All Ethnic Armed Groups Will Be Invited to Union Peace Conference

By Htet Naing Zaw 15 May 2017

NAYPYIDAW — The Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) decided at a meeting in Naypyidaw on Friday to invite all ethnic armed groups to the second Union Peace Conference.

“We will invite all groups, including NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement] non-signatories and blocs such as the Northern Alliance as special guests. Despite their status, if groups sign a deed of commitment with the government in the run-up, they will be allowed to participate in discussions at the conference,” said U Zaw Htay, director-general of the State Counselor’s Office.

Although NCA non-signatories will be allowed to attend the peace conference, decision-making power will be still be vested in the UPDJC. It remains unclear if special guest status is equivalent to observer status, with groups being left on the sidelines if they choose not to sign the deed of commitment.

The peace conference will convene on May 24 and around 700 delegates from respective stakeholder groups will attend under the framework for political dialogue, according to the UPDJC.

“We don’t allow foreign observers and we limit the number of local observers,” he added.

The UPDJC meeting discussed six topics related to the political sector to be negotiated during this round of the conference: sovereignty, the practice of sovereignty, equality, self-determination, federal Union principles, and a multi-party democratic system.

The meeting reached an agreement on 21 political points, 10 economic points, four social issue points, and six points regarding land, resources and the environment, according to U Zaw Htay.

“All are federal principles. We’ve never had such agreements in our country before. All of the participants agreed that divisions and states should have their own constitutions for self-determination. The upcoming conference will be a milestone in the history of Myanmar,” said U Zaw Htay.

While the right to draft individual constitutions is a breakthrough in the right for self-determination, the groups agreed that the 2008 military-drafted Constitution would still take precedence.

It is necessary to amend the 2008 Constitution to adopt constitutions for states that ensure equality, said Kachin ethnic leader Dr. Tu Ja, who attended the UPDJC meeting.

“If the Union Peace Conference agrees to adopt federalism, the [2008] Constitution must be changed and the Union Parliament must approve a new federal Constitution,” he added.

The coming Union Peace Conference will hold group-based and sector-based discussions and make decisions through voting, according to U Zaw Htay.

Agreements made at each conference will be signed and become parts of a Union Accord. After all of the discussions are over, the complete and final Union Accord will emerge, he said.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.