The Union Peace Conference second session started yesterday with the surprise inclusion of eight armed ethnic organizations who had not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.
In addition, some of the ethnic armed organizations are currently in armed conflict with government forces in both Shan and Kachin States that international humanitarian groups have estimated to have forced as many as 150,000 people from their villages.
The eight ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) were granted ‘special invitations’ to attend the conference in the country’s capital, Naypyitaw.
Padoh Kwe Htoo Win, Vice-chairperson of the Karen National Union who leads the KNU delegation at the 2nd Union Peace Conference told Karen News that he considers the attendance of the NCA non-signatories as a positive sign to the peace process.
“We hope that all ethnic groups will be included in the peace process, especially the northern alliance who have stated that they will not follow the NCA process. The Union Peace Conference is the result of the NCA, so no matter as what status the groups are attending, I see it as a positive development in the peace process.” Padoh Kwe Htoo Win said.
Missing from the conference was the ethnic peak body, the United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFC) who it was reported in Burma’s state media that they were meeting in Chiang Mai Thailand. A statement released by the UNFC contradicted this as it said that the UNFC had declined the invitation to attend the peace conference as ‘special guests’ as this status had little value, as it did not give the UNFC the right to discuss or take part in decision making, a right reserved for the NCA signatories.
A conference source said that the ‘special invitation’ given to the EAOs did not mean that these organizations could take part in the debates or vote as they were not signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. The invitations to the the non-signatories of the NCA came as a surprise as the government’s military had previously insisted that three of the groups – MNDAA, TNLA and the Arakan Army – surrender their arms if they wanted to be part of the peace conference.
Observers at the conference credit China for being instrumental in the ‘special invites’ being issued to the NCA non-signatories. China borders both Kachin and Shan state in northern Burma and has held a number of high profile meeting with both government officials, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and military leaders, both government and EAO’s.