Representatives of Burma’s ethnic armed groups meeting in the Kachin Independence Organization’s (KIO) de facto capital Laiza extended their conference to Saturday, Japan’s Kyodo News Agency has reported. The conference which began last Wednesday is being held in order to facilitate a unified response to the government’s plans for a nationwide ceasefire.
“We have all generally agreed on the framework but we will meet again to finalize and sign it tomorrow,” Chin academic Salai Lian Sakhong explained to Kyodo. Kyodo is one of the few foreign news agencies to send its staff to cover the conference.
The conference which involves the representatives of 16 of Burma’s armed ethnic groups, is the first major conference of its kind to be held in rebel territory since the Karen National Union (KNU) hosted similar unity conferences in Manerplaw in the early 1990’s. Apart from the KIO the Laiza conference includes representatives of the KNU, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Chin National Front (CNF), the Shan State Army South (RCSS), the Shan State Army North, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Lahu Democratic Union, Arakan National Council, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA Na Kham Mwe faction), Pao National Liberation Organization (PNLO), and the Wa National Organization (WNO). The WNO is quite small and not to be confused with the much larger United Wa State Army who did not attend.
Although the KNU for many years championed a united front amongst Burma’s various ethnic rebel groups, the KNU’s current leadership under Mutu Say Poe, appears far less interested in such things these days. Informed observers tell the Kachin News Group that the KNU’s current position on the national ceasefire is at odds with the stance of the United Nationalities Federal Council, a coalition of 11 armed groups which includes both the KNU and the KIO, that is far more skeptical of the government’s ceasefire related plans.