Ethnic armies agree 'guidelines' on federalism

Ethnic armies agree 'guidelines' on federalism

More than 60 representatives of Burmese ethnic armed groups have agreed what they are calling “Basic Guidelines” aimed towards the establishment of a federal union in Burma.

During a meeting in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai on 8-9 April, the delegates – representing both signatories and non-signatories to the Burmese government’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) – also laid out policies on national defense and security, and other policies.

Though firm policies relating to a federal union have been approved, there can be amendments in future, said Nai Hongsar, the vice-chairman of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), which represents a bloc of armed groups that have to date declined to sign the NCA, such as the Kachin independence Organisation. Other members, including the Kokang and Palaung armies, were disenfranchised from the peace process by the government due to ongoing hostilities.

He said there is a need for understanding on the part of the Burmese military on the pivotal issue of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) and Security Sector Reform (SSR).

“In the future, we will discuss DDR/SSR. But we cannot accept only DDR, there must also be policies governing SSR,” said the UNFC vice-chairman. “This essentially means that we accept that reforming the army will be an important point when we talk about forming a strong federal union and a strong federal system. But if the military doesn’t place its trust in this policy, then we face a danger.

“We cannot just agree to place our fate in the hands of the Burmese military, because then we are helpless if they deploy armed force against us. That’s why we have to think this through carefully.”

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The chairman of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), Than Khe, said, “Firstly, we have tried to collect all historical documentation on the 1947 Panglong Agreement. Secondly, we will reestablish our country in the spirit of that Panglong accord. Finally, when we have all reached agreement, we will establish a federal democratic union based on equality and self-determination.”

In a statement released after the Chiang Mai meeting this weekend, the ethnic representatives said they would like to see the NCA non-signatory groups invited to the next round of peace talks.

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