The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of nine ethnic armed groups, has begun preparations for peace talks with the new National League for Democracy-led government, even as Burma’s armed forces continues to pressure one of its members.
According to the UNFC’s Vice-Chairman 1 Nai Hong Sar, the umbrella group has formed a new representative body to negotiate with the government as a first step toward comprehensive engagement with Burma’s new civilian administration.
“The new body is called the Delegation for Political Negotiations (DPN),” he said, adding that the 13-member body would be led by UNFC General Secretary Khu Oo Reh of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), one of the group’s members.
Representatives and leaders of all nine groups belonging to the alliance met in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from 19-21 April to discuss the formation of the DPN and other issues related to future negotiations, he said.
Meanwhile, in northern Shan State, Burma’s government army set a Friday deadline for the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) to vacate two bases on the Loi Say and Loi Lan hills in Tanyang Township, according to Sao Sai Htoo, a central committee member of the group’s political wing, the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP).
The SSPP/SSA is one of three members of the UNFC that were excluded from ceasefire talks held by the previous administration of President Thein Sein last year. The other two are the Ta-ang National Liberation Front (TNLA) and the Kokang group the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
“We’ve had bases around Loi Say and Loi Lan for the past 34 years. If we withdraw, we won’t have anywhere else to go,” said Sao Sai Htoo, adding that the order had come from the Northeast Regional Commander on 19 April.
It is believed that the Burmese army wants to clear the area now under SSA-North control so that it is within heavy artillery range of bases operated by the United Wa State Army, Burma’s strongest ethnic armed group.
Fighting between government troops and the SSA-North late last year displaced more than 10,000 civilians in Mong Shu and Mong Noung townships, near the group’s headquarters at Wang Hai.
According to a recent report on army-owned Myawaddy TV, SSA-North troops from Wang Hai entered the village of Gangaw in Naung Hkio Township on Monday and arrested four local men.
The report said that three of the men were beaten and required medical attention in Pyin Oo Lwin. All four were later released by the SSA-North on the day of their alleged abduction, which was apparently linked to an incident two day earlier, when villagers threw rocks at an SSA-North vehicle when it didn’t stop as it passed through the village during last week’s water festival.
The UNFC consists of the KNPP, the SSPP/SSA, the TNLA, the MNDAA, the Kachin Independence Organization, the New Mon State Party, the Arakan National Council, the Lahu Democratic Union and the Wa National Organization.