Stakeholder Presentations at Peace Conference Reveal Contrasting Positions on Statehood and Security

By Nyein Nyein 2 September 2016

NAYPYIDAW — The reading of statements by each stakeholder continued on the third day of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference in Naypyidaw, with more than 60 presentations on the building of a future federal state representing Burma’s diversity.

Ethnic armed alliance the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) presented its draft federal constitution and Tatmadaw representatives reiterated their stances on the 2008 Constitution and security sector reform (SSR) preceded by the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of non-state armed groups.

Ethnic groups including the Wa in Shan State and the Shani (Tai Leng) in Kachin State raised the issue of new autonomous states drawn on ethnic lines from within existing states and divisions.

Rev. Saw Matthew Aye from the Karen Development Network, who is attending the conference as the ethnic stakeholder, told The Irrawaddy that “minority ethnic groups have the right to demand an autonomous state, but we have to see how much it is developed.”

“The challenge is how much resources we have when we try to build a state: whether we have enough lawmakers, educators, physicians, engineering resources and IT resources and so forth,” he added.

Another issue of discussion was the “eight states principle,” a proposal included in the draft constitution put together by several ethnic armed groups. Burma is currently made up of seven divisions and seven ethnic states—named for the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan. The proposed change is to combine three of these Burman-majority divisions to form a single ethnic Burman state in Mandalay, Magwe and Pegu divisions. Ethnic minority leaders argue that this will allow for more equitable political representation and resource sharing between the Burmans and the country’s other ethnic groups.

Khun Marko Ban, a stakeholder representing the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP),

described the current discussion as interesting since he said it focuses on the spirit and principles of the original 1947 Panglong Agreement—which the conference has been named after—including federalism, equality and self-determination. He expressed support for the proposal, and simply said that, “The eight states principle is a basic principle, because it stemmed from the essence of the 1947 Panglong Agreement.”

The Burma Army’s presentation mainly cited the 2008 Constitution, which they see as comprehensive and protective of Burma’s states; human rights and ethnic advocacy groups have faulted the constitution for enshrining the military’s political power and for granting little autonomy to ethnic regions.

Col Zaw Win Myint, representing the Tatmadaw, emphasized how a DDR process would help create the security and stability in the country; yet many non-state armed groups argue that a discussion of implementing DDR is premature.

“Armed struggle will not bring political goals, and thus the Tatmadaw wants a DDR process first, then followed by SSR,” he said.

Khu Oo Reh, the secretary of the UNFC and the vice chair of the KNPP, said, “I think our understanding is different [regarding DDR and SSR processes]. For us, we have to first prepare the security sector reform process in order to continue doing the DDR process. It would be smooth and easy implementation of DDR only when we are well prepared for the SSR process. ”

During his presentation, UNFC vice chair Nai Hong Sar said, “building better relationships between the ethnicities is the key to building the state. For that, we need equality and currently we don’t have that.”

The four UNFC representatives, including Khu Oo Reh of the KNPP, Nai Hong Sar of the New Mon State Party, Sin Wa of the Kachin Independence Organization and Tun Zaw of the Arakan National Congress, read the coalition’s draft federal constitution section by section, as each person only was given ten minutes to speak on stage. Highlights of their proposal were regarding examining the chosen name of the country, the issue of forming a “federal” army, and the pursuit of security sector reform. The reading of their paper will continue on Saturday, the final day of the conference.

Nai Hong Sar told The Irrawaddy, “if we build a federal state, the country’s name should not only represent one ethnicity, it should demonstrate ownership by all ethnicities or regions.”