Just one, small stumbling bloc continues to prevent an ethnic alliance from signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), but the leaders of the bloc appear ready to resolve the final point and are calling for an urgent meeting.
The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) has requested an audience with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to discuss the outstanding demand, according to an announcement released by the ethnic bloc on December 11.
The Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) has been negotiating on behalf of the UNFC – a coalition of now just four ethnic armed groups – engaging in talks with the government’s Peace Commission.
The UNFC spelled out eight demands that would need to be met before the members would be willing to join the government’s hallmark peace treaty. The DPN and the Peace Commission have been negotiating these demands for 17 months, but they are unable to overcome an impasse on terminology.
The UNFC members want a “federal democratic Union with full guarantees”, while the government prefers “a Union based on democracy and federalism” as is currently stated in the ceasefire text.
The negotiators are optimistic the dispute can be resolved as soon as the top officials convene.
“The efforts made by the DPN and the PC [Peace Commission] have reached the end of the journey. We believe the last point will be resolved after the leaders meet since they can make the [final] decision,” said Nai Aung Ma Nge, deputy leader of the DPN.
The UNFC is still waiting for a response from the government to schedule the meeting, he added.
U Aung Soe from the Peace Commission said he was not aware of the UNFC’s December 11 announcement and so could not speak to any related arrangements.
“I haven’t heard about this news yet,” he said.
The UNFC was formed with 11 members in 2011, but its ranks have dwindled as the NCA negotiations gained traction and as the government exerted pressure to quickly sign the deal. Many of the former members that opted to steer clear of the NCA have joined a new ethnic negotiating bloc called the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee.
The UNFC currently consists of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Arakan National Council (ANC) and the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU).
Only eight groups have so far joined the NCA with no additional groups agreeing to the pact since the initial, 2015 signing.