UWSA Criticizes Peace Conference for ‘Poor Management and Discrimination’

By Lawi Weng 5 September 2016

In a statement issued by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) on Sept. 2, the group “condemned” what it described as poor management and discrimination against ethnic minorities at Burma’s Union Peace Conference, after their peace delegation’s walkout.

The UWSA representatives, who left the four-day conference in Naypyidaw—held from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3—on the second day, said that while the group supports State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s approach to peacebuilding, the conference was marred by poor management and unequal treatment.

“There should be consideration for minority groups, and fair treatment from the management,” said the statement. “We will stand and condemn the use of unfair management to oppress minorities,” who they said were at a disadvantage.

One of the UWSA’s complaints was that they were relegated to an “observer” role rather than that of a full participant—a mistake that the organizers said they would remedy, but that caused the Wa delegation to exit.

“If the peace conference cannot provide fairness and transparency, how will future peace negotiations grant peace?” the group asked in the statement.

In another statement on Sept. 5 in Chinese media, the UWSA alleged that the organizing committee for the event—also known as the 21st Century Panglong—was not upfront about their role in the conference; it was the Tatmadaw (the Burma Army) that had the power to grant an attendee the chance to speak at the event, they said, not the organizing committee, as was originally thought.

The Burmese government’s conference organizing committee criticized the Wa peace delegation for coming late to the conference, leading to their receiving of cards identifying them as observers, separating them from other ethnic armed organizations present.

The UWSA rejected the criticism.

“We went to take the cards in the afternoon, but we got the cards in the evening,” they said of the observer identification, which they said was insufficient.

At the core of the delegation’s dissatisfaction is the fact that they were not able to speak at the conference and present a paper that they had prepared for the event. The UWSA said they grew tired of waiting for a decision to be made on whether their status, and their chance to speak, would be approved.

“This was an unthinkable incident, different from the message of the [government peace commission], that there were going to be no restrictions from speaking on the issues,” the group said in their statement, referring to meetings with the government representatives in Mongla in August.

Government peace negotiator Khin Zaw Oo spoke to media and admitted the conference organizing committee had mismanaged the situation by giving observer status to the UWSA peace delegation, and that Thein Zaw, another peace negotiator, had sent them a letter, apologizing for the mistake.