NAYPYIDAW — The United Wa State Army (UWSA) delegation walked out of the ongoing 21st Century Panglong Conference, decrying inequality in discussions, while conference organizers admitted mismanagement.
The UWSA’s southern liaison officer led his four delegates and their staff out of the conference, despite early hopes that the leaders would take part.
Tah Nyi Lu, a delegate of the Wa National Organization, which is a member of the UNFC, said he heard that the Wa informed a staff member of the conference organizing committee and left the conference.
The UWSA and WNO are two distinct Wa organizations.
Tah Nyi Lu told The Irrawaddy, “the UWSA reported to its central executive committee that the conference had no equality. The group left the conference, saying that they were tired of it.”
After news of the Wa delegation’s departure broke, Khin Zaw Oo, a government peace negotiator, told reporters that it was a “misunderstanding” and his committee would negotiate with the UWSA to bring them back to the conference.
“We’ll go to the hotel [where the UWSA delegates are staying] and hold talks with them,” Khin Zaw Oo said.
He added that the Wa delegation had not officially contacted government officials since they arrived in Naypyidaw and that conference organizers had to manage to communicate with about 1,600 people.
“It is a misunderstanding. The UWSA are not observers. We have given them observer [ID] cards as a temporary measure so they can enter the conference. I heard they have not gone back yet. We’ll talk to them,” Chin ethnic leader Salai Lian Hmong Sakhong told the media.
Khin Zaw Oo and Salai Lian Hmong Sakhong went to the hotel, but the group had reportedly already left.
The problem stemmed from mismanagement and miscommunication between the conference organizers. There were many different categories for conference accreditation: ethnic armed organization (EAO) stakeholders, political parties, government, ethnic representatives and observers, among others.
Seventeen EAOs, both signatories and non-signatories of last year’s nationwide ceasefire agreement with the former government, received 200 seats for the conference and divided them among twelve conference attendees. For some reason, the Wa did not receive the proper seats upon arrival, and were temporarily issued observer cards.
Aung Thu Nyein, a stakeholder attending the conference, told The Irrawaddy that it was due to a lack of management. “For some of the issues—especially in peace talks—trust is very important,” he said.
“Some organizations, including the Wa, should be treated more carefully,” he added.
There was prior criticism regarding the rushed nature of the conference. The National Reconciliation and Peace Center now reportedly has only about two dozen people working at a conference with about 1,600 attendees.
Diplomats and participants have criticized the poor management of the conference, including accommodation and the seating plan for ethnic armed groups.