees to steer the peace process, including one to oversee the formation of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (the successor to the Myanmar Peace Center under the previous government) and a Union Peace Conference preparation committee—along with two sub-committees tasked with holding talks with NCA signatory and non-signatory groups respectively.

On Wednesday afternoon, UNFC chair Lt-Gen N’Ban La met with Lt-Gen Yawd Serk of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), whose armed wing is named the Shan State Army-South, to seek a resolution to ongoing conflict between TNLA and SSA-S troops in northern Shan State. UNFC had previously said it would intervene.

The RCSS signed the NCA in October last year, while the TNLA was prevented from doing so on the insistence of the Burma Army, who had fought with them repeatedly that year.

At the Wednesday RCSS-UNFC meeting, the two leaders also discussed future collaboration and exchange of views between the UNFC and NCA signatory groups, according to RCSS spokesperson Col Sai La.