Representatives of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), absent from the Ethnic Armed Organisations Conference in Karen State this week because of “language barriers”, have expressed solidarity with other ethnic leaders as they develop a framework for a nationwide ceasefire agreement.
“The Karen National Union [KNU] personally invited us to attend the meeting,” said Aung Myint, spokesperson for the UWSA, “but we didn’t get hold of their draft [ceasefire] framework early enough. There is a language barrier for our leaders.”
Aung Myint explained that Kwe Htoo Win, general-secretary of the KNU, presented the draft to UWSA leaders, but there was not enough time to translate and discuss before the conference that took place in KNU headquarters Lawkheela [Lay Wah] this week.
He said that UWSA representatives also abstained from an initial conference of ethnic armed groups held at the Kachin Independence Organisation headquarters in Laiza, Kachin State, last November, but agreed to most of its outcomes, the sole exception being an agreed-upon total rewrite of the 2008 Constitution, which they would rather see partially amended.
“We have a different opinion on Constitutional reform,” said Aung Myint, “we prefer to see it amended where necessary but don’t see completely rewriting it as a good idea for everyone.”
He said the group will wait to hear outcomes of the Lawkheela Conference, which will be discussed by its leadership before taking an official stance.
The UWSA, the largest and most heavily armed ethnic militia in Burma, was formed after the collapse of the Burma Communist Party in 1989. The group has twice signed ceasefire agreements with the government; first in 1989 and later with Thein Sein’s reformist government in 2011.
The Lawkheela Conference took place from 20-23 January 2014 between leaders of Burma’s ethnic armed organisations as a precursor to negotiations with the Burmese government scheduled for February in Hpa-an, Karen State.
The upcoming conference will bring ethnic leaders together with a government peace-making team to discuss the framework of a nationwide ceasefire agreement and the possibility of an eventual political settlement for Burma’s ethnic groups, which have long been at odds with the central government.