We are not hard­lin­ers – we are the ones who want peace the most’: Khu Oo Reh, Gen­eral Sec­re­tary of UNFC

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Ariana Zar­leen

Khu Oo Reh is the Gen­eral Sec­re­tary of the eth­nic al­liance the United Na­tion­al­i­ties Fed­eral Coun­cil (UNFC) and the Vice Chair­man of the Karenni Na­tional Pro­gres­sive Party (KNPP). In this ex­clu­sive in-depth in­ter­view, Khu Oo Reh talks about the goals of the UNFC, the cur­rent state of the peace process and the Na­tion­wide Ceasefire Agree­ment (NCA) talks, as well as the role of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity who are en­gag­ing with the Myan­mar Gov­ern­ment and fund­ing the peace process through in­sti­tu­tions such as the Myan­mar Peace Cen­tre (MPC). The views of the UNFC and eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tions, who re­main in des­per­ate need of sup­port in or­der to re­alise a last­ing and sus­tain­able peace end up too of­ten ig­nored, over­looked, or mis­un­der­stood by in­ter­na­tional ac­tors. Khu Oo Reh strongly en­cour­ages the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to lis­ten to all sides in or­der to de­velop an un­der­stand­ing of the dy­nam­ics of the prob­lems they are fund­ing to solve.

When and why was the UNFC founded, and what are the goals of the UNFC?

The UNFC was founded in 2011, just af­ter the 2010 Burmese gen­eral elec­tion. In 2009, the Burmese mil­i­tary regime forced all the ceasefire armed eth­nic groups to trans­form their troops into Bor­der Guard Forces, or lo­cal mil­i­tary mili­tias. By the pres­sure given by the regime some eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Or­gan­i­sa­tion, New Mon State Party, Shan State Progress Party, and a few more, re­jected to trans­form their troops to be Bor­der Guard Forces or lo­cal mili­tias. […] Such eth­nic armed groups, who had been in ceasefire agree­ments with the mil­i­tary regime, re­turned to war against the regime by join­ing hands with the other eth­nic armed groups who were still fight­ing against the mil­i­tary regime, such as the Karen Na­tional Union, Karenni Na­tional Pro­gres­sive Party, and Chin Na­tional Front, and also the Palaung Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front. So such eth­nic armed groups, who re­jected to trans­form their troops into Bor­der Guard Forces or lo­cal mili­tias, got in touch with other eth­nic armed groups, those who were still fight­ing against the mil­i­tary regime. And we came to­gether, found the way to come to­gether and work hand in hand to fight against the mil­i­tary regime. So we all

agreed that hav­ing a fed­eral union that can guar­an­tee democ­racy, equal­ity, and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, is the only way that we can stop all the prob­lems that we have [had] in our coun­try for over 60 years.

How would you de­scribe the cur­rent state of the peace process and the NCA?

Now [we are] ready for po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue, as we try very hard to con­clude the na­tion­wide ceasefire agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment. We try very hard to come to­gether, but there are still [some groups that are] out of the UNFC, some or­gan­i­sa­tions are still not mem­bers of the UNFC. […] … they also should be part of the process, that’s how we un­der­stand it. So no mat­ter what, how we are, we should have a com­mon goal, and a com­mon po­si­tion and work to­gether and build our unity. We view that be­fore we go for po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue, first we have to stop all the fight­ing. If we can­not stop the fight­ing, we can­not smoothly move onto po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue. So we all agree that we should stop the fight­ing first and then move onto another step, be­cause we re­ally want to make sure there is no more fight­ing in all of the coun­try, the coun­try is in peace. So that is the rea­son that all the mem­bers of the UNFC and non-mem­ber or­gan­i­sa­tions came to­gether and worked to­gether on the peace process.

[…] Now we are try­ing very hard to be there [to have NCA], but we still have some se­ri­ous is­sues that need to be agreed with the gov­ern­ment, for ex­am­ple [1] in­clu­sive­ness. To be hon­est we re­ally want to see all the armed eth­nic groups come to­gether and sign the NCA. Another thing is [2] who is go­ing to sign the NCA, we still need to agree on that […]. And also at the sign­ing of the NCA, we want to see [3] in­ter­na­tional wit­nesses in­cluded. We pro­pose UN, ASEAN, EU, and some neigh­bour­ing coun­tries to be wit­nesses to en­sure that who­ever comes into power [af­ter the forth­com­ing elec­tions] im­ple­ments the agree­ment and also [that] the process of the NCA is mon­i­tored. Who is go­ing to mon­i­tor, if we fail to im­ple­ment the agree­ment? So such im­por­tant is­sues still re­main to be agreed on.

Why is the gov­ern­ment try­ing to ex­clude the three groups TNLA (Ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army), MNDAA (Myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army), and AA (Arakan Army) from the NCA?

Their rea­son is that those groups such as MNDAA, AA, TNLA, still do not yet have bi­lat­eral agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment, so first they have to en­ter into bi­lat­eral agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment, and then later on they can join the NCA. That is the rea­son [put for­ward] by the gov­ern­ment.

Why was the new Se­nior Del­e­ga­tion (SD) formed to re­place the NCCT?

Be­cause the NCCT (Na­tion­wide Ceasefire Co­or­di­na­tion Team) has re­peat­edly said that they tried their best to ne­go­ti­ate with the gov­ern­ment. It is the up­most ef­fort that they could make, no more be­yond that, but some is­sues still re­main to be dis­cussed and agreed on. So for those re­main­ing is­sues the NCCT thought that there should be another new team that can con­tinue the ne­go­ti­a­tions with the gov­ern­ment to be able to fi­nalise this agree­ment.

