By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER
YANGON — A senior United Nationalities Federal Council official says two of the bloc’s members were “pressured” into agreeing to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement last month.
On January 23, the New Mon State Party and Lahu Democratic Union announced they would sign the ceasefire, following meetings earlier that day with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. They would join eight other groups, including the Karen National Union, that signed the ceasefire in October 2015.
The NMSP and LDU had previously been negotiating collectively through the UNFC, which also counts the Karenni National Progessive Party and Arakan National Council as members.
UNFC spokesman U Twan Zaw, who is from the ANC, told Frontier that the decision was a shock to the other members of the bloc.
He said the NMSP and LDU had not discussed the decision with their UNFC colleagues in the council since the announcement. He said the bloc would likely hold a meeting to discuss the issue in the second week of February.
“We assume there has been pressure put on these two parties,” he said.
“We don’t understand why they chose this path, but we will have to discuss it seriously between ourselves.”
He said the divisions created between ethnic armed groups would cause problems for achieving peace in the future.
The NMSP could not be reached for comment. However, the group reportedly said in a statement that the UNFC had split because some members had tried to side with the Northern Alliance and make their inclusion in the peace process a pre-condition for signing the nationwide ceasefire.
The statement, released to mark Mon National Day, also said that the NMSP base was isolated from other UNFC members which made it difficult to cooperate, The Irrawaddy reported.
The UNFC has been negotiating with the government for 17 months. The bloc had issued a set of eight demands that it said had to be met for it to sign the ceasefire. Eight formal rounds of talks have been held, but a ninth meeting due to take place in November was cancelled at the last minute and no further talks have taken place.
Twan Zaw said the current disagreement was over the use of the words “Federal Democratic Union”, adding that he was confident it could be resolved through negotiation.
But he also hinted that some UNFC members were keen to see more groups included in the peace process. He said all sides needed to learn from the mistakes of the past, including the exclusion of several ethnic armed groups from the negotiating process.
“That is why the NCA is facing difficulties now to get more signatories,” Twan Zaw said.
A further dispute has erupted within the UNFC over a statement the group posted to its Facebook page on January 24.
The statement said the government and Tatmadaw had “used the worn-out method of coercion to find result” and convince the NMSP and LDU to sign.
The following day, Peace Commission member U Khin Zaw Oo, a former general, posted that NMSP member and UNFC spokesperson Nai Zaw Ma-nge was upset his name had been included on the statement as a media contact.
Twan Zaw said Khin Zaw Oo should not post about UNFC matters on his personal Facebook account.
“It saddened me,” Twan Zaw said. “It’s not right for him to comment on the internal affairs of the UNFC.”