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Myanmar Ethnic Rebels Form Combined Federal Army

FILE - Soldiers of Karen National Union (KNU) stand guard in Hpa-an village, Karen State, Myanmar.
FILE - Soldiers of Karen National Union (KNU) stand guard in Hpa-an village, Karen State, Myanmar.

Twelve of Myanmar's ethnic rebel groups have announced the establishment of a Federal Army, a move likely to anger the national government.

The new force, called the Federal Union Army (FUA), will be under the supervision of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an umbrella group that has been trying to negotiate a nationwide cease-fire between ethnic minorities and the national military.

Major Khun Okkar, co-secretary of the UNFC, tells VOA the new force will be vital in national peace efforts.

“FUA is the military force of UNFC and will follow the political trend of UNFC. Therefore, in accordance with UNFC policy, FUA must support the peace process and efforts to get the nationwide cease-fire agreement. It must also monitor the ground situation getting after the nationwide cease-fire agreement," said Okkar.

But it is not clear if the new force will help or hinder the prospects for peace. The government has not yet reacted to the announcement, but officials have previously expressed strong opposition to the formation of the Federal Army.

In an exclusive interview with VOA last week, Army Chief General Min Aung Hlaing said Myanmar, like any other country, can only have one national military force. However, he did not say how the government or the army would react to the formation of the FUA.

"There are differences in defining federalism in the constitution written by UNFC and [Myanmar's] constitution. They form FUA according to their definition. In fact, we already have Tatmadaw [Union of Myanmar Army] like all nation states have their own national army. But there is not two or three national armies in any nation. Not in the United States, not in neighboring India, China, Thailand nor in Bangladesh," said Hlaing.

The new force has the support of most of the ethnic minority groups in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Among the country's major ethnic rebel groups, only the Wa have refused to participate in the FUA.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.