Ethnic Armed Groups to Meet Before Panglong

By Lawi Weng 6 June 2016

RANGOON — The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) plans to hold another summit to find common ground among all ethnic armed groups in the run-up to the 21st Century Panglong Conference to be hosted by the government.

Htun Zaw, secretary of the UNFC—an alliance of ethnic armed groups that opted out of signing last year’s so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the Burma Army—said that the eight groups that signed the NCA will also be invited to join the summit.

“It is better for us to facilitate the ethnic armed groups’ discussion [of] issues first among themselves before we go to the Panglong Conference,” said UNFC Joint-Secretary Htun Zaw.

The UNFC did not set a date or location for the summit yet. But some sources close to ethnic leaders said that the UNFC may hold this ethnic conference in Mai Jai Yang, which is in Kachin Independence Army-controlled territory.

“We ethnic armed groups should find our own common ground so that we can speak with one united voice,” said Htun Zaw. “That is why we have decided to have another summit.”

A peace delegation from the government recently met representatives from the UNFC in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The non-state armed group leaders said they will encourage their members to attend the Panglong Conference after the Burmese government officials told them that all ethnic armed groups were welcome.

But whether all ethnic armed groups will be actually invited to Panglong—which is based on an interethnic conference by the same name held in 1947—remains a matter of debate.

During NCA talks last year, the Burma Army intentionally excluded three groups with which they had been engaged in active conflict: the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. And despite faith in Aung San Suu Kyi’s new peace effort, skepticism pervades regarding the National League for Democracy’s ability to incorporate these ethnic armed organizations into the Panglong Conference.

The Burma Army has kept quiet about the inclusion of these three groups, who have recently clashed with government forces. But the UNFC has not stayed silent.

“They have to let all of our members attend the conference,” said UNFC Vice Chairman Nai Hong Sar to Voice of America over the weekend. “But if the Burma Army still does not accept these three members, we may reconsider attending [the Panglong Conference].”