3 June 2016
-Today, the first steps were taken towards reopened peace negotiations between the government and the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that did not sign the so-called “Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement” (NCA). The non-signatories’ Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), formed by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), met with members of the preparatory committee for the 21st Century Panglong Conference, led by Dr. Tin Myo Win, NLD’s main peace negotiator. Notably, none of the military representatives on the sub-committee were present, but the occurrence of this introductory meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand is still a positive indication of the new government’s willingness to adopt a more inclusive stance towards EAOs. However, there are still many conversations to be had if the 21st Century Panglong Conference is to live up to the ideals of its 1947 predecessor.
According to sources at the meeting, Dr. Tin Myo Win, who chairs both the preparatory committee and 2nd subcommittee, reassured DPