Pa-O Delegates Walk Out of Civil Society Forum

By Nyein Nyein 22 February 2017

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Ethnic Pa-O participants walked out of a three-day civil society forum in Taunggyi, the Shan State capital, on Wednesday, complaining of ethnic discrimination.

Organizers of the forum said the Pa-O walkout was caused by “a misunderstanding” between committees.

Some 500 participants from civil society organizations (CSOs) across the country are attending the forum, which is scheduled to run from Feb. 21-23, prior to the national CSO forum in Naypyidaw, which starts on Friday, Feb. 24.

The CSO forums are meant to be issue-based consultations where civil society activists can voice their concerns and have them discussed widely.

“Now we are gathering together to give the best representation to our voices at the national-level CSO forum in Naypyidaw,” said Thwin Lin Aung, a forum organizer.

On Tuesday night, a network of Pa-O CSOs issued a statement complaining that it is not fair that only one Pa-O participant from Shan State and two from Mon State were invited to the forum. The Pa-O population is the sixth largest ethnic group in Burma, they said.

“Therefore, we boycott this CSO forum held in Taunggyi because we do not have confidence in the fairness of ethnic representation,” the Pa-O statement read.

Before the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference gathers in a month’s time, the government and NCA-signatory ethnic armed groups are holding national-level dialogues, focused on three themes: ethnicity, regions, and contextual issues.

The ethnic Pa-O people completed a five-day national-level dialogue on Monday in Hopong Township, in the Pa-O self-administered region in Shan State. The Karen completed a similar forum in January. Chin and Shan ethnic groups are still organizing their national-level meetings.

Between Jan. 5-25, many Burmese CSOs held pre-consultations with members of the public from communities in all 14 states and regions.

“They had to limit the number of forum participants due to the quotas for each state and region across the country,” explained Min Aung Htoo, a CSO forum organizer representing Mon State.

Each region and state was allocated 30-35 participants at the Taunggyi CSO forum. But for Shan State, where there are numerous ethnic minorities, the organizers worked to make sure that every ethnic group—Pa-O, Intha, Danu, Taung Yoe and others—were represented, Min Aung Htoo said.

The organizers further divided the forum attendees between three committees representing northern, southern, and eastern Shan State. The Pa-O delegation was placed on the southern Shan State list, which was allocated only 15 total delegates.

CSO forum organizers said they are still in the process of gathering voices and discussing plans for the Naypyidaw forum.

“We might not be fully ready to discuss our specific issues at the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference, but we are trying our best to have our position papers ready to go,” added Thwin Lin Aung.