Rebel armies plan federation

Nay Pyi Taw’s grip on ethnically distinct Kachin State is loose. Source: YouTube

Leaders from 17 rebel armies in Myanmar are meeting in Kachin State to discuss a federal constitution and a joint strategy ahead of the peace conference scheduled for next month.

The town of Mai Ja Yang on the Chinese border, in territory held by the powerful Kachin Independence Army, is hosting many groups that refused to sign last October’s peace deal with Nay Pyi Taw and several that are in conflict with the Burmese military and other rebel armies.

The town, ravaged by years of warfare, is hosting the “leaders representing 17 ethnic armed groups to search for common ground in working toward a federal system for the country”, the government-owned Global New Light of Myanmar said.

“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.

The groups do not want to write the constitution from the start, but instead amend basic draft agreed by the Federal Constitution Drafting and Coordinating Committee in 2008 and points that were added by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) last year, she said.

The UNFC is made up of groups that did not sign the government’s ceasefire.

The 2008 alternative constitution proposed the creation of a federation, multiparty democracy, rights for minorities and a secular nation.

The armed groups are also due to discuss security and defence issues and review the framework for political dialogue.

“We are going to discuss the political, security and defence sectors,” said General Gwan Maw, vice chairman of the Mai Ja Yang organising committee. “We will discuss policies on which we mutually agree. We mainly expect to have a common agreement on the defence and security sectors in building federal union.”

Of the 21 armed rebel groups invited to join the summit, four refused to attend. These are the United Wa State Army, the largest ethnic rebel group, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang, which is not aligned with any other rebel group and straddles the Indian border, meaning it has limited scope to sign peace deals on just one side of the frontier.

Late last year the MNDAA was fighting government troops in the Kokang region in northern Shan State on the Chinese border. The TNLA is currently fighting the army and the Restoration Council of Shan State, which signed October’s ceasefire.

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is planning what she calls the 21st-century Panglong conference for late August in the hope it will establish a permanent peace.

The original Panglong Agreement was reached in Panglong, southern Shan State, between Aung San and the Shan, Kachin, and Chin peoples on February 12, 1947. The agreement accepted “full autonomy in internal administration for the frontier areas” and envisioned a federal union. It is celebrated in Myanmar as Union Day each February 12.