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In Myanmar, Karen Leave Ethnic Umbrella Group

FILE - Myanmar's President Thein Sein, shown in Naypyitaw Aug. 8, 2014, has pledged to have cease-fire pacts with all ethnic groups before leaving office in 2015.

A major ethnic group, the Karen National Union, has suspended its membership in the coalition group that has been working with the government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, on a nationwide cease-fire agreement.

The move comes after the union’s representatives walked out of a four-day conference of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

A member of KNU’s central executive committee, Saw Hta Dohmu, told VOA Burmese the council head has too much authority and it is counterproductive for the umbrella organization with 12 armed groups.

The member explained why he and other KNU representatives walked out of the meeting and suspended their council membership, saying that, "to be frank, UNFC’s constitution is inconsistent with KNU’s policy with its coalition."

The UNFC’s leader is selected from among various representatives, Dohmu said, and “given full authority like an institution.”

Council door remains open

UNFC Secretary General Nai Han Thar told VOA Burmese that the door is still open for KNU to return.

"It is not a permanent departure," the official said, noting senior KNU members were to discuss situation and make a final decision. "… For our part, we always open the door to all ethnic organizations."

Most of the ethnic groups have been fighting for decades and currently have separate, temporary cease-fire agreements with the government. Ethnic Karen rebels signed a truce in January 2012, halting their fight for more autonomy.

In a radio address to the nation, Myanmar President Thein Sein has vowed to have cease-fire agreements with armed groups before his term expired next year.

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