Army Exerts Influence Over National-Level Dialogue

By Lawi Weng 28 February 2017

National-level political dialogues have been delayed due to disagreements between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups regarding logistics.

The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) suggested holding its conference in Taunggyi or Panglong, but the army only agreed to hold it in Shan State’s Mong Pan Township, which is isolated and difficult to get to, according to Shan sources.

Col Sai Hla from the RCSS told The Irrawaddy that holding the meeting in Mong Pan would pose many difficulties.

“Taunggyi is a suitable place for us. If we have to hold it in Mong Pan we will have nothing on hand to discuss at Panglong. It will not be an ideal Panglong conference if we cannot bring the voices of our Shan people,” he said.

The RCSS sent a letter to the government, to which it replied that the meeting should be held in the area approved by the army. It then sent a follow-up letter to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 22 and is waiting for a reply.

The RCSS is not the only group having trouble hosting national-level political dialogue. Both Chin and Arakan representatives have faced similar disagreements with military representatives.

Chin and Arakan representatives expressed their disappointment to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during a meeting in early February in Naypyidaw.

Ethnic armed groups who have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) are unhappy that the Burma Army is exerting their power and influence over decisions that should be made by ethnic leaders, such as where to hold their national-level dialogues.

The Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee consists of the government, the army and ethnic armed groups—but the ethnic members do not believe decision-making regarding the peace process is shared equitably.

“Whenever the Burma Army disagrees, we have to negotiate. They stick to their policy and we have to bend to army policy. If not, they disagree, and we can’t do anything about it,” said Col Sai Hla.

He added that if the Burma Army continues acting this way, there will be problems with the NCA and peace process reform will be slow.

Last year’s Panglong Conference was organized rather smoothly. The second conference was initially set for Feb. 28, but that has been pushed back to allow ethnic groups to first hold their national-level dialogues.

The Chin people will hold their national conference on March 28, and the Arakan people have not yet received permission or a date to hold theirs.

The Karen National Union also signed the NCA, but is unsure whether it will attend Panglong as its party conference is not until March 14.

“It will be difficult to attend Panglong if it is scheduled for the same time as our conference. We will consider what the best option is when the time comes,” said senior KNU leader Kwar Htoo Win.