[gallery type="slideshow" ids="85533,85534,85535,85536,85537,85538,85539,85540,85541,85542,85543,85544,85545"] RANGOON — Preliminary meetings ahead of the forthcoming Karen National Conference kicked off in Rangoon on Thursday, uniting ethnic Karen people from various parts of the country to discuss potential post-ceasefire political dialogue. Initial meetings held at the Myanmar Convention Center focused on consolidating a Karen agenda in preparation for the summit, during which a more concrete plan will be hammered out. Padoh man Nyein Maung, a central committee member of the Karen National Union (KNU), said the group aims to cement a unified vision in the face of a fast-changing political situation, proclaiming that “the decisions to be made by the conference will reflect the needs of the entire Karen people.” In its pre-conference message to the Karen people, the KNU central committee said it remained committed to securing a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA),and vowed not to reverse progress made with the government to that end. The pre-conference will also cover specific issues such as the confiscation of minority peoples’ farmlands, according to Karen Ethnic Affairs Minister for Rangoon Division Saw Tun Aung Myint. Other issues to be discussed include politics, social security, education and the preservation of language and literature, he said. The preliminary meeting will take place from July 2 to 4, and the Karen National Conference should take place during the last week of this month, according to Karen peace and women’s rights activist Susanna Hla Hla Soe. Political dialogue will commence within 90 days of signing long-awaited nationwide ceasefire agreement. A recent shake-up of the ethnic negotiating team triggered speculation that the peace process, which has been ongoing for about 17 months, will carry on long into the next administration. Government negotiators, however, have expressed optimism that a peace accord could be achieved before elections that are set to be held in November. This week’s preliminary meeting was organized by the Karen Unity and Peace Committee and will be attended by religious leaders, ethnic armed group representatives, political figures, youth organizations, CSOs, lawmakers and Karen representatives from various parts of the country.
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