What do you ex­pect from the forth­com­ing gen­eral elec­tion?

[…] It is the work of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties, not for us,

but we have a clear stand for the gen­eral elec­tion. We won’t stop or dis­turb the elec­tion process. It can freely go as it is, but we fore­see that even at this time there can­not be a free and fair elec­tion as far as we have seen the sce­nario of the ac­tiv­i­ties by the USDP and by the mil­i­tary, and also since the mil­i­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the par­lia­ment re­jected to amend the con­sti­tu­tion.

What is the UNFC’s po­si­tion re­gard­ing the 2008 Con­sti­tu­tion?

We never talk about the 2008 Con­sti­tu­tion; we are think­ing to have a new one, which could be agreed by all, the en­tire pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try. Be­cause our main goal is to build a fed­eral union based on democ­racy, equal­ity, and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. So when you care­fully study the 2008 Con­sti­tu­tion [that] they have now … we bet­ter have a new one.

What is the UNFC’s stance re­gard­ing SSR (Se­cu­rity Sec­tor Re­form) and DDR (Dis­ar­ma­ment, De­mo­bil­i­sa­tion, and Rein­te­gra­tion)?

It heav­ily de­pends on the NCA agree­ment that we will have; how much the agree­ment can guar­an­tee [a po­si­tion] for eth­nic armed groups. Let me say that af­ter sign­ing of the NCA, if we don’t see any con­crete guar­an­tee, or, if we don’t see any prom­ise that could ma­te­ri­alise, we will be wor­ried to have SSR or DDR. So it very [much] de­pends on the NCA that we are go­ing to sign, how much the agree­ment will guar­an­tee for us.

Does the UNFC con­sult civil so­ci­ety and groups like women’s or­gan­i­sa­tions and refugee rep­re­sen­ta­tives about how to pro­ceed with the peace process?

Well we are se­ri­ously think­ing about the role on the CSOs (civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions), and women, and youth. […] What sup­port they can give, in which way they can help? Be­cause we un­der­stand that when the talks for po­lit­i­cal is­sues come, they have to get in­volved.

Now the ne­go­ti­a­tions that we have with the gov­ern­ment and the army are just to stop the fight­ing, but … there are some other is­sues to be guar­an­teed when the po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue comes. For ex­am­ple, the role of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and the role of the CSOs, women, and youth.

Cur­rently the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is sup­port­ing the peace process mainly through in­sti­tu­tions such as the MPC [set up by the gov­ern­ment]. What is your view on these peace funds and are they ben­e­fit­ing the peace process?

My ob­ser­va­tion on the in­ter­na­tional in­volve­ment, also the donor coun­tries [is that] from the very be­gin­ning they have [had] the wrong mind-set; they have [had] the wrong think­ing about the process that we have now. When they are com­ing to Burma with the funds in sup­port of the peace process, what they have so far un­der­stood is just mainly to en­gage with the gov­ern­ment.

But they don’t care much about the eth­nics, they all are in­ten­tion­ally try­ing to ig­nore the eth­nics. Even [if] a few donor coun­tries are think­ing of giv­ing a help­ing hand to eth­nic groups, they are re­luc­tant to do so be­cause the ma­jor­ity [of the] donor coun­tries are mainly hap­pily work­ing with the gov­ern­ment through MPC or through other chan­nels.

So the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and gov­ern­ments have to come up with their own de­ci­sion, ‘how should we ap­proach the prob­lem, how should we ap­proach the process? How should we pro­vide our sup­port?’ There should be such a clear agenda. Be­fore­hand, they should have all the in­for­ma­tion that they need … be­fore they give their sup­port. To truly bring about peace in our coun­try.

In your view, if the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity wants to sup­port the peace process, what would be the best way to do that?

Be­fore de­cid­ing to de­liver sup­port or as­sis­tance, first, they should ac­cess all groups of peo­ple in the coun­try, they should ac­cess all groups who are in the process, and lis­ten to them. And then gather all their points of view, all their needs, and talk with them, which way is the best to give out as­sis­tance.

What would you like to say to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity?

Firstly, I would like to thank all in­ter­na­tional gov­ern­ments and com­mu­ni­ties who are giv­ing a help­ing hand to us in all ways that they can help. I do truly ap­pre­ci­ate that, no mat­ter what. But, in the long run, some have their own in­ter­ests and some have their own na­tional in­ter­est. I’m not in a po­si­tion to blame them. Only one mes­sage that I would like to give is ‘be­fore com­ing into the coun­try with the in­ter­est of giv­ing sup­port to the peo­ple in the coun­try, please try to un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion, please try to reach out [to] as many peo­ple as you can. And come up with your right de­ci­sion, and make sure that all your as­sis­tance goes to the right place, goes to the needy peo­ple, truly ben­e­fits the peo­ple, and truly ben­e­fits the whole coun­try.’

[…] We are not hard­lin­ers, we are not hard. We are the ones who need peace the most. No­body wants to suf­fer, no­body wants to be poor, you see? Ev­ery­body wants to be free.

The in­ter­view was con­ducted by Ariana Zar­leen at the UNFC of­fice in Chi­ang Mai on July 24, 2015. Ariana Zar­leen is a co-founder and cur­rent Pro­gram Di­rec­tor of Burma Link, an NGO that spreads aware­ness of Myan­mar’s eth­nic na­tion­al­i­ties and dis­placed peo­ple, and shares their voices and sto­ries lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Poto: Ariana Zar­leen

Khu Oo Reh.

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