The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) will reserve two leading positions within the ethnic alliance for representatives of the Karen Nation Union (KNU) despite the Karen group walking out of the UNFC conference in Chiang Mai on Sunday.
Speaking to DVB and other reporters at the end of the summit on Tuesday, Kachin Independence Organisation Vice-president Lt-Gen N’Ban La said that 42 council members had been elected, in addition to 12 central executive committee members, each on two-year terms from 2014 to 2016.
N’Ban La said that he had been elected to continue as UNFC chairman, a position he has held since the ethnic bloc was established in 2011. He said that former UNFC General-Secretary Nai Hongsa of the New Mon State Party would assume one of the two vice-chairperson’s positions, while the other seat will be reserved for a KNU representative.
He said that Khu Oo Reh, the vice-chairman of the Karenni National Progressive Party, will now assume the role of general-secretary. Two joint general-secretaries were also appointed at the seven-day summit, he said. The two new appointees will be Col. Khun Okker of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization and Salai Thla Hei of the Chin National Front.
N’Ban La said that in addition to the 12 central executive committee members, another six representatives would form the UNFC central committee. Five had already been named, he said, and a sixth position was reserved for the KNU.
The Chiang Mai summit had originally been scheduled for four days, but was extended to seven, concluding after 9pm on Tuesday night.
Delegates were stunned on Sunday when several KNU representatives, led by Commander-in-chief Mutu Say Poe, walked out of the conference, complaining about the lack of independence for each party within the ethnic bloc.
The KNU later that day sent a letter to the conference “temporarily suspending” its membership within the alliance.
Then on Monday, KNU Vice-chairperson Naw Zipporah Sein – who had also attended the summit, but who did not join the KNU faction that walked out – wrote to the UNFC apologising for the group’s behaviour and promising that the KNU will resolve the issues among themselves.
In a letter headed: “The difference in views between KNU delegates on the UNFC constitution”, Zipporah Sein wrote: “We, the Karen National Union, will discuss and negotiate among ourselves over the disagreement between KNU delegates … On behalf of the Karen National Union, I would like to apologise to the UNFC for delaying the conference.”
UNFC Chairman N’Ban La maintained on Tuesday that the KNU dispute would not break the unity among UNFC members.
“Unity has not been broken,” he said. “We discuss everything in frank terms.”
He said the door was still open for the KNU to resume its place within the ethnic bloc.
“We will continue to work with all KNU delegates,” he said. “They have not resigned [from the UNFC]. They didn’t leave for good. They will discuss matters within their own central committee. I don’t know when they will come back to negotiations, but they will come back.”
The KNU faction headed by Mutu Say Poe has indicated that it cannot accept the UNFC making decisions for member organisations. It said they want the bloc to operate as a forum but not as a unified committee.
On Sunday, KNU General-secretary Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win said, “This [UNFC] organisation is costing us our autonomy. It is a top-down structure where we are expected to hand over our fate to the leadership. We cannot accept that. We must continue to represent the Karen people, and the UNFC is not always considering their best interests.”
However, in the KNU’s central executive committee statement on Monday, his faction appeared willing to compromise. Chairman Mutu Say Poe was quoted as saying, “The KNU does not intend to sign a separate nationwide ceasefire accord with the Myanmar government.”
Asked about the apparent split within the Karen leadership, N’Ban La said, “Different organisations have different views. Within the UNFC there is no discrimination. If the UNFC was dictatorial, other groups would also leave.”
The newly appointed general-secretary of the alliance agreed. “No one organisation is controlling the UNFC,” said Khu Oo Reh. “In some cases, they may see one organisation as dominant, but no one controls policy. Other groups feel similarly; no one group controls the bloc.”
Khine Soe Naing Aung, the vice-chairman of the Arakan Liberation Party, echoed the sentiment and said the KNU’s temporary withdrawal from talks will not affect the peace process.
“It certainly hurt us when the KNU delegation walked out of the conference,” he said. “But there are many ways to rebuild unity. The absence of the KNU will not affect the peace process because negotiations are conducted via the NCCT [Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team]. The KNU is still a part of the NCCT. The UNFC and the NCCT assume different duties. Therefore, this [KNU] move will not hurt the peace process.”
During the seven-day ethnic conference, delegates pledged to work together to help establish a federal union in Burma.