Can non-Burmans unite?

Non-Burman armed movements fighting against Rangoon (and now Naypyitaw) have endlessly tried to establish alliances among themselves so they could be in a better position to cope with a stronger, and more united, enemy.

The most well known coalitions naturally come into one’s mind: National Democratic Front (NDF), Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) and United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)
Some say all of them are products of Cold War mentality: Victories can be achieved only through united fronts.

Although each of them works independently, especially on fund raising, politically and (now and then) militarily they are bound to each other, a sort of “one blood, one voice and one command” like the enemy they are fighting against.

None of them however has been particularly effective. Considered the strongest one, the NDF, formed in 1976, went largely dormant, after the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1994.

Disappointed with the united fronts, some have sought to seek solutions in groupings that are more decentralized and yet serve to improve each group’s performance and effectiveness, while uniting them as necessity arises. The Working Group for Ethnic Coordination (WGEC), formed by the armed groups following their consultations in February 2012, is such a gathering.

It was made up of both UNFC and non-UNFC armed organizations: Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), as well as representatives from civil society organizations (youth, women and issue-based).

Together they had produced the September 2012 “6-point peace roadmap” and the Comprehensive Union Peace and Ceasefire Agreement (CUPCA) draft that calls for common basic principles and actions to be followed by all stakeholders:

  • Core principles
  • Nationwide ceasefire accord
  • Framework for political dialogue
  • Dialogue issues

However, due to different principles and personalities, the UNFC and the non-UNFC members of the WGEC fell out in June this year.

Despite their unwillingness to reconcile with each other, both have taken the same position (without consulting each other) against the government’s proposal that a ceremony signing the 5-point nationwide ceasefire agreement be held in Naypyitaw. The 5 points, as stated by the President on 1 March 2012, are:

  • To stop all hostilities
  • To stay only in the agreed areas
  • Not to hold any arms in places except from those agreed areas
  • To open liaison offices in the mutually agreed places
  • To fix the venue, time and date for Union level dialogue

Not surprisingly, both the UNFC and the truncated WGEC, had rejected it saying a framework for political negotiations must be included in the text of the said nationwide ceasefire agreement, or else no group would turn up for the signing.

So despite the parting of ways, the two sides appear to be more alike than different. It would not be too late if they can make up with each other.
Lao Zi has said:

A big group lowers itself
And wins over a small one
A small group keeps itself low
And wins over a big one
Sometimes becoming low wins
Sometimes staying low wins

SHAN won’t say who’s bigger and smaller between the UNFC and WGEC. It is, as a wise young American said at a recent meeting, only “kicking the ball, not the player.”

But as long as the two are trying to outdo each other, anyone who wants to destroy both of them doesn’t need a Vassakara (Fifth columnist) to first shatter their unity.
Each is already beaten before the fight begins.


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