RANGOON — Arakanese politicians say they will boycott the upcoming 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference unless the government approves a national-level political dialogue for Arakan State.
In early February, the government’s Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) decided not to allow national-level dialogues for two nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) signatory groups—the Chin National Front (CNF) and the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP). After the decision came out, Chin political parties and civil society organizations (CSOs) objected immediately to the government’s determination.
Then on Feb. 14, the UPDJC reversed itself and announced that the CNF could hold a national-level political dialogue in Chin State.
However, as of Thursday, the UPDJC still had not granted permission to the ALP, despite the limited amount of time before the Panglong conference starts in March.
On Tuesday, representatives of the ALP, the Arakan National Party (ANP), and Arakanese CSOs gathered in the state capital Sittwe to explain the current status of the peace process in a public meeting. But many Arakanese residents misunderstood the purpose of the meeting, which they saw as an attempt to start a national-level dialogue without inviting all the local stakeholders.
“Arakan State is still not permitted to hold the national-level dialogue, and the government has given no concrete reason why this is the case. We strongly disagree with the government’s position, and we plan to boycott the Union Peace Conference unless they change their mind,” said ANP official U Aung Mra Kyaw, who attended the meeting in Sittwe.
The national-level political dialogues are meant to serve as preparation for NCA-signatory groups, such as the ALP, to take input from their regional stakeholders so they can voice their concerns at the Union Peace Conference. But before a national-level dialogue can start, UPDJC rules require the government to form a state supervisory committee, which contains representatives from ethnic armed groups, political parties, elected lawmakers, and the army.
So far, the UPDJC has avoided making a recommendation on Arakan State.
At the national-level dialogue, stakeholders are allowed to focus on four discussion topics: politics, the economy, social affairs, and land and environmental issues. The topic of security is left to be negotiated at the Union-level dialogue in Naypyidaw.
ALP vice chairwoman Daw Saw Mra Yaza Lin pointed out that the government should provide the same opportunities to every NCA-signatory group.
But if the government ignores the ALP’s request for national-level dialogue, she said, that would violate the terms of the NCA.
“Don’t discriminate against us. We are an NCA-signatory group,” said Daw Saw Mra Yaza Lin.
Although the 48 members of the UPDJC make recommendations about which groups can hold the national-level political dialogues, the final decision is made by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a senior official in the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) who asked The Irrawaddy for anonymity.
Moreover, within the UPDJC, there is a 15-member secretariat committee which is tasked with analysing the political climate between the ALP, other armed groups, and Arakanese political parties. In the case of the ALP, neither the 15-person secretariat nor the 48-member UPDJC has yet offered a recommendation to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
According to the NRPC senior official, the UPDJC is dragging its feet on a decision about the ALP.
The same senior official pointed out that in other locations controlled by ethnic armed groups—such as in Shan, Karen, and Chin states, Tenasserim Division, and Taungoo Township—the UPDJC has already granted permission to hold national-level dialogues.
The 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference will go ahead with or without a contribution from Arakan State, the senior official said. But not all of the disagreements will be resolved in Naypyidaw, and there will be a need for many additional meetings in the future.
“We told the ALP just to be patient for a while,” the NRPC official said.