By The Irrawaddy / 27 December 2016
CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The ethnic armed group alliance the United Nationalities Federal Council hosts a three-day stakeholder consultation meeting from Dec. 27-29 in Chiang Mai, Thailand to discuss further approaches to the current peace process.
Attended by more than 60 representatives from civil society groups, United Nationalities Alliance members, and the coordination team representing the eight signatories of the nationwide ceasefire agreement, a UNFC secretary said the meeting would help facilitate the current peace process.
Htun Zaw, a UNFC secretary (UNFC spokesman) said, “We invited almost all stakeholders who are involved in the process in one way or another.”
He added that the stakeholders, especially those providing relief assistance in the northern conflict areas, are affected by the current fighting; therefore, the peace process is affecting their lives and it is important to hear their experiences and concerns.
Some of the seven members of the UNFC are currently engaged in active fighting with the government army in Shan State. Government Peace Commission leaders will travel to Panghsang, the capital of the Wa administrative region, to renegotiate a meeting with the Northern Alliance—the Kachin Independence Army, the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army—on Dec 28-29, according to government sources.
After a Northern Alliance attack on the Burma Army on Nov. 20, which sought attention from the national and international community regarding the Burma Army’s long-term offensive against them, formal negotiations between the UNFC and the government have been delayed.
The UNFC’s delegation for political negotiation (DPN) representatives have continued to collaborate in the process, recently participating in a meeting that formed the Joint Coordination Body (JCB) for Peace Process Funding earlier this month in Naypyidaw.
The JCB will have another meeting on Wednesday but Htun Zaw said the DPN will not join as they are hosting the consultation in Chaing Mai.
Participants said they are optimistic about the consultation meeting.
Sai Kyaw Nyunt from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), who is also the secretary of the Committee for Shan State Union (CSSU), said although decisions would not be made at the meeting, he hoped ethnic leaders would come away with ideas to prepare them for the process. The SNLD is a member of the UNA, an alliance of 15 ethnic political parties.
“Many representatives from both civil society and the [ethnic]armed forces are here today. It is good to share our experiences and review the current political landscape,” Sai Kyaw Nyunt said.
As participants, women’s rights advocates expected to further raise their voices on how they can participate, as they have been pushing for women’s participation in the peace process since it began in 2011.
“The ethnic leaders have in principle agreed to women’s participation,” said Julia Marip, a secretary of the Women’s League of Burma, a coalition of ethnic women’s groups.
The number ethnic women present in negotiations, particularly at the 21st Century Panglong or Union Peace Conference, has shown improvement.
“We want to be mindful of gender sensitivity in every issue we discuss,” she said.
The role of the CSOs and women’s representatives is limited in the Union peace talks but they discuss social issues at a civil society forum and can share in the upcoming Union peace conferences, which are scheduled to be held every six months.
It is important to learn how peace builders of all sectors can mutually help each other, added Khin Ohmar, the advisory board chair of the Progressive Voice (known previously as the Burma Partnership).
“We are concerned about the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] asserting more power under this civilian government led by the NLD,” she said, adding the recent protest in support of the Tatmadaw for the “just war” in the ethnic areas should not happen as it could fuel “horizontal conflicts” among people.