‘21st Century Panglong Conference’ Set for Late July

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 20 May 2016

RANGOON — The National League for Democracy’s push for peace with ethnic armed groups is expected to begin in late July, according to sources familiar with the matter.

At the office complex of the former Myanmar Peace Center in Rangoon on Thursday, the government committee making preparations for the so-called “21st Century Panglong Conference” met with the eight non-state signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), a peace pact signed with Burma’s previous government in 2015.

“The committee explained that they would like to hold the conference by the end of July,” Khun Myint Tun, chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization, told The Irrawaddy.

The preparation committee, however, did not provide details about the conference, Khun Myint Tun added.

The framework for the conference is expected to build upon the political dialogue established by the previous government, according to NCA signatories. But, the committee will also invite 13 NCA non-signatories to work together on creating an agenda for the conference, the signatories said.

When asked if the NCA non-signatories would be allowed to participate in the conference, Khun Myint Tun said: “They can participate from the very beginning. They will be allowed to take part in the decision-making of developing the framework [for the conference].”

At a meeting in April with the Joint Monitoring Committee, a ceasefire watchdog that includes the eight NCA signatories, Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s state counselor, first proposed holding a “Panglong-style” conference.

The original Panglong Conference was convened in southern Shan State in 1947 by Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San, and leaders from some of the country’s ethnic minorities, in preparation for independence from Britain. It led to the signing of an agreement by the same name, which has been widely praised for the spirit of inclusiveness and cooperation that it fostered between the dominant Burman majority and ethnic minorities at the time.

Suu Kyi is set to meet with the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) on May 27 and inviting NCA non-signatories to participate in framework drafting will be on the agenda, said Khun Myint Tun. The UPDJC was charged with drafting the framework for political dialogue under the previous government, and is a tripartite body consisting of government-military representatives, as well as those from NCA signatories and political parties.

The chairman of the conference preparatory committee, Dr. Tin Myo Win, said his committee in the meantime would encourage NCA non-signatories to sign the NCA or to take part in the development of a framework for the conference.

The committee has formed a sub-committee headed by Tin Myo Win to negotiate with NCA non-signatories, and another sub-committee led by Gen. Yar Pyae of the Burma Army will take care of preparations for the conference.

Hla Maung Shwe, a member of the preparation committee, said that Suu Kyi had instructed them to include ethnic armed groups that are still “clashing” with the Burma Army in the conference, and they have taken steps to achieve that goal.

“Whether or not [the NCA non-signatories] sign [the NCA] would depend on their discussions with the government later,” said Hla Maung Shwe. “What is important now is to figure out how to bring them into the talks.”

Hla Maung Shwe declined to comment on whether the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army—three ethnic armed groups that are non-signatories and are actively in conflict with the Burma Army—would be invited to the conference. The previous government shut the three groups out of talks leading up to the NCA signing.

The Irrawaddy’s Moe Myint contributed reporting.