Sunday, August 20, 2017

Five more groups likely to sign NCA with government

Five more non-signatory groups to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) are likely to join the peace process under the civilian administration.

An official from the New Mon State Party (NMSP) told The Myanmar Times that five of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) members are likely to sign the ceasefire pact.

Nai Win Hla, a central executive committee member of NMSP, said the five UNFC members include his organisation, Karenni National Progressive Party, Wa National Organisation, Lahu Democratic Union and Arakan National Council.

“We will have a conference of UNFC in May. Then, we will decide on signing the NCA,” he added.

The other four members could not be reached for confirmation of the possibility of them signing the NCA.

So far, only eight armed groups have signed the NCA.

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), two influential members of UNFC, are, however, not among the members of the ethnic bloc considering a possible signing of the ceasefire pact.

The two UNFC members attended a summit of non-signatory armed ethnic groups held in Pangkham at the end of February.

The summit participants agreed to find a “new pathway to peace” and formed a committee for peace negotiation with the leadership of United Wa State Army (UWSA), the strongest armed resistance group in Myanmar.

The two UNFC members have endorsed the Pangkham statement, which called for a new peace course, before the Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), a negotiating body of the ethnic bloc, met with the government’s peace commission to compromise on the nine proposals they previously put forward.

DPN, which at that time did not include representatives from KIA and SSPP, agreed in general on the nine points.

Many peace observers have speculated that the emergence of a new group, the Pangkham statement and the two UNFC members’ endorsement of the statement would create a rift among allies in the UNFC.

The commitment of KIA and SSPP to the agreement DPN reached with government remains to be known.

Nai Win Hla admitted that the Pangkham statement has caused the five UNFC members to reconsider their approach.

“We previously called for the inclusion of all armed ethnic organisations in signing the NCA. But, after the excluded groups joined the Pangkham summit and endorsed it, we have reconsidered our stance and therefore, we cannot agree on the new peace course they proposed, which is not according to the NCA,” he said.

His reason is the same as peace observers have speculated: “I think it is because of the Pangkham statement.”

Two members of the Northern Alliance – Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) -- were previously part of the UNFC.

Together with the Arakan Army, they launched offensives against the government’s military and police outposts in Laukkai of the Kokang self-administered area in 2015, and in Muse, Mong Ko and China-Myanmar border in November 2016.

Due to their attacks in 2015, the two groups were excluded from the former government’s invitation to sign the ceasefire pact. Later, the groups demanded withdrawal of their membership from the ethnic bloc.

After facing massive military offensives from government troops last year, the two groups expressed their disappointment with the UNFC leadership for not delivering military assistance to them. Since then, they have distanced themselves from the bloc and became closer to the UWSA.

Speaking for the NMSP, Nai Win Hla said the Mon armed group held a public consultation conference this month in Mon State to seek the perspectives of the local Mon community.

“At the meeting, some people thought the NCA-based peace pathway was to lay down our arms and bow to the government for peace negotiation. I think that is not true, and they said so because they do not know about the ceasefire pact,” he said.

Nai Win Hla also said most of the people at the conference felt signing the NCA was a better option than not doing so.