UNFC: We Will Join the Union Peace Conference

By Nyein Nyein 25 August 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — After an emergency meeting in Thailand, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)—an ethnic armed alliance—has confirmed that they will attend Burma’s Union Peace Conference, scheduled to commence on Aug. 31.

Senior leaders—representing each of the ethnic armed groups that are members of UNFC—attended the meeting, which began on Wednesday and lasted one-and-a-half days.

“We will join the 21st Century Panglong [conference]…as it is just the grand opening, and the first session,” said Tun Zaw, a UNFC secretary, referring to the Union Peace Conference by its other commonly used name.

The UNFC delegation met with the government’s negotiation team in Rangoon from Aug. 20-22 and exchanged views on the proposed political dialogue framework.

The Union Peace and Dialogue Joint Committee has said that in the first session of conference no decisions will be made, but the estimated 750 conference attendants will be allowed to discuss the policy statement and relevant issues for ten minutes each. Continued negotiations will be held in subsequent sessions every six months.

The UNFC’s seven-member team—including Gen Sai Htoo of the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) and Gen Gun Maw of the Kachin Independence Organization—will be part of the Union Peace Conference’s convening joint committee.

Tun Zaw said his coalition’s members will “fully participate in each process” regarding the conference, as they have a level of “ownership” in the proceedings.

Decisions about who would attend the conference from among the UNFC’s member groups were made at the emergency meeting on Thursday, he added, explaining that each organization can send up to 12 representatives for the five-day event.

The peace conference will host around 1,600 attendees on its opening day, while 750 standby attendees will discuss issues of politics, security, economics, land, the environment and social concerns.

Talks about three additional armed organizations in active conflict with the Burma Army—the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army—were off the agenda in the UNFC’s recent meeting, Tun Zaw said, adding that this was due to the fact that the government had been negotiating with these groups directly.

On Wednesday in Naypyidaw, the eight armed groups that acted as signatories to the 2015 nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) under the previous government met with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the morning—a second meeting called for by the signatories’ Peace Process Steering Team. Later that afternoon, the first Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) was held regarding the ceasefire.

Those present at the JICM discussion expressed support for a five-way joint chairmanship at the Union Peace Conference—a facilitation strategy also supported by the Burma Army delegation—in which the chairmanship is shared between representatives from the government, Parliament, political parties, ethnic armed groups, and the Burma Army.

Debate on the number groups sharing the chairmanship was one of the issues unresolved between the ethnic armed groups and the government during the recent meeting in Rangoon. NCA non-signatory ethnic armed groups had originally proposed a tripartite chairmanship, shared by the government, political parties, and ethnic armed groups, on the basis that if there were five delegations in the role, three would be on the side of the government—the government itself, the Parliament and the army—thereby weakening the ethnic position in negotiations.

Tun Zaw said that making such a decision regarding chairmanship would be premature. Rather, he said, it is an issue to be discussed at the upcoming conference convening joint committee meeting in Naypyidaw, from Aug. 27-29.