UN Chief to Attend Union Peace Conference

By Associated Press 24 August 2016

RANGOON — Officials in Burma say United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend the “21st Century Panglong” peace conference next week that seeks to end decades of armed conflict with ethnic minority groups.

The UN is expected to soon confirm Ban’s attendance at the Union Peace Conference, which begins on Aug. 31 in the capital, Naypyidaw.

The deputy director of the President’s Office, U Zaw Htay, said on Tuesday that the government invited Ban to what has been dubbed the “21st Century Panglong Conference” after he expressed an interest in attending.

The plans were confirmed by Sai Kyaw Nyunt, general secretary of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, which is organizing the event.

“Ban Ki-moon will come to represent the UN,” he said.

It will be Ban’s first visit to Burma since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party replaced an army-backed government in March this year. His last visit was in November 2014.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s state counselor, chairs the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, which includes representatives of the government, ethnic armed groups and political parties. She has issued a call for mutual trust and unity ahead of the meeting.

Her father, Gen. Aung San, arranged the first Panglong Agreement with ethnic Shan, Kachin and Chin leaders in 1947. It sought to meet their demands for the preservation of autonomy from the central government, but independent Burmese governments did not honor the promises of the agreement. Conflict with armed ethnic minority groups has been an almost constant factor of Burma’s politics since then.

Eight, mostly smaller, ethnic armed groups signed a cease-fire agreement last year under the previous military-backed government of President U Thein Sein, while seven have not yet agreed to put down their arms, and fighting continues in Kachin and Shan states. All the groups say peace cannot be sustained unless political arrangements are also made to accommodate demands for greater autonomy.