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Ethnic Armed Groups Form New Alliance

By Burma Partnership  •  February 21, 2011

Twelve ethnic armed groups in Burma have agreed to operate together as the Union Nationalities Federal Council (Union of Burma) during four days of meetings on the Thai-Burma border. The military regime has repeatedly ignored the grievances and aspirations of ethnic communities for political, social, and economic equality and sought to maintain its control of ethnic states through unilateral, non-inclusive processes and armed conflict. This unprecedented alliance is a direct response to these decades long harmful policies.

Ethnic leaders have demonstrated continued determination to protect their communities and pursue paths to equality and measures of autonomy for ethnic states. The new pact follows the establishment of a six army alliance formed in the lead up to the November 2010 elections. That group included three major ethnic groups who rejected ceasefire agreements with the Burma Army, the Karen National Union (KNU), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), and the Chin National Front (CNF), as well as three major ceasefire groups, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), Shan State Army North (SSA-N), and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

The new Union Nationalities Federal Council (Union of Burma) includes all these groups, as well as the following: Kachin National Organization (KNO), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), National Unity Party of Arakan (UNPA), Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF), PaO National Liberation Organisation (PNLO) and the Wa National Organisation (WNO).

This new alliance reveals the military regime’s refusal to address the needs and concerns of ethnic communities as it pursues policies to entrench military rule. The 2008 Constitution, the fraudulent November 2010 elections, and ongoing attempts to organize ethnic armed groups into a single Border Guard Force (BGF) under national command have failed to promote national unity.

Instead, violence and tension have increased since the November polls. Armed conflict between Brigade 5 of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Burma Army has disrupted communities and displaced thousands in Eastern Burma. On 7 February 2011, Burma Army troops engaged in the first instance of armed conflict with the KIO since 1997. Local sources reported increased tension between the Burma Army and the KIA in three different areas of Kachin State following the fighting. The Burma army has also sent reinforcements to Shan State to increase pressure on a breakaway faction of the SSA-N that refused to join the regime’s BGF.

The military regime refuses to acknowledge decades of abuse perpetrated by Burma Army troops against communities in ethnic states. The overwhelming evidence of widespread and systematic violations of human rights includes rape and other forms of sexual violence, extra-judicial and summary executions, the use of child soldiers, forced labor, and forced displacement. Members of the international community, including UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana, have said that some of these violations may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. Fourteen countries have already called for a UN-led inquiry into these crimes. However, the military regime denies this possibility, stating in a letter to Quintana, “Concerning allegations of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, there is no occurrence of such crimes […].”

Without a willing partner in the military regime, ethnic leaders have formed the partnership of the Union Nationalities Federal Council (Union of Burma) as a means of pursuing their goals. According to the Council’s newly appointed Joint Secretary–1, Khun Okkar, “Whether armed or ceasefire, we are all uniting as one ethnic group.” The alliance’s objectives include official recognition of armed ethnic groups and their territories, and their role as protectors of ethnic communities. Khun Okkar notes that the alliance is more than just a military arrangement. “We will try to find ways to solve the political problems via political means, whilst carrying out resistance together.”

Burma’s military regime has been unwilling to solve problems through legitimate and fair political means, choosing instead escalating armed conflict and installing a military dominated parliament through fraudulent elections. The result has been more tension and instability across the country. It’s now up to the military regime to follow the example set by these groups and engage in open discussions and genuine collaboration. Tripartite dialogue between democratic leaders, ethnic leaders, and the military regime, and national reconciliation remain necessary steps towards achieving lasting stability and national unity in Burma. The international community must take concrete actions to facilitate these efforts towards establishing a genuine democratic federal union.

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