Behind the Mon, UNFC, and UWSA

By Lawi Weng 16 February 2018

Nai Htaw Mon, the chairman of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), ordered his soldiers to dry rice, a sign on ongoing conflict, when he made the decision not to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in 2015.

He was disappointed with his central committee members, who garnered the majority of votes in favor of signing. But the chairman used his veto power, and the NMSP, along with other United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) members didn’t sign the NCA.

Eight ethnic armed groups signed the NCA in October 2015, but the Mon did not, in large part because of their alliance with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) and other members of the UNFC.

Nai Htaw Mon, and Nai Hong Sar, the vice chairman of the NMSP, were against the signing, so the majority vote did not stand.

At that time, Nai Htaw Mon criticized the Karen National Union (KNU) and other members who decided to leave the UNFC, asking if the groups had read about the country’s history. The NMSP felt secure in its decision to stand with the KIA in the UNFC.

For years, the NMSP was synonymous with the UNFC. When asked about its political stance it referred to the bloc’s stance – including inclusive participation in the NCA and peace process.

However, the NMSP recently abandoned this stance and signed the NCA without the remaining ethnic alliance members.

There are several reasons for this decision. Some in the NMSP leadership believe that this action will give them a political advantage. If not, they say they can always fight back once again.

Another reason is that much of the NMSP leadership is older. After a longstanding ceasefire, they have settled their families and own property in Mon State. They do not want to return to fighting.

The group also does not have enough soldiers to fight the Myanmar Army, according to leadership. There are some 1,500 men who serve full-time for the party, but many other members stay with their families and not with the army.

The NMSP actively participated in the nationwide peace process with the UNFC, even after groups started leaving the bloc. But when the KIA and SSPP left, the NMSP lost hope and was convinced by senior members to sign the NCA early.

Behind the UNFC and UWSA

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) is happy to see the collapse of UNFC. The UNFC was the only ethnic alliance recognized by the government, Myanmar Army and international community in regards to the peace process.

But, the UWSA wanted the international community and the Myanmar government to recognize its Northern Alliance. Without the UNFC, the Northern Alliance will be the only ethnic bloc involved in the peace process and it will receive peace aid.

Early actions of the UWSA in forming an alliance involved attracting the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Arakan Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army to join its bloc. Meetings were held concurrently with UNFC meetings at times, and these three groups eventually resigned from the UNFC after the Myanmar Army would not recognize their participation in the peace process.

The UWSA had also pressured the KIA and SSPP to resign from the UNFC and join the Northern Alliance.

The international community has recognized that some UWSA leaders were drug lords, with warrants out for their arrest. But the UWSA wants to be recognized for its role in the peace process and included in future peace talks.

Some ethnic Kachin and Shan were unhappy about the alliance with the UWSA, in part due to China’s influence on the Wa. But leaders from both groups have explained why they decided to stand with the UWSA, the largest ethnic armed group in Myanmar. While they dislike the communist influence, they are willing to stand together to fight against the Myanmar Army.