An ethnic alliance organization has invited all armed groups to its bi-annual conference in Chiang Mai next week, according to an official.
The United Nationalities Federal Council – an umbrella organization comprised of seven ethnic armed groups that have not yet signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement – will hold its conference from June 20-29.
“There are 21 EAOs [ethnic armed organizations. We have invited all of them,” said U Tun Zaw, general secretary of the UNFC.
“In the first section [of the conference], we will hold a meeting among the UNFC members. The meeting with non-UNFC members will be held in the second section. The first program will take seven days. It will be held from June 20 to 26. The second program will be held from June 27 to 29,” he added.
U Tun Zaw said it was not yet certain how many of the ethnic armed groups would be in attendance.
At least one group has reportedly declined the invitation.
The Ta’ang National Liberation Army’s (TNLA) general secretary Brigadier General Tar Bone Kyaw, said the TNLA will not be present due to the ongoing fighting.
“There are many clashes in our area. We are busy so we won’t be able to attend it,” he said.
The TNLA resigned from the UNFC last year.
At the conference, the UNFC is expected to make decisions regarding applications for new members, or allowing other members to resign. Two of the current seven members, the Kachin Independence Army and the Wa National Organization have both submitted resignation notices that will be discussed.
The UNFC currently includes the KIA, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), and the Arakan National Council (ANC), the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) and the Wa National Organization (WNO).
In an attempt to unify one of the more fractured political fields in the country, two Chin political parties have agreed to merge, they announced following a meeting in Yangon on June 15.
The Chin National Democratic Party (CNDP) and the Chin Progressive Party (CPP) will establish a working committee with a secretariat team to help ease the merging process, the parties said in a joint statement. They also said that they welcome other Chin political parties or Chin State-based parties to join them.
The CNDP, the CPP and the Chin League for Democracy (CLD) have been negotiating a potential merger for over a year, but only the first two have agreed to join forces.
Salai Ceu Bik Thawng, secretary of the CNDP, said the two parties will work together to join their policies and formulate new ones as necessary.
“This merger is not only a joining of the CNDP and the CPP, but is also about establishing a path for anyone who wants to join us. We will work step-by-step to reach the final goal of uniting [all Chin parties] into a single Chin party,” Salai Ceu Bik Thawng added.
The CLD’s chair, Ngai Sak welcomed the two parties’ decision to merge, but added that the CLD’s position is that it will form an alliance with all Chin parties together, rather than partnering one at a time. The CLD has proposed holding a Chin political congress in March 2018 to discuss merging all the Chin political parties into one, so as to avoid fracturing the votes in 2020.
“In their view, other parties are not needed yet and our three Chin parties should merge [first]. We [the CLD] want to merge systematically only after discussing the policies in detail to prevent us from splitting up like the ALD [Arakan League for Democracy] and the RNDP [Rakhine Nationalities Development Party] in Rakhine State,” he said.
The CPP and the CNDP were both established in 2010 and won seats in the general election held that year. Neither won seats in the 2015 general election.
To cope with a severe funding deficit, staff at nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border have agreed to take a 40 percent pay cut.
The salary change will affect community-based workers starting in July, according to Saw Pwe Say, secretary of the Karen Refugee Committee. He said a consensus decision was made at the end of May after the KRC and Thai Border Consortium discussed how to best continue managing the camps in the face of decreasing international donations.
“If we reduced the number of workers, everyone might resign so we decided not to reduce the number of workers. We will instead reduce 40 percent of the stipend. We will stick together through thick and thin. If we work, we will work together. If we resign, we will resign together,” he said.
About 10,000 staffers at the camps supported by the border consortium and another 2,800 under the KRC are expected to be affected by the cutback. Community-based workers include camp leaders, health workers, teachers, and security. Most receive a stipend somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 baht ($28-56) per month.
Officials from the refugee camps said they suspect some workers may resign anyways due to the large salary cut.
“There are many difficulties. International aid will likely be suspended in 2018 or 2019. It’s difficult for us to prepare ahead since we don’t know when the food and aid will stop,” said Saw Honesty, chair of Mae La Refugee Camp, which is about 37 miles (60 kilometers) north of Mae Sot.
According to statistics released by TBC, over 100,000 Myanmar refugees continue to reside in Ban Nai Soi, Ban Mae Surin, Mae La Oon, Mae Ra Ma Luang, Mae La, Umpiem Mai, Nu Po, Ban Don Yang, and Tham Hin refugee camps.
International donations to the camps have been on the decline for several years as donors look to support initiatives within Myanmar, or have to prioritize more urgent crises.