Ethnic Alliance to Boycott Political Dialogue

Burma’s President Thein Sein, government officials, ethnic rebel groups and international witnesses pose for a photo after the signing of a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement in Naypyidaw on Oct. 15, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

By Nyein Nyein
January 8, 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — An alliance of ethnic armed groups that did not sign an October ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government has announced that they will not participate in upcoming political dialogue.

Non-signatories, who are members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), have been invited only to audit the dialogue, which will begin on Jan. 12 in Naypyidaw.

More than 700 representatives of non-state armed groups and the newly formed Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) are set to convene for five days in the capital.

The UNFC boycotted the signing of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), a multilateral peace pact reached between the government and eight of Burma’s more than 20 non-state armed groups on Oct. 15 of last year.

The group abstained because the government refused to admit three allied rebel groups into the pact: the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National democratic Alliance Army of eastern Burma’s troubled Kokang region.

UNFC spokesman Tun Zaw, who also serves as head of the Arakan National Council, said after a Thursday meeting that the group “decided not to participate [in the political dialogue] because the NCA lacks all-inclusivity.”

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, the spokesman said the UNFC disapproves of the government’s “discriminatory” treatment of non-signatories, adding that a framework for the dialogue drafted by signatories in December “is not what we want.”

The announcement came on the heels of similar comments made by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the country’s largest ethnic armed group, a non-signatory and a non-member of the UNFC. A spokesman for the group told The Irrawaddy that the UWSA would also abstain from on the grounds of the pact’s exclusivity and ongoing fighting in Shan and Kachin states.

Despite the dissatisfaction of non-signatories, those armed groups that did accede to the accord, as well as government stakeholders, have said that they are confident the political dialogue, dubbed the Union Peace Conference, will commence on schedule and successfully within 90 days of signing the accord, as planned.

The ceasefire signing dealt a blow to the unity of Burma’s ethnic armed groups, resulting in the suspension of two groups from the UNFC—the Chin National Front and the Pa-O National Liberation Front—because of their decision to sign.

Despite several attempts to reconcile the groups that did and did not sign, Tun Zaw said that further negotiations in the form of an ethnic armed groups summit would be unnecessary at the time being, and the UNFC has resolved not to participate in the peace process until it is all-inclusive and after the incoming government steps in.

On Tuesday, 126 civil society organizations urged government negotiators, known as the Union Peacemaking Work Committee, and the eight ethnic armed group signatories to postpone the talks in Naypyidaw because of ongoing conflict in Arakan, Kachin and Shan states.

Deferring the talks looks unlikely, however, as the current government will only be in office until late February and has made the peace process central to its legacy.

Hla Maung Shwe, an advisor to the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center and a member of the UPDJC, expressed hope that moving on with the dialogue could “reduce the conflict,” despite protest by non-signatories.

The current makeup of the UPDJC will continue its work through the transition period, he said, until the new government assumes power. The incoming administration will be dominated by the National League for Democracy (NLD), chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, who has publicly committed to making the peace process her top priority.

Following the transfer of power, 11 of the UPDJC’s 16 members—representing the government and the parliament—will be replaced, while five military delegates will remain as assigned, Hla Maung Shwe said.

The UPDJC will meet on Jan. 9 in Naypyidaw for a final conference before the Union Peace Conference begins.

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