Myanmar’s Armed Ethnic Groups Begin Summit in Kachin State

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Leaders of various Myanmar armed ethnic groups attend the opening of a four-day conference in Mai Ja Yang, northern Myanmar's Kachin state, July 26, 2016.

Leaders from 17 of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups discussed the blueprints for a constitution based on a democratic federal union that includes ethnic minorities during a summit on Wednesday in the border town of Mai Ja Yang in northern Kachin state, in a run-up to the government’s upcoming peace conference.

The groups, some of which had engaged in hostilities with the Myanmar army for decades, called for a political system that grants them federal autonomy during the second day of a four-day summit in Mai Ja Yang on the Myanmar-China border.

“We have studied and prepared the kind of federal union we are going to build, although we don’t know what kind of federal union the government intends to build,” said Naw Si Pho Ra Sein, vice chairwoman of the Karen National Union (KNU).

The groups do not want to write up a new charter from scratch, but rather want to add to or amend basic draft constitution policies that were agreed to by the Federal Constitution Drafting and Coordinating Committee (FCDCC) in 2008 and points that were added by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) in 2015, he said.

The UNFC represents the interests of armed groups that did not sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement under the previous government last October.

The current 2008 constitution was drafted by a former military junta that ruled the country for five decades and includes provisions ensuring the army remains a powerful political force in the country.

The FCDCC’s draft constitution, drawn up the same year, proposed the creation of a federal union, multiparty democratic system, minority rights and a secular state.

Security, defense issues

The armed ethnic groups are also discussing security and defense issues and reviewing a framework for political dialogue during the summit, which runs from July 26-29.

“We are going to discuss the political, security and defense sectors,” said General Gwan Maw, vice chairman of the Mai Ja Yang summit committee.

“We will discuss policies on which we mutually agree,” he said. “We mainly expect to have a common agreement on the defense and security sectors in building federal union.”

Of the 21 armed ethnic organizations invited to attend the summit, four decided not to participate—the United Wa State Army (UWSA)—the largest ethnic rebel group in the country–the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), an independent organization not aligned with any ethnic rebel group.

The MNDAA battled Myanmar military troops in the Kokang region in the northern part of Shan State, last year, while the TNLA has engaged in periodic clashes with them during the past year in Shan State, as well as with another ethnic army, the Shan State Army-South.

Plan for permanent peace

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto national leader, believes permanent peace between the armed ethnic groups and the national military is necessary for Myanmar to make progress with its democratic development.

She is leading the efforts to organize a government-led 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference in late August in the administrative capital Naypyidaw.

The conference takes its name from the original Panglong Conference in 1947 during which Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San, promised equal rights and self-determination to ethnic minority groups.

Only eight of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement with the previous military-backed government of former president Thein Sein last October.

Reported by Ye Htet for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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