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Friday, July 22, 2016

Press conference reveals friction after state counsellor, UNFC meet


The state counsellor called this week’s landmark meetings with ethnic armed group leaders “family-like”, but a press conference with a United Nationalities Federal Council delegation yesterday revealed a different picture: At least one of the armed groups’ leaders left the talks dissatisfied.
Khu Oo Reh, general secretary of the UNFC, a bloc of nine ethnic armed groups, said he was displeased with remarks made by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
According to him, the state counsellor told UNFC leaders that they should consider what they can offer rather than what they want to demand.
“She said, ‘You can demand everything you like. But, I do not guarantee every demand will be met.’ She previously said that people should consider what they can offer for peace rather than what they want to obtain from it,” Khu Oo Reh said at a press conference held yesterday, becoming emotional as he described the exchange.
“Look at the states inhabited by the ethnic people. We have lost almost everything,” he said. “In this situation, what do they want from us? What do we still have left to offer?
“We do not have demands and offers. Everyone has a responsibility to make the country more developed and peaceful. This is the equality that we have been demanding for decades,” he said.
The anger was not expressed during the “time-limited” talks with the state counsellor, and Khu Oo Reh added that he did not want to “create tension” during the meeting.
Earlier in the press conference, he said that the UNFC delegation represented seven armed ethnic groups. When The Myanmar Times asked why two armed ethnic groups were missing from his count, he backtracked, and said the bloc includes nine members. The withdrawal of two UNFC members, ethnic Kokang and Palaung armed groups, was previously refused.
When asked about the only partial inclusivity of the upcoming 21st-century Panglong Conference, and the likely absence of some UNFC member groups – including the three allies fighting in Kokang, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army – he said the Tatmadaw had made it difficult for everyone to participate.
“We should question the military offensives on the other side of these armed ethnic groups. If the Tatmadaw halts its military offensive against them, then they would not fight back,” Khu Oo Reh told reporters yesterday.
The senior UNFC leaders urged the government to find ways to include representatives of armed ethnic groups with whom it has not held separate talks yet. Such groups include the Arakan National Council, the Wa National Organisation and the Lahu Democratic Union, which do not have standing armies, as well as the three Kokang allies.
“We think that there should be a formal understanding between the government and the armed groups before proceeding to reviewing the [peace talk] framework and the 21st-century Panglong Conference,” he said. “We urge the government to foster an agreement guaranteeing the participation of all groups.”
Government peace negotiators have invited UNFC members to attend the framework review scheduled for the first week of August. However, only the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee has the decision-making power to change the framework, which will determine the shape of the political dialogue.
“As we were not there during the drafting of the framework, we have to ask by what means some groups can participate in the review of the framework dialogue without signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement. We would also like to know what status will be offered to the groups,” Khu Oo Reh said.
The previous government excluded armed groups engaged in ongoing offensives from the NCA last October. Inclusion of the Kokang, Arakan and Ta’ang groups in the upcoming conference remains an open question.
“The state counsellor yesterday said that it was important for us to have the rule of law. Without the rule of law, there cannot be peace. We can have a strong and good constitution only if we have the rule of law and peace,” Khu Oo Reh said.
The charter was drafted by the former junta and was ratified in 2008. President U Htin Kyaw in his inaugural address to the nation in March said that the new government would prioritise reforming the constitution. But Speaker U Win Myint said in June that constitutional amendments are on the backburner until peace and national reconciliation are achieved.

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