Leaders Respond to Suu Kyi’s Call for Second Panglong Conference

By Nang Seng Nom 29 April 2016

RANGOON — Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s state counselor and de facto leader of the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government, met with the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee on Wednesday, calling for the convening of a “Panglong-style” peace conference within two months and encouraging all stakeholders to help make the suggestion a reality.

Of ethnic armed organizations that opted out of signing the so-called nationwide ceasefire [NCA] in 2015, Suu Kyi said that “even though they are not yet included, we will try to include them.”

“There is no reason that we can’t make it work if there is sincere empathy,” she added.  

The Panglong Conference was convened in southern Shan State in 1947 by Suu Kyi’s father, Gen Aung San, and leaders from some of the country’s ethnic nationalities, in preparation for independence from Britain. It led to the signing of the famed agreement by the same name, which has been widely praised for the spirit of inclusiveness and cooperation that it fostered between the dominant Burman majority and ethnic minorities at the time.

The Irrawaddy’s Nang Seng Nom spoke to a diverse selection of leaders about Suu Kyi’s call for a second Panglong Conference, the likelihood of these talks occurring, and their expectations for them; their responses are below.

Khun Htun Oo, Chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD)

“Will all the stakeholders will be included if [a second Panglong Conference] is held? It will take time. To hold a second Panglong Conference, [the NLD government] has to negotiate with the military. Who will take part and when it will be held is also important. There must be harmony between the military and Daw Aung Suu Kyi [for the conference to happen]. If not, it is just wasting time and effort. [Suu Kyi] must make concessions with the military—it is a must. What shall we do if the military does not agree [to our demands], even if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi agrees? This is just the beginning. It may or may not work out.”

Brig-Gen Tarr Jode Jar, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)

“I don’t know if [a Panglong-style Conference] will truly happen. It depends on the extent of cooperation between the military [and the NLD]. We are ready to participate. For it to happen, a ceasefire must be done first before anything else. Clashes are going on even now—we need to stop the fighting first. We have lots of things to consider. The Panglong Conference may run into difficulties regarding military affairs, or it may work. No one knows.”

Mya Aye, 88 Generation Student and Current Political Monitor

“I think [they would] attend a peace and political dialogue, which is also the part of the peace process initiated by the previous government. If the new government is capable of convincing the non-signatories to sign the NCA, the peace and political dialogue is certain to happen. And maybe, that could be called ‘Panglong’ if they wanted.

The ongoing clashes between ethnic armed groups and the military are the big obstacle to peace negotiations. How can a ceasefire accord be signed while clashes are going on? Clashes are big hurdles in Myanmar’s peace process.”

Khaing Thu, Spokesperson for the Arakan Army (AA)

“We have yet to wait and see if a Panglong-style conference could be held within one or two months. We welcome the peace process being led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Inequality between ethnicities, especially between the Bamar and other ethnic groups, is the cause of civil war in Myanmar. So, we want a true federal Union, defined by the ethnic groups themselves. If negotiations are held based on that, with goodwill toward the country, peace can be achieved. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi must negotiate with Myanmar military. It depends on how much control President U Htin Kyaw has over the Myanmar military.”

Col Wunna Aung, Spokesperson for the Burma Army, member of the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC)

“We will cooperate. We’ll form committees and continue engaging in the peace process. It is too early to say when [a second Panglong conference can be held]. We still can’t say, as we have not yet prepared. We are no longer fighting with the eight groups with which we have signed the ceasefire. As we are an organization dedicated to peace, we will give a hand to the peace process.”

Translated by Thet Ko Ko.