Two Shan state-based ethnic armies will be included in a “nationalities forces” setup being formulated by Burma’s armed opposition as negotiations with the government to broker a ceasefire continue.
Following a four-day meeting on the Thai-Burma, the 11-member United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) said groups like the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Shan State Army–South (SSA-S), which have so far snubbed invitations to join the umbrella group, would take part in joint “political dialogue” with the government once ceasefires have been agreed.
Also included will be the Mong La army and the armed Arakan Liberation Party, according to the UNFC’s secretary–2, Colonel Khun Okkar.
The exact nature of the dialogue is unclear, although it will likely be aimed at legitimising the presence of these groups and demarcating official territory. The UWSA, once the world’s biggest opium producer, has enjoyed cordial relations with the Burmese regime since signing a ceasefire in the early 1990s, although rejected requests to transform into a government-aligned border militia.
Members of the UNFC, which include the Karen National Union (KNU) and New Mon State Party (NMSP), have been engaged in ceasefire talks with Naypyidaw, with varying outcomes. The Mon army agreed to a tentative truce, but negotiations between the KNU and government have been marred by ongoing fighting in Karen state.
Moreover, the Kachin Independence Army, also part of the UNFC, appears to be reluctant to sign a ceasefire. Clashes continue to break out in the northern state.
Upon its formation in 2010 the UNFC established as its cornerstone policy unity among the 11 members, although that has largely failed to bear fruit. Parties to the grouping have approached ceasefire talks with the government individually, casting doubt on the real purpose of the body.
Khun Okkar said however that the groups will join together in what is being billed as the final stage of peace talks, that of dialogue with Naypyidaw over establishing the members as official political forces.
The administration of President Thein Sein has been keen to reach out to ethnic armies as part of its vaunted reform programme, although with animosity among minority populations towards the government running deep, and little sign of reform within the Burmese army, the likelihood of any lasting ceasefire is questionable.