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In the lead-up to nationwide peace negotiations, two ethnic armed groups have denounced the hostile approach to conflict resolution being pursued in northern Burma.
The United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Karen National Union (KNU) released a joint-statement on Tuesday chastising the use of military force by Burmese government troops and several ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan states during an ongoing offensive that has displaced thousands of ethnic civilians in recent weeks.
The statement, issued shortly after a meeting between the groups’ leaders in Panghsang, capital of the Wa Self-Administered Division in eastern Burma, demanded that all parties do more to find a political solution to the conflict as the current exchanges risk damaging nationwide reconciliation efforts.
Aung Myint, secretary to head office of the United Wa State Party, the UWSA’s political wing, said that while the Wa have enjoyed a peaceful relationship with the government for 25 years, they remain attentive to the overall peace process.
“We have been at peace [with the government] for 25 years, but we now have cause to denounce the use of military action as a solution to problems. There is fighting in certain areas while they are signing peace agreements,” he said.
The UWSA and KNU leaders also agreed to propose amendments to the 2008 Constitution when the peace process reaches the stage of political dialogue. The UWSA also expressed its intention to demand a fully autonomous Wa State at the appropriate stage of negotiation.
Both parties reiterated that ethnic discrimination and political inequality are core contributors to Burma’s decades of civil war and unrest.
The UWSA was the first ethnic armed group to sign a fresh ceasefire with the new government in 2011. It is the largest of Burma’s ethnic armed groups, with some 20-25,000 troops, and has kept a relative distance from nationwide ceasefire talks between the National Ceasefire Coordination Team and government negotiators.
UWSA leaders have said that they will increase their involvement once both parties are nearing the stage of political dialogue.
Both the UWSA and the KNU are currently in Union-level discussions with the government, as both have secured regional peace pacts, but remain united in their condemnation of the government’s actions towards the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), all of which are affected by the recent fighting.
Despite the conflict, the SSA-N is currently under ceasefire with the central government, while the KIA and the TNLA both maintain combatant status and have yet to enter state-level negotiations.
KIA Deputy Commander-in Chief Maj-Gen Gun Maw on Tuesday extended an invitation to the central government to resume state-level peace talks in Kachin State capital Myitkyina in early May, so as to precede Union-level talks scheduled later in the month.
The NCCT and government negotiators reached a preliminary draft for a nationwide ceasefire in March, which is currently under review for bilateral revision. The two sides have stated the ambition to approve a final peace pact by August 2014, though many ethnic leaders have voiced concern that the recent conflict could undo much of their progress to date.