By Myanmar Times / 10 May 2016
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi says the “doors” of the peace process will be open, while indicating however that not all ethnic armed groups will take part at once.
The state counsellor yesterday held her first meeting in Nay Pyi Taw with prospective members of the new government’s peace negotiating team, as well as senior Tatmadaw officers and prominent advisers appointed by the previous government.
A statement released by her office was short on details but notable for its new use of language. There were no usual references to non-state actors or ethnic armed groups, but instead a mention of “stakeholders”.
The government will invite appropriate “stakeholders” at various stages of the “national reconciliation and peace process”, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was quoted as telling the meeting held in the presidential residence.
The meeting backed her proposal for the formation of a “National Reconciliation and Peace Centre” to replace the now-defunct Myanmar Peace Centre set up by former president U Thein Sein. The European Union has been involved in talks on a transfer of internationally donated assets from the old institution to the new.
“The two processes for the formation of the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre and for holding a 21st Century Panglong conference should be done simultaneously,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, referring to her parallel proposal to hold a wide-ranging peace conference named after the talks held by father, Bogyoke Aung San, in 1947.
“Doors should be open at every stage of national reconciliation and the peace process for the stakeholders that should be included,” the state counsellor said.
But the statement shed little light on how the government intended to bring in the powerful ethnic armed groups that refused to sign the 2015 “nationwide” ceasefire agreement under the previous administration or the three smaller armed groups that were excluded from the process on the orders of the Tatmadaw.
Comments by Tar Pan La, an official of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), reflected uncertainty among the “non-signatory” ethnic armed groups still waiting for a clear government initiative.
“They have not revealed much about the Panglong conference yet. In such circumstances, we don’t know what the conference is about and it is very hard to say something,” he told The Myanmar Times.
But he noted that the TNLA, which was shut out of the peace process and is currently fighting the Tatmadaw and a rival ethnic armed group in northern Shan State, had repeatedly expressed its willingness to cooperate with the new government.
Attending yesterday’s meeting yesterday were U Tin Myo Win, doctor to Aung San Suu Kyi and in line to be the new chief peace negotiator; U Moe Zaw Oo from the state counsellor’s office, and senior figures of the former Myanmar Peace Center U Myint Soe, U Khin Zaw Oo and U Min Zaw Oo.
Minister for Border Affairs Lieutenant-General Ye Aung and Union Attorney General U Tun Tun Oo also attended the meeting as government representatives. It was reported that Lt-Gen Yar Pyae, Lt-Gen Tun Tun Naung and Lt-Gen Min Naung attended as Tatmadaw representatives.
Political commentators and ethnic politicians have raised their concerns over how a Panglong-style conference to solve the “concerns of the 21st century” would be held with all the ethnic armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Army and the United Wa State Army.
At the same time the eight mostly minor ethnic armed groups that signed the nationwide ceasefire pact last October are concerned they will be overshadowed in a future political dialogue by larger non-state groups.
Last week the signatory groups sent a letter through U Tin Myo Win to the state counsellor calling on her to stick to the initiatives of the former president, including preservation of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee where government representatives are in a small minority.
The Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Centre, an academic group, has called on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as the National League for Democracy leader, to meet soon with those groups outside the ceasefire pact.
“Rather than embracing all EAOs [ethnic armed organisations], the NLD’s focus seems to be on expediency, as demonstrated by the quick succession of meetings with NCA [ceasefire]signatories,” the group said in a statement on May 7.
“This is exactly the wrong approach to pursue, as EAOs’ highest priority throughout the peace process has been the inclusion of all EAOs,” said the statement.
Earlier this week, one of the largest ethnic party alliances, the United Nationalities Alliance, jointly decided to bolster efforts for ethnic groups to unite and expressed a lack of faith in the NLD and in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi leading the peace process. Ethnic parties face a growing rift with the administration after it decided to unilaterally appoint state cabinets, even in places where it had failed to secure the majority of local hluttaw seats in last year’s election.