The Irrawaddy

Key Federal Issues to Be Left off Agenda at Third UPC Session

YANGON — Discussions of the key federal principles of autonomy and non-secession will not be on the agenda at the upcoming third session of the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference, tentatively slated for the second week of July.

The decision to omit the topics was made by peace negotiators during informal political and security talks late last month.

The secretariat of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), a peace-process implementing body, will meet on June 25, followed by three days of working committee meetings on the five key sectors — political, economic, social, security, and land and environment — during which the main negotiations are expected to be held in preparation for next month’s conference.

The third Union Peace Conference (UPC) session has seen numerous postponements. However, the secretary of the government’s peace commission, U Khin Zaw Oo, said on Tuesday that the session is now scheduled for the second week of July. He was speaking at the commission’s ongoing preparatory meetings with government, Parliament and military representatives in Naypyitaw from June 19-21.

Regarding the exact date of the UPC, U Hla Maung Shwe, a member of the UPDJC secretariat, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the government will soon respond to the date proposed by the participating ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) of July 10-14.

To be able to convene the upcoming UPC, the negotiators agreed to a “package deal” in which they would omit holding detailed discussions of the subjects of autonomy, drafting state constitutions and non-secession, and to resume talks on these topics at a later date. Non-secession from the Union is a key pledge the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) seeks to extract from the ethnic leaders and resulted in a major deadlock at last year’s conference.

The package deal was necessary because negotiators “were not able to reach a common understanding” on the issues, said U Myo Win, a coordinator of the informal talks who has served as a peace negotiator since the beginning of the peace process.

Khun Myint Tun, vice chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization, a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, said that leaving these topics off the agenda is “an approach aimed at overcoming the stalemate and moving forward with the peace process.” He pointed out that the UPC was initially supposed to be held bi-annually but that did not happen. He added that when the conference is convened, it needs to achieve more concrete results.

Negotiators told The Irrawaddy that issues not resolved at the last UPC gathering would be continued at the third session, including the protection of minorities’ rights and gender equality.

At last year’s conference, 37 basic principles in the political, security, economic, social and land and environment sectors were approved by the Parliament as Part 1 of the Union Accord.