NAYPYITAW — State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivered the closing speech at the 21st Century Panglong peace conference on Saturday, in which she encouraged participants not to dwell on the past, but to “look to the future with courage.”.
The first installment of the Union Peace Conference—with other peace conferences to follow at six-month intervals—began on Wednesday and ended after three-and-a-half days of sessions featuring 750 participants from ethnic armed groups, the government, parliamentarians, political parties and the Burma Army, among others.
Members of civil society organizations, including women’s groups, attended as observers, numbering 50. With support staff for participants, attendance swelled to 950—notwithstanding the opening day, which was attended by 1,400 people in total.
One notable upset was the abrupt departure on Thursday of the United Wa State Army delegation, who were offended at having being issued “observer” nametags at the outset, even though the conference organizers were quick to put it down to a management error.
Across sessions, a total of 72 stakeholders each delivered ten-minute presentations—sometimes contrasting in content—which touched on principles for establishing federalism, changing the constitution, regional development, governance, women’s participation in political leadership, and formal programs of security sector reform/disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.
The ethnic armed alliance the United Nationalities Federal Council delivered its draft federal constitution, which conceives an “eight state model” with a “Burman state” being formed out of several existing divisions, to add to the roster of current ethnic states. Other statements revolved around the commitments and “spirit” contained in the original 1947 Panglong Agreement, which promised autonomy for ethnic “frontier areas.”
The presentations delivered by the Burma Army, however, upheld the 2008 Constitution and stated that any amendments should be in accordance with its procedures.
The State Couselor in her closing remarks lauded the conference as a “proud landmark” and a testament to joint effort. She hoped that those who “looked only to the past” would think more for the future.
“It is up to the individual whether we remain stuck in the past, or whether we face the future with courage,” she said.
With the conference over, further discussion will take place over how to include all groups in a national-level political dialogue, which would pave the way for a federal restructuring of the state.
Although the conference included both armed groups that have signed and those that have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, three armed groups—the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army—were not invited because they refused to publicly commit to disarming, as demanded by the Burma Army (a demand not made of other ethnic armed groups.)
Participants told The Irrawaddy that they acknowledged that the current conference was only an “introduction” to peace negotiations, which they believed could span over three to five years.
State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told attendants that peace talks were “not for individual organizations or ethnic groups, but for all people in the Union, and particularly for future generations.”
She urged participants and the wider public to “think of peace-building as everyone’s responsibility instead of leaders’ only.” She said that all presentations in the conference had been broadcast live, to let the public understand they must take part in the process.
She acknowledged that there had been mishaps—a likely reference the departure of the United Wa State Army delegation—but she thanked the organizers for their “tireless efforts under pressure.”
Lt-Gen Yar Pyae, who chairs the 21st Century Panglong organizing sub-committee (1), said in his closing speech that, “Our aim is conflict resolution.” He urged everyone to help “transform contrasting opinions” into a common vision.
Before the next peace conference, scheduled for six months’ time, the political dialogue framework will be finalized and national-level political dialogue will begin, according to current plans.