‘We Came to This Conference as Equals, but There is Still No Equality’: RCSS

By Nyein Nyein 2 September 2016

NAYPYIDAW — Inequality has been a central topic at the 21st Century Panglong peace conference, which began on Wednesday in Naypyidaw. Lt-Col Sai Ngin of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), an ethnic armed group taking part in peace negotiations, told The Irrawaddy after the second day of the conference about the current level of equality—or lack thereof—among ethnic groups.

Could you briefly describe the paper the RCSS submitted to the peace conference?

Mainly, our paper calls for the 1947 Panglong Agreement to be honored. It focuses on the Panglong Agreement, the Panglong pledge [of federalism], and the establishment of a democratic federal Union that guarantees self-determination and equality.

What were the main points discussed on the second day of the conference?

Participants mainly talked about the Panglong Agreement. The 21st Century Panglong [conference] emerged as a result of the 1947 Panglong. We shared the same views about the fundamentals of the [1947] Panglong Agreement. Some groups expressed concerns about their future and some minorities demanded autonomous states. That does not directly concern us; it concerns mainly the Union government. [Autonomous states] would have to be in line with the 2008 Constitution, therefore there will be many stages. So, I think we are not directly concerned with it yet.

What is your assessment of the conference so far?

I’m satisfied. The delegations and [political] parties are able to discuss anything. But the time is limited: 10 minutes [for a presentation] is not enough. And we have pointed out to the conference chairman that there is no equality at the conference. The [ranks] of our ethnic armed group delegates are not mentioned on their nametags. For example, I am a lieutenant colonel but the nametag just reads ‘Sai Ngin.’ That is not equal. If there is no equality even in such a small matter, how can we expect equality in federalism? I have pointed this out and made a request [to feature titles/ranks on nametags].

[Burma Army representatives at the conference are permitted to wear their military uniforms, which already state their rank, whereas ethnic armed groups officers can only wear traditional ethnic dress. Some ethnic armed group officers had hoped that their military ranks would at least be stated on their nametags at the conference, but they are not. Additionally, during the opening sessions, the ranks of ethnic armed group officers at the conference were not mentioned when their names were read out—although they have been mentioned in more recent sessions, as observed by The Irrawaddy.]

Many complained about this on the first day of the conference? So, a solution still hasn’t been found after two days?

Not yet. We came to this conference as equals, but there is still no equality. Yesterday, the KIO [Kachin Independence Organization] vice chairman Gen N’Ban La even joked about it. [The KIO vice chairman introduced himself with, ‘ethnic groups call me General N’Ban La.’] So, I have continued to request [appropriate nametags]. If not even a conference program is organized equally, how can we possibly expect equality in political matters?