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UNFC elects new leaders

FILE PHOTO: NCCT negotiator Nai Hongsa addresses delegates in Rangoon on Saturday, 27 September 2014. (PHOTO: MPC)

Nai Hong Sar, a senior member of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and a leading negotiator during years of ceasefire and peace talks, has been elected chairperson of the new-look United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). He was previously vice-chair of the ethnic bloc.

Dr. Khin Maung of the Arakan National Council (ANC) was appointed vice-chairman; Khu Oo Reh from Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) was elected UNFC general secretary; Say Onn from Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) and Solomon from Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) were elected joint secretary 1 and joint secretary 2, respectively.

The appointments came on the final day of a UNFC conference in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai from 20-26 June. News of the elected representatives comes late following a boycott of Monday’s session by Burmese journalists, who complained they were being denied access to the bloc’s meetings.

During the 7-day conference, four ethnic armed groups resigned from the UNFC: Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO); Wa National Organisation; Palaung State Liberation Front; and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. Those groups would appear to have rejected outright the current peace process and nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in Burma, and some are currently waged in conflict against Burmese armed forces, mostly in northeastern Shan State.

Following the recent resignation of the KIO and other members, the UNFC now consists of just five groups: the NMSP, SSPP, KNPP, LDU and ANC.

However, the following new groups have applied for membership: Chin National Front; the Kuki group, the Zomi group, and Kachin National Organisation.

The restructuring of the UNFC is just the latest development in a series of shifting alliances and posturing among Burma’s ethnic armed groups. While eight armed factions, most notably the Karen National Union, have signed the NCA and are engaged in talks with the government, many other groups — including all those within the UNFC –have resisted.

Burma’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has hosted two rounds of peace talks known as the 21st Century Panglong Conference, however the government is pressuring ethnic armies to sign the accord before allowing them into the peace process.