Tatmadaw Objects to Discussion of Ethnic Rights at Peace Conference

By Htet Naing Zaw 2 July 2018

YANGON — The third session of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference scheduled to be held from July 11 to 16 will not discuss the rights of ethnic minorities due to the objection of the Tatmadaw.

Ethnic signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) proposed during the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) meeting in Naypyitaw on Friday the discussion of the rights of ethnic minorities and gender equality at the third session, but the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar Army, only agreed to discuss the topic of gender equality.

“The Tatmadaw says that citizens’ rights cover ethnic rights. But ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) insist that there must be ethnic rights and minority rights. The two sides could not reach an agreement,” said Dr. Tu Ja, the chairman of the Kachin Democracy Party and a member of the secretarial board of the UPDJC.

“Rather than the Tatmadaw raising an objection to discussion of the topic, it argued over the terminology of the topic,” said U Sai Kyaw Nyunt of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, who participated in the meeting.

“The Tatmadaw said that ethnic minorities are covered as citizens. So, we halted discussing this. We will be able to talk about other things although we still could not discuss federalism, which is an important issue,” he said.

The preliminary political talks prior to the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference were held from June 25 to 28 in order to identify basic principles for the discussion of five topics—politics, the economy, social affairs, the environment and farmland, and security—at the peace conference.

The talks failed to reach an agreement over the basic principles and discussion will continue at the work committees of the UPDJC from July 4 to 6.

“We were not able to reach an agreement in some sectors. But I think we will be able to work out an agreement if we discuss it further,” said Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong, vice chairman of the Chin National Front.

Ethnic groups will continue demanding self-determination until they obtain it, said Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong in his address to the UPDJC meeting. Citing Gen Aung San’s promise in the historic Panglong Agreement, he said “the right to secede” is a right of the ethnic groups.

Eight ethnic armed groups have signed the NCA with the belief that they would achieve democracy, national equality and self-determination by signing the agreement. But whenever ethnic leaders press for those three demands, the peace talk reaches an impasse, he said.

Tatmadaw leaders are not happy with Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong’s comments, said U Sai Kyaw Nyunt, who is also a member of the secretarial board of the UPDJC.

“But this is the reality if we can’t hold talks regarding those demands,” he said.

The UPDJC will also invite all of the ethnic armed groups that have not yet signed the NCA as well as family members of ethnic signatories to the 1947 Panglong Agreement to the peace conference, he said.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.