National-level Dialogue Delays Troubled Panglong Conference

By Htet Naing Zaw 1 November 2017

NAYPYITAW — Uncertainty over whether national-level dialogues will be held in Rakhine and Shan states is likely to impact the third round of the Union Peace Conference planned for the end of this year, said signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).

The Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) recently met in Naypyitaw for two days to discuss holding in Rakhine and Shan states national-level political dialogue, where regional stakeholders discuss suggestions at large-scale public consultations, the results of which are shared by representatives at the Union Peace Conference or 21st Century Panglong.

NCA signatories the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), and the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) are based in these states. The meeting, however, did not produce any results.

Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong, vice-chairman of NCA signatory Chin National Front (CNF) cited the example of a previous session of the Union Peace Conference in which NCA signatories could not make decisions because national-level political dialogues could not be held in Rakhine and Shan states prior to the conference.

“So, if national-level political dialogues are not held in Rakhine and Shan states again, it will still be difficult to reach an agreement over certain things,” said Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong.

At the second session of the conference, NCA signatories, the government and the military shared different views over the definition of self-determination and federalism as well as the principle of non-secession from the Union. The same topics will be on the agenda of the third session, said U Zaw Htay, director-general of the State Counselor’s Office.

Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong said national-level political dialogue—the third step in a seven-step political roadmap of the NCA–is key to seeking the opinion of concerned ethnic people.

“Without prior consultation with the public, no group will be able to make a decision on crucial matters like self-determination at the Panglong Conference,” he said.

U Zaw Htay said the government had given a green light for national-level political dialogue in Shan State, but it has not yet reached agreement with RCSS/SSA-S over the venue.

The RCSS/SSA-S wants to hold the political dialogue in Shan State’s capital Taunggyi, but the military insists that it be held in Mongpan Township.

“But for Rakhine, we have to exercise extra caution. Because there is conflict there that has attracted international attention. We have to consider the political and security situations there,” U Zaw Htay said.

“The government and the military seemingly want to request us not to hold political dialogue in Rakhine State, citing its current situation and security. But then, what are ethnicities supposed to discuss at the Union Peace Conference if political dialogue is not held?” asked Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong.

He suggested holding political dialogue in Rakhine capital Sittwe, which is relatively stable despite ongoing conflict in northern Rakhine State.

Among eight ethnic armed groups that signed the NCA are: the Karen National Union (KNU); CNF; ALP; All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF); RCSS/SSA; Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (Peace Council) (KNU/KNLA PC); Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA); and Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO).

National-level political dialogues have been held in areas of the other six NCA signatories, but some of the discussions from those dialogues have not yet been put forward to the Union Peace Conference.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.