PANGLONG, Shan State — While delivering the 70th Union Day address to a crowd in Panglong, Shan State on Sunday, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi asked all of the remaining armed ethnic groups to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) so that they may fully take part in the Union Peace Conference at the end of February.
Twice in her 30-minute speech, the State Counselor requested and encouraged the armed ethnic groups to “courageously and self-confidently” sign the NCA.
“I’d like to reiterate my request to our ethnic armed groups who have not signed the NCA: Sign the text now, and join the 21st Century Panglong. I believe we can achieve peace together with our courage,” she said.
Only eight ethnic armed groups signed the NCA in October 2015, although 16 groups took part in drafting the NCA text through the ethnic Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT).
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who also serves as chairwoman of the National Peace and Reconciliation Center (NRPC), stressed that self-confidence is the key for undertaking initiatives that will benefit future generations.
“We all say that trust is needed to achieve peace. And genuine trust, many people say, means that we must build trust amongst the various fighting groups. But when I reflect on this challenge, I find that self-confidence is the very first need. If we find our self-confidence, then there should be no one who will not join the 21st Century Panglong conference,” she said.
The State Counselor highlighted the importance of Panglong town—not only for Shan State, but for the entire country—because of the role that Panglong played when political leaders met here in 1947 to lay the foundations of national unity.
“If we study the Panglong agreement, we see that it was based on the basic ideas of consultation, discussion, and negotiation to achieve agreement,” she said.
Today’s celebration of the 70th Union Day is not just a ceremony in Panglong; it is our history, said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
“We are trying to achieve a historic task. If we can make this Union stronger, then the benefits will pass on to future generations. Since Independence, we have never achieved peace throughout the country. We have always been at war in one location or another. But today we have an opportunity as well as a responsibility to end this,” she said.
Following her speech, the State Counselor held public talks with twelve ethnic representatives from Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Chin, Mon, Arakan, and Burman groups. Their discussion touched on the challenges and weaknesses in the peace process.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi reiterated to the ethnic representatives that the door for peace remains always open, and she pushed all of the ethnic armed groups to participate in the Panglong conference, where they can negotiate the terms of a federal democratic state.
The 21st Century Panglong will serve as “a framework to seek solutions through negotiation,” she said.
“We can seek whatever we wish through that framework, but no outcome will be 100 percent guaranteed because every negotiation has to reach some sort of compromise,” said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. “We are doing this not for our own benefit, but for the sake of the Union. Before, the culture of negotiating solutions has been very weak in our country, and I accept that. But now we are starting the 21st Century Panglong, and everyone is watching.”
Several ethnic armed groups, and particularly those represented by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), have not signed the NCA. These groups have continued to argue that they will not take part in the upcoming peace conference if they are relegated to an observer role.
But Khun Myint Tun, the leader of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization, said, he is glad to see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi inviting everyone to talk as equals.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s invitation to our brothers who have not signed the NCA is the similar to former peace negotiator U Aung Min’s words, from when we started the peace process. [U Aung Min invited all the groups to take part and said they can walk out at any time.] She said the ethnic armed groups can walk out if they are dissatisfied, but they should join the talks first,”said Khun Myint Tun.
The ethnic groups have repeatedly requested for the 1947 Panglong agreement and Panglong promise be practically implemented. In her speech, the State Counselor did not touch on the issue of the 1947 agreement, leading some observers think that she is ignoring one of their major concerns.
“Focusing only on the 21st Century Panglong conference is her weakness. Every ethnic group expects action on the  Panglong agreement, and we want to see that implemented,” said Sai Aung Myint Oo, a Shan representative who spoke with the State Counselor on Sunday.
Her definition of the Panglong promise, the State Counsellor explained, is “finding solutions through mutual consultation and collaboration.” On that basis, she said, “we are inviting everyone to come to the negotiations and to seek solutions through consultation.”
Some agreed with the State Counselor in the way she highlighted the “spiritual” importance of the 1947 agreement.
“We agree that self-confidence is vital for progress,” said Nan Mya Thida, a Karen representative. “We have to reflect on the good and the bad impacts, and our leaders must make better decisions. For over 70 years, our country has not been able to achieve a harmonious political system that the people can accept. So to achieve that, we must move forward with self-confidence and courage.”