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UNFC prepares for 21CPC and other challenges

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The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) – a coalition of 12 ethnic armed groups that declined to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the government in October 2015 – held its central executive committee member meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this week to prepare for the next round of the 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC), which is slated to be held next month.

Among the topics tabled for discussion in Chiang Mai, the UNFC’s nine-point proposal to the government was the main issue.

Maj. Gen. Sai Htoo of the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA)

Shan Herald spoke to Maj-Gen Sai Htoo from the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), a member of the UNFC, about that nine-point plan, as well as a persistent rumour that some of its members were set to split from the UNFC and sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

Q: Regarding the nine-point proposal, to what extent has the government accepted?

A: Even though they accepted the proposal, we have no guarantees from them. Therefore, we are continuing discussions on how best to ensure that all nine points of the proposal are ratified.

The UNFC’s nine-point proposal to the Myanmar government:
1. Bilateral ceasefire agreement between the government-military and the UNFC;
2. To build a federal union on the foundation of results from the 21CPC;
3. Agreement towards a tripartite dialogue;
4. Drafting and promulgation of constitutional law based on the outcome of 21CPC;
5. Advance agreement on Military Codes of Conduct (CoC) and monitoring on Terms of Reference (ToR);
6. Formation of military Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) with representatives from government, EAOs [ethnic armed groups]and international figures acceptable to both parties;
7. Formation of a neutral enforcement tribunal for NCA involving domestic and international law experts and judges that are acceptable to both parties;
8. Developmental projects to be tackled according to Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), in cooperation with the public and EAOs;
9. Signing of the NCA after the above points have been ratified.
(Source: UNFC Statement – December 13, 2016)

Q: After the government accepted this proposal, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi announced that five members of UNFC would sign the NCA [Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), New Mon State Party (NMSP), Arakan National Council (ANC), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), and Wa National Organisation (WNO)] Can you clarify this matter?

A: Actually, we were surprised on this announcement, because for any decision to be made, the executives of the UNFC must convene a meeting. But it did not happen that way. The government only received information from the Mon side …….. and they did not check whether the information was right or not. Once again, Aung San Suu Kyi made quick decision and a quick announcement.

Q: Does that mean that the five UNFC members will not sign the NCA, or are not yet ready?

A: All five members have made no official decision to sign yet. They said they would follow UNFC’s policy.

Q: After the meeting at Pangsang, there were rumours that SSPP/SSA and Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) would quit UNFC. Is that true?

A: This is an interesting issue and a very good question. During the meeting in Pangsang [the headquarters of the United Wa State Army (UWSA)], we debating whether to reject the NCA but nevertheless find new avenues to talk to the government. That’s because the NCA has been in place now for more than a year but there is no progress. What’s more, the NCA only covers issues related to ceasefires. It is not related to political dialogue. Therefore, just as the UWSA has not signed the NCA, we also have not signed. We were thinking that we would find a new avenue to enter into political agreement with the government.

Actually, this issue is not new. We have talked about this during the meeting in Laiza in 2014. We concluded that we would have to sign a political accord before we signed a ceasefire. So, in fact, we were only reiterating what had been said before.

Q: So, are you going to work together with the government on the nine-point proposal? What is the priority?

A: Regarding the nine-point proposal, they [the government] said they accepted it. However, we have found out that the government still did not accept proposal numbers 1 to 7. If they don’t accept them, then we need to talk again. If they sincerely want to have peace in our country, they should agree with our proposal.

For example, point number 1 says that the government declares a ceasefire across the country, while number 2 echoes the Panglong Agreement, in saying that we want to establish Burma as a federal union. We want to have equality, democracy and peace, and also amend the constitution. But they must give their approval to our proposal. Apparently, they only agree with point 8, which states that any foreign investment in ethnic areas must have the approval of local authorities first.

Q: The UNFC has proposed a ceasefire across the county, and in July last year Aung San Suu Kyi also called on ethnic armed groups to declare a ceasefire. So do you want the government to announce first? What are your thoughts on this?

A: Regarding her request, we agreed with it. If the government and Tatmadaw declare a ceasefire, we told them that we would follow with an announcement within 48 hours. However, to date, there has been no action on this.

Q: The situation within UNFC appears fragmented: the two groups in the north are closer to the UWSA, while your relationship with the other two big groups in the south is not going well. Do you worry about unity among UNFC’s members?

A: From an outsider’s perspective, it would seem to be a worry. But that’s because they are not insiders. We setup the UNFC about four or five years ago. We have faced many challenges and difficulties together. We are recognized by the international community, and the public also support us. Therefore we will continue to work together.

The same applies to the Wa. They want a democratic and federal country as do we. We share that common goal, so we work together.

Q: We know that the UNFC is well experienced in politics, but right now the Wa appear to be forming the team to lead the political negotiations. What are your thoughts on this?

A: That is a very good question. We will bring this issue to the table with the Wa. We plan to discuss with them about areas in which we can cooperate in the future. We have to ask them clearly what they want, and explain what we are doing. We have to agree about the things we can cooperate on and the things we cannot. In doing so, it will lay the groundwork for the government, because they will not have to talk with the UNFC and the Wa separately. If we cooperate, the government can talk with us at the same time. Therefore, the peace process will be easier and faster, and we will all accomplish our goals.

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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