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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        22  February 2011

Twelve ethnic groups in Myanmar unite

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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, noninclusive processes and armed conflict. This unprecedented alliance is a direct response to these decades-long 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.

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