CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Ethnic armed group bloc the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) reiterated that they will only join the upcoming 21st Century Panglong peace conference if all of their seven member groups are invited as participants, not observers.
“Our stance is as before—we will not join the conference if we are invited as observers,” the vice chairman of the UNFC Nai Hong Sar told reporters on Tuesday.
The UNFC’s Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) plans to meet government peace negotiators for further talks before the end of January, he said.
They expect “equal status” with other stakeholders—including armed groups who have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)—to discuss politics and federalism, military and security affairs, social and economic issues, as well as land and environmental issues, he said.
UNFC members rejected an invitation as observers to the first ever Union Peace Conference, held under the former president U Thein Sein, in January 2016.
“If we are not able to participate [in the next conference] as delegates and cannot discuss our opinions, it would be no different,” said Nai Hong Sar.
UNFC members did participate in the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government’s 21st Century Panglong peace conference in August and September last year—despite not signing the NCA—under special conditions from the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC).
The second round of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference is slated to be held in late February, but the date will not be confirmed until a meeting of the UPDJC led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in early February.
The UNFC raised a list of nine “principles” necessary for them to sign the NCA. The first principle states that after signing the NCA, the government and the Burma Army must announce a ceasefire within 24 hours, and the UNFC members will then announce a ceasefire within 48 hours of that time.
The nine principals have been agreed by the UNFC’s seven members and are now part of negotiations between the bloc and the government.
Fighting continues in Burma’s northeast where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA), the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Mongla’s National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) are based.
The UWSA and the NDAA are not members of the UNFC and negotiated separate agreements with government peace negotiators to attend the Union Peace Conference in August and September last year, arguing that their bilateral ceasefire agreements were sufficient.
Aside from negotiations with the UNFC—which is currently chaired by the KIA—the government also needs to hold talks with the Northern Alliance, who are currently actively engaged in conflict in northern Shan State.
The Northern Alliance—comprised of the KIA, the TNLA, the MNDAA and the AA—reiterated their request to hold peace talks with the government on Monday, following their meeting with China’s Special Envoy of Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang in China’s Yunnan Province last week.
The Monday statement said that as stakeholders in the peace process since its inception, the group is “full of ambition to discuss with the Union government for resolving political problems through the political means of dialogue.”
Even informal talks between the government and the Northern Alliance have stalled, however, due to the Northern Alliance’s request that the UWSA join meetings.
Though the government has said that the door is always open to discuss peace, for non-NCA signatories, the conditions remain unclear.
Advisor to the government’s peace commission U Hla Maung Shwe said the upcoming Union Peace Conference has to follow NCA principles in which groups must sign the NCA to attend the conference as delegates.
“We do not know for sure whether there will be any alternatives for non-NCA signatories to attend the conference or not,” he said. “But according to the terms of the NCA, only NCA-signatories can be represented as delegates at the conference.” he added.
Nai Hong Sar added that whether the UNFC signs the NCA will totally depend on the upcoming negotiations.