Leaders of an umbrella organization of ethnic parties, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), formed a peace talk group last week in preparation for future negotiations with the Burmese government.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, UNFC secretary Nai Hang Tha said, “There are eight representatives within the group which includes Mon, Shan, Karenni, Chin, Arakanese, Karen, Kachin and Pa-O people.
Nai Hang Tha explained that he will head the group with Colonel Lapai Hla, from the Kachin Independent Army (KIA), acting as deputy.
“We are prepared to talk about equal rights for ethnic people in the country. We will also talk about reforming the new constitution so that a genuine federal union will exist [in Burma],” he said.
“We will ask [the government] to stop their military offensives launched in ethnic areas and announce a nationwide ceasefire. If possible, we will ask them to have tripartite dialogue,” he added.
Leaders of the UNFC said that they want to hold peace talks with the government on the Burmese border or at a location within a neighboring country.
“It is best to talk within neighboring countries if those nations allow us to do so,” said Nai Hang Tha. Or we can talk at the border where there is security for us, like Kachin people have done in the past as they control their area.”
UNFC leaders decided to invite neutral persons who are well respected in the country—including pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi—to witness talks, and aim to sign an agreement on paper as evidence of their commitment.
The leaders do not want the government to offer peace talks on a group-by-group basis, as they do not believe this can solve problems in the country.
State-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported on Aug. 18 that the government offered an “olive branch” to the armed groups, encouraging them to contact their respective state or division authorities as a first step toward meeting with a union government delegation.
“The government should not divide groups to have peace talks individually because our country's problems are not down to only one group. They need to talk with the UNFC as we represent all the ethnic groups,” said Nai Hang Tha.
The UNFC was formed in February at a meeting in northern Thailand attended by a dozen ethnic groups. These included the Kachin Independence Organization, Karen National Union, Karenni National Progressive Party, Chin National Front, New Mon State Party, Shan State Progress Party, Pa-O National Liberation Organization, Palaung State Liberation Front, Arakan National Council, Lahu Democratic Union, Wa National Organization and Kachin National Organization.