21st Century Panglong Conference Kicks Off in Naypyidaw

By Nyein Nyein 31 August 2016

NAYPYIDAW — The 21st Century Panglong conference began on Wednesday in Burma’s capital of Naypyidaw, with an emphasis on unity in building a federal union.

Over 1,000 attendees filled the conference hall at the Myanmar International Convention Centre 2.

The grand opening of the five-day conference has been discussed as the first step toward national reconciliation and political dialogue, and was joined by the stakeholders from the government, Parliament, the Burma Army, 17 ethnic armed organizations, foreign diplomats and the United Nations general secretary Ban Ki-moon.

For the remainder of the conference, 750 stakeholders will be discussing specific issues in relation to politics, security, economics, land and the environment.

Key leaders from the government present at the event included State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, parliamentary house speakers Win Myint and Mann Win Khaing Than, and Burma Army commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing. Key ethnic leaders included Karen National Union chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe and Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) vice chairman Gen N’Ban La.

National League for Democracy patron U Tin Oo and UN secretary Ban Ki-moon addressed attendees with opening speeches highlighting the importance of Burma’s peace process.

In her own 15-minute speech, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi revisited her peace negotiation team’s work over the past three months.

Acknowledging those displaced by conflict in Burma, the State Counselor emphasized the need to “not to forget the IDPs” in her speech, a statement echoed by many of those who spoke at the event, calling for an end to civil war in the country.

“Now our ethnic people in unstable areas are wondering what the outcomes of the conference will be. Their hopes have been dimmed for a long time. We surely can’t ignore their suffering,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.

The KIA’s N’Ban La said thanked the government for remembering the suffering of the displaced; over 100,000 ethnic Kachin remain internally displaced due to renewed fighting with the Burma Army in recent years.

He went on to explain his understanding of federalism as “living in harmony” in a “democratic union” without “separation.”

One stakeholder who did not mention federalism was army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who, in his speech remained firm on adhering to the Tatmadaw’s six-point principles in the peace process, which he described as having been “drafted based on [past] experiences” and which should be followed by “both sides.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi highlighted the work of civil society organizations for their peacebuilding efforts. Specifically, she thanked Burma’s youth for holding a recent campaign in support of the 21st Century Panglong conference.

The State Counselor emphasized public participation as key to achieving peace in the country.

“Any peace process can’t be successful without public support,” she said. “Peace is not something that leaders can delegate from above, and it is not born in peace conference rooms. Active participation and support from the public is required.”

The stakeholders and the conference attendees shared their expectations from the five-day peace talks with The Irrawaddy.

Myo Win, vice chair of the All Burma Students Democratic Front, echoed the State Counselor’s sentiments on peacebuilding: “We need participation from the public and to think of it as everyone’s responsibility.”

Laphai Seng Raw, a prominent Kachin social activist who is taking part in the conference as a stakeholder, told The Irrawaddy that she hoped the 2016 Panglong would “continue finding solutions for historically unresolved issues, such as equality and rights to autonomy, which were failed to be implemented after the [original] 1947 Panglong.”

Other members of civil society organizations and women’s groups in particular were present at the conference as observers, despite not being invited as stakeholders.