RANGOON — Burma’s largest ethnic armed group has said it will not attend an upcoming political dialogue between the government and rebel groups, calling the conference “meaningless” because it will exclude a number of non-state actors.
A spokesman for the United Wa State Army (UWSA), viewed as the government’s most formidable domestic adversary, said that ongoing conflict and the government’s refusal to recognize three ethnic armed groups undermine the peace process.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Zhao Xiaofu said fighting in territories controlled by Ta’ang, Kachin and Shan rebels as damaging to trust, as conflict has intensified in some areas since the government signed a peace accord with eight of the country’s more than 20 non-state armed groups.
“We observed the fighting, and it’s even more serious now instead of ceasing [after the peace accord],” the spokesman said.
“We believe that political conflicts can only be solved through political dialogue. Using the armed forces is never going to solve the problem, but we believe that all ethnic armed groups should be able to participate.”
Burma’s partial peace pact stipulated that political discussions would commence within 90 days of ascension. Talks are set to begin on Jan. 12 in Naypyidaw, though more than half of the ethnic stakeholders will not be active participants.
Several ethnic armed groups that participated in the peace process declined to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement in solidarity with those who were deemed ineligible by the government. Those who elected not to sign may audit the talks, but cannot make substantive contributions.
The powerful UWSA is believed to have more than 20,000 troops, based in eastern Shan State near the Chinese border. It has been more than a quarter century since the UWSA agreed to a ceasefire with the government, and the group has said that it need not sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement as its bilateral truce remains intact.
A peace delegation led by a Union Minister Thein Zaw met with UWSA leadership in December, requesting that the group join the political dialogue. Thein Zaw is the former vice chairman of the government’s peace negotiation team, the Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC).
The current peace process has been spearheaded by the administration of President Thein Sein, but is likely to undergo some transformation as a new government takes office later this year.
The new administration led by Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) decisively won a general election in November, has vowed to make the peace process its top priority.
Asked what the UWSA expects to see change as Suu Kyi and her party assume power, Zhao Xiaofu said “it’s too early to say.”
“We will keep watching her actions and see if she speaks out for our ethnic people,” he said.