NAYPYIDAW – The second session of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference is likely to end without major agreement after the issue of “non-secession” from the Union caused a deadlock, according to a government spokesperson.
The State Counselor’s office spokesperson U Zaw Htay told reporters on Sunday that the issue of committing to remaining in the Union had been “heatedly debated” at the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) meeting between the government, the military, and nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)-signatory ethnic armed groups.
“The ethnic armed groups do not want to include the commitment of non-secession [among the basic principals]” said U Zaw Htay.
State Counselor and UPDJC chair Daw Aung San Suu Kyi headed negotiations on the 41 basic federal principles—encompassing political, economic, social, security, and land and environment sectors—yet to be agreed by the three parties at the most recent Union Peace Conference in Naypyidaw.
Due to the impasse, the conference has been extended until Monday. It was originally planned for just five days from May 24 to28.
The UPDJC will present the basic principles which have been agreed upon during the tripartite talks to the 700 delegates of conference—including ethnic armed group, civil society, parliament, military, government, and international representatives—on Monday.
Despite the State Counselor holding a closed door meeting with the Tatmadaw on Saturday afternoon as well as Sunday’s tripartite talks, the impasse was not overcome.
U Zaw Htay said: “Some groups could not pledge non-secession from the Union, thus, we could not agree to principles of groups having their own state constitution nor self-determination.”
“As we could not agree upon on this issue, we decided not to continue discussion [on this issue] during this conference,” he added.
Khun Myint Tun, chairman of NCA-signatory the Pa’O Nationalities Liberation Organization, said “everyone has the attitude of non-secession from the Union, but all, including the Tatmadaw’s generals, were raised with the idea that the federal principles include the freedom to leave.”
“We, the ethnic people, never said that we would or will separate from the union, thus the term does not need to be added in the basic principles.”
“Instead of urging separation, we need to think of a more positive term for further collaboration,” Khun Myint Tun said.
Discussion about building a federal state and proposing an amendment to Burma’s 1947 constitution to ensure the equality and implementation of the 1947 Panglong Agreement—that ensures secession from the state if ethnic groups so wanted—were widely conducted in 1961-1962, before Burma fell under a military coup in March 1962.
The term “federal” was effectively banned for almost half a century under the military regime. The term has become widely used again since Burma’s transition from military to civilian rule over the last six years ago.
The term “non-secession from the state” was added to the principles “to prevent the concerns of the public, the Tatmadaw and the government” said U Zaw Htay on Sunday, referring that the term “secession” being frequently used at peace conferences.
He said, “what [we] want is commitment on non-secession. This commitment on non-secession has been added to put away these concerns.”
Lt-Col Sai Ngern of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), told The Irrawaddy on Friday that by signing the NCA text, the signatory groups had demonstrated trust in what are referred to as the state’s—and previously the military regimes’—Three Main (National) Causes: “non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty.”
Therefore, the lieutenant colonel argued that there “is no more need to include the term ‘non-secession’ from the Union.”
On Thursday, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy party also expressed concern in its statement that the term seems to represent worry on the part of the state, rather than a pragmatic solution.
The party said in its statement that “inclusion of the term is also the opposite of the first Panglong agreement” in 1947, to which the late Gen Aung San and ethnic Chin, Kachin and Shan leaders had agreed.
Dr. Aye Maung of the Arakan National Party echoed these sentiments and said that all negotiators must be ready to compromise.
“This 21st Century Panglong must not trample the 20th Century Panglong [in 1947],” he said.
U Zaw Htay said “the government, the Tatmadaw and parliament representatives have a common perspective on the issue. But, we are not succeeding, and we sadly have to leave this issue behind.”
But the spokesman said 12 out of the 21 basic principles for the political sector had been agreed upon.