NAYPYIDAW – The government has set the date for the second session of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference as May 24, after the first Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) on the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) was held in Naypyidaw on Monday.
State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma Army deputy commander-in-chief Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win, and Karen National Union (KNU) chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe delivered the opening speeches at the JICM, attended by representatives of the government, the Burma Army, and ethnic armed organizations.
Participants discussed the fact that two NCA-signatories—the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Arakan Liberation Party (ALP)—have, as of yet, been unable to hold national-level political dialogues in their respective states. Talks also touched on possibilities for inclusion of all ethnic armed groups in the peace building process.
It was also decided that the United Nations Secretary-General would be invited to the opening of the second round of 21st Century Panglong conference, according to Khun Okkar, the patron of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO).
He told reporters in Naypyidaw that they had agreed to hold political negotiations at the upcoming conference.
Despite the NCA stating that Union Peace Conference (UPC) sessions need to be held every six months or twice a year, the planned date for the next round of talks was postponed from March, citing scheduling conflicts with the KNU congress.
Prior to next month’s peace conference, more non-signatories of NCA—particularly those within the ethnic bloc United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)—are likely to sign, once their proposed terms are negotiated and agreed upon with the government.
In his opening speech, the Burma Army deputy chief said that some ethnic armed groups had misinterpreted the NCA as a disarmament deal.
“The NCA is not about asking ethnic armed groups to disarm. Everybody knows this. However, some organizations misinterpret signing NCA as being asked to disarm,” Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win said.
“Now is the critical time for all Burma citizens to make rapid strides toward the goal of permanent peace and democracy,” he said, calling peace a precondition for prosperity.
“I would like to urge ethnic leaders of [NCA] signatory groups to exhort, either in person or through their respective organizations, those who don’t understand or who pretend not to understand this [to sign NCA],” he said.
State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also the chairperson of the government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center, reiterated that she hoped all stakeholders would take part in the peace process and provide input.
“When it comes to permanent peace, I hope [every stakeholder] will think about how they can make progress in the peace process and how they can make peace process more successful, regardless of different views,” she said.
Burma Army Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing had stressed at the previous 21st Century Panglong Conference, in August 2016, that ethnic armed groups needed to abandon their policy of armed struggle in consideration of people, peace and prosperity in their respective regions.
“Our military has a six-point peace policy, and there are also provisions in NCA as well as our military code of conduct,” said Min Aung Hlaing’s deputy, Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win.
“If ethnic armed groups respect each others’ views, non-signatories are likely to sign [NCA]. I hope there won’t also be big problems with NCA signatories, and that we will achieve the eternal peace that all of our citizens aspire to,” he added.
The NLD government is obliged to take over the duty of the previous government—which run by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party—to implement NCA, as is Burma Army, said KNU chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe, who is also the head of the Ethnic Armed Organizations’ Peace Process Steering Team.
“As we have signed the NCA, we have committed to implementing it,” he said.
Nyein Nyein contributed to this report.