NAYPYIDAW – The stakeholders’ negotiations at the Union Peace Conference (UPC) “mark a significant step” toward future democratic federalism, said the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the closing ceremony of the second 21st Century Panglong in Naypyidaw.
Despite encountering disagreements over the basic federal principles of equality and self-determination—among the government, the political parties, the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed organizations—the members of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) who organized the event are optimistic that the conference achieved its aims “to some extent.”
Over the weekend, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also the chairperson of the UPDJC, participated in negotiating the key terms of the federal principles, such as those concerning secession from the Union and equality between the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed organizations.
“The agreements that we have been able to sign today mark a significant step on our path toward peace, national reconciliation, and the emergence of a democratic federal Union,” said the State Counselor. “Reaching these agreements has not been easy; we have encountered moments of disappointment as well as inspiration along the way.”
“Yet I am greatly encouraged that despite our many different views and perspectives, we have been able, through frank discussion and negotiation, to reach common positions,” she added, stating that the foundations for democracy and federalism for future generations have been laid through dialogue.
After the negotiations, stakeholder representatives from the government, Parliament, the Burma Army, political parties, and ethnic armed groups who were signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) agreed to 37 of 41 basic federal principles and signed part 1 of the Union Accord on Monday.
The first part of the accord was signed by Dr. Tin Myo Win, the chairman of the Peace Commission; U Tun Tun Hein, the chairman of Lower House’s bill committee; Lt-General Tin Maung Win; Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win, the vice chairman of Karen National Union; and U Thu Wai, the representative of the political parties.
However, key principles regarding equality, self-determination and federalism have not yet been included in the accord, and delegates said further discussion would continue in this regard.
U Yaw Thet, the chairman of the Lahu National Development Party said that the UPC at this point served as a forum to collect perspectives. “It is not yet easy to make any concrete decisions as not every group is participating in the process yet.”
The debate about the term “non-secession from the Union” was not settled and the Tatmadaw wants a commitment from the ethnic armed organizations that they pledge not to separate from the state.
Daw Saw Mra Yar Zar Lin, a UPDJC secretary and member of the Arakan Liberation Party said they had agreed to the signing of the first part of the Union accord, but that each of the armed groups did not need to sign on its own.
She said, “It cannot be said that ALP is pleased about the outcomes, because we are being suppressed, and we could not fully bring our people’s desires [to the UPC],” referring to not being able to conduct the ethnic-based national level political dialogue in Arakan and Shan states.
“But we contributed to the discussion over general principles, which reflected the people’s desires,” she explained, adding that Monday’s agreement is just a part of the Union accord, which can be further reviewed and revised.
The eight ethnic armed organizations—the NCA signatories—also discussed during the six-day conference how they will move forward in the peace process, despite holding different opinions than the Tatmadaw.
Lt-Col Sai Ngern of the Restoration Council of Shan State said that they “had compromised with understanding, in order to keep the peace process ongoing.”
“We have also begun to learn how we might be able to create unity out of diversity,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, adding that “we can find similarities despite our differences and we can identify common ground through peaceful negotiation.”
She urged the public “to continue actively along the path of peace and to remain focused on the future,” to end the decades-long conflict in the country.