Tuesday, January 25, 2011

‘We must speak in one voice’

Tuesday, 25 January 2011 14:49 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) - Recently, the Committee for the Emergence of a Federal Union (CEFU) was formed after a joint meeting of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the Karen National Union (KNU), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Chin National Front (CNF), the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) in November 2010.

The committee plans to convene a broad ethnic conference, but one that its leaders describe as different from the proposed second Panglong-type conference that has been proposed by the National League for Democracy and ethnic political parties.
Mizzima reporter Ko Wild interviewed NMSP General-Secretary Nai Han Thar on what type of conference is planned and the issues involved.

Q: The CEFU is comprised of six ethnic organisations, and you’re now in an organizing stage, correct?

A: Yes, we plan to implement our work by coordinating with ethnic alliances such as the National Democratic Front (NDF), the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) and the United Nationalities League for Democracy – Liberated Area (UNLD-LA). These alliance groups will send representatives to the conference. An organising committee will be formed first and it will do the preparatory work.

Q: What are the differences between your conference and the conference being initiated by domestic ethnic political parties and the NLD, which has been described as a second Panglong Conference?

A: The conference being initiated in Burma is like the 1947 conference [Panglong Conference], where Burmese representatives and ethnic representatives met and reached an agreement. Their intention is to implement an agreement similar to the one reached at that time between Burman and ethnic people.

Our conference is different. Most of the ethnic people on the border are waging an armed struggle against the government for our self-defence. Now the military regime is preparing to wage war against cease-fire and other groups. So these ethnic groups have to defend themselves in an coordinated effort.

On the other hand, all ethnic people must be united in trying to achieve a federal union. We must speak in one voice. In this way, we can resist the regime’s offensive in unity. We will be stronger if we can all unite on the same political platform.

Then we can represent ethnic people in a tripartite dialogue, which we are calling for. So our conference will work on all these issues.

Q: Previously, you formed the NDF and ENC for these purposes too.

A: Yes, we have had similar intentions before, but these two organisations diverged and became different entities over time. Their principles are now different from each other, and it is difficult to reconcile them. Under the circumstances, we need to consolidate ourselves as we resist a military offensive.

Q: In trying to consolidate all ethnic groups, some argue that Burman (Burmese groups) should participate as one of the ethnic groups. Do you agree and can you accept Burman groups as an ethnic group? How do you see the role of the ethnic Burman?

A: We can accept it if an organisation representing ethnic Burmese comes and join us. But there are no such organisations representing ethnic Burmese. Also there are no ethnic Burmese organisations fighting for the cause of ethnic Burmese. They are fighting only for democracy and human rights. This is because of their situation.

They are not suffering from national oppression and facing assimilation issue. They fight against military dictatorship only. Unlike us, they don’t need to fight for national liberation and national rights. You don’t have ethnic Burmese organisations fighting for the cause of ethnic Burmese.

Q: Ethnic groups had the Mae Tha Raw Tha Agreement in 1997-98. Is your current plan related to this agreement or different from it?

A: Yes, they are interrelated. Ethnic people held a seminar in Mae Tha Raw Tha in 1997. At that time, we held the meeting as a seminar. Now we intend to hold a conference. But the objective of a federal state will be the same.

Q: Will you include domestic non-armed ethnic political parties in the conference?

A: I think the domestic ethnic political parties cannot come and join us. According to their situation, their political movement works only inside the country. They are calling for a second Panglong conference. They are conducting their movement in this fashion. So their movement is different from ours.

Q: Even so, among the many armed ethnic groups, you now have only six groups in your organization, the CEFU. How will you attract more groups?

A: We will invite all political and armed ethnic organisations when we can convene this conference by integrating both the NDF and the ENC. Our plan is to unite all the ethnic organisations on the border into a strong, single organisation.

Q: Is Mae Tha Raw Tha the only effort by ethnic people in consolidating themselves? Are there others?

A: As far as I can remember, there was one such meeting in 1976 held in Manerpalaw. At this meeting, 13 organisations attended and formed the NDF. Since then, our sole goal and objective is the emergence of a federal union, not secession.

Q: Can you describe the ethnic conference held in Taunggyi in 1961?

A: The 1961 Taunggyi conference was mainly for the implementation of the federal principle. The ethnic people were joined in an independence struggle. The Panglong agreement was achieved by the ethnic Chin, Kachin and Shan just before regaining independence from Britain. But this agreement could never be implemented and the ethnic people became, in effect, a colony under the Burmese people. So the Taunggyi conference was held to look for ways forward and to maintain a unity among all ethnic people. The conference was held to implement an agreement in building unity and to live as brethren on the basis of equality when we regained independence. This is also the federal principle.

Q: Your NMSP is a cease-fire group. Now you plan to join with non-ceasefire ethnic armed groups who are waging war against the regime. Is there more military tension in your control area because of this?

A: Our cease-fire agreement with the regime has been void since September 1, 2010. They do not recognise it anymore. We have to stand our own now, and we have to join with allied forces.

Q: How do you see the future?

A: Ethnic people will continue to call for a federal system of government. The regime cannot resolve the ethnic issues through military means. Military means have been used for more than 60 years and it cannot destroy even one armed group. In 1947, Bogyoke Aung San tried to resolve the ethnic issues based on national equality and self-determination as the basic principle of the Panglong Conference. Everybody would be happy if the same attitude and the same approach could actually be implemented in coordination with the new government.

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