A Kachin soldier mans a frontline position near the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization, in Laiza, Burma. Pic: AP.

A Kachin soldier mans a frontline position near the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization, in Laiza, Burma. Pic: AP.

Ethnic armed groups in Burma (Myanmar) will not sign the long-awaited national ceasefire agreement (NCA) on Union Day, February 12, as had been hoped by the government. The groups are, however, willing to sign an agreement establishing a federal union.

The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) has been representing 12 of the ethnic political and military groups in negotiations with Burma’s nominally civilian government.

On January 21 they held informal talks with the government representatives, the Myanmar Peace Council (MPC), in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but nothing was agreed.

Hkun Okker, joint general secretary of the UNFC said: “On this Union Day the president asked us to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement, but actually the nationwide ceasefire agreement is not ready, we have not yet fixed all the articles within the agreement so we cannot finish it in time. We cannot finish it in the few days before Union Day.”

Hkun Okker explained that the ceasefire agreement cannot be signed while the Burmese Army continues offensives against ethnic people.

He said: “Heavy fighting is a problem. There are still military offensives. We need to stop military operations and fighting on the ground before we sign the document.”

A statement issued by the UNFC on January 28 also said that no agreement would be signed until the Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) ceased current military offensives. It also called for action to be taken against the perpetrators of war crimes and the resolution of the current students’ demonstrations without resorting to force.

The statement highlighted several recent examples of unacceptable behaviour by the Tatmadaw.

Recent incidents include the killing of 23 unarmed ethnic cadets by artillery fire in Kachin State on November 19, for which the army has offered no satisfactory explanation, the increases in clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Northern Shan State since January 14, and the murder and rape of two Kachin teachers on January 19.

The statement also said: “The UNFC assesses the current developments to be negative and view them as signs of deviance from the path of internal peace building, dialogue and negotiation.”

Though the nationwide ceasefire agreement will not be signed on Union Day, the UNFC has offered an alternative – the signing of a commitment to a federal union.

Hkun Okker said: “We changed the Union Day perspective a bit if the leaders will join in their gathering to make a commitment to establish a federal union of Burma.”

He said that one of the ethnic organisations aims is to establish a federal union and explained that though President Thein Sein had made commitments to a federal union in his radio speech on December 2, the UNFC would like to see his words backed up by a solid, signed commitment.

He explained that initially all the UNFC required was a commitment to federalism and that following the signing there would have to be political dialogue to work out the detailed clauses and principles of the agreement.