YANGON — A precise date for the third session of the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference still has yet to be fixed due to persistent disagreements between Myanmar’s military and ethnic armed groups, according to a leader of one group.
The third session was tentatively scheduled for May after multiple delays.
Nai Hong Sar, vice chairman of the New Mon State Party, said the military wants the armed groups to promise in advance not to secede, but the armed groups see no need to make such a pledge if the military agrees to a federal system.
He said armed groups met with military and government representatives in Naypyitaw on May 18 for preliminary talks. “They told us at the meeting that we cannot secede from the Union,” said Nai Hong Sar, who attended the talks.
He said the armed groups came away from the meeting with the impression that the military was still determined to defeat them in battle and had no interest in accommodating them in a federal system.
“If our ethnic groups get real federalism, with self-determination and equal rights, none of us would talk about seceding from the Union,” Nai Hong Sar said.
Otherwise, he said, the armed groups believe they need to retain the option to secede in case the military continues to attack them and abuse their people.
But if the armed groups did not agree to give up the option, he added, “the military said at the meeting that it would not accept self-determination for ethnic groups in their regions or a state Constitution for each state.”
Nai Hong Sar said the military also brought up the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups and security sector reform at the May 17 talks.
“This is just their wish. But the ethnic groups cannot trust the current military because it is not based on democratic standards,” he said.
Myanmar’s military does not take orders from a civilian government and in addition to the Defense Ministry runs the Ministry of Border Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs, which controls the police.
“Our ethnic groups do not have equal rights yet. Our ethnic rights have not been granted yet. So we cannot destroy our armies,” Nai Hong Sar said.
The armed groups met among themselves in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Sunday and Monday and decided to seek more preliminary talks with the military and government to try to resolve the impasse.
The Union Peace Conference is supposed to be held once every six months, but the last session was in May 2017.
At a press conference in Naypyitaw on Tuesday, Defense Ministry Permanent Secretary Brigadier-General Aung Kyaw Hoe blamed the delay of the third session on the armed groups.