CHIANG MAI, Thailand — To prepare for the upcoming “21st Century Panglong Conference,” the leaders of ethnic Shan and Kachin armed groups held a “Consultation on Panglong” in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai on June 7-8.
The conference was proposed by Burma’s State Counselor Aung Suu Kyi as a means of forging peace with Burma’s disparate ethnic armed groups.
The original Panglong agreement in 1947, on which Suu Kyi has styled her peace initiative, was signed between her father Aung San—representing the soon-to-be independent government of Burma, dominated by ethnic Burmans—and leaders from Shan, Kachin and Chin minority groups. It envisaged “full autonomy in internal administration” for Burma’s ethnic minority “frontier” regions.
Still today, a deal on federalism is widely considered a necessary condition for a successful peace agreement.
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) were present at the June 7-8 consultation, led respectively by Gen N’Ban La, Lt-Gen Yawd Serk and Gen Sai Htoo.
Although the consultation was intended to comprise the ethnic descendants of the original Panglong signatories, leaders from the Chin National Front (CNF) were absent—although they consented in advance to abide by the outcome of the meeting.
Gen N’Ban La of the KIO said in his closing remarks that, “As the original signatories of Panglong [in 1947], we—Shan, Kachin and Chin—have to take responsibility for leading this [peace] process.”
“We agreed that we would work with the other ethnicities and try to create a common voice at the [government’s] upcoming [peace] conference,” N’Ban La added.
Lt-Col Sai Meng of the RCSS, who was also present, told reporters that the leaders had agreed to support and participate in the “21st-Century Panglong Conference.”
“We also believe that the new Panglong will honor the spirit of the 1947 Panglong, and preserve its essence,” Sai Meng said.
KIO Vice Chairman Gen Gun Maw told reporters that his group would “consult with our people” before participating in the peace conference, which they hope to help “make into a success.”
The June 7-8 “Panglong” consultation was urgently called following a meeting between RCSS and KIO leaders the previous week.
However, despite these clear signals of support for the government’s peace initiative, the armed group leaders would still need to hold discussions with other members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an influential alliance of ethnic armed groups, which currently includes the KIO and the SSPP but not the RCSS or the CNF.
One urgent topic for discussion would be whether the UNFC’s Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) would be ready to join the government’s review meeting on the framework for political dialogue on Thursday, to which they were invited last week.
Gen Sai Htoo of the SSPP told The Irrawaddy that members of the DPN needed to discuss the matter before deciding whether they would attend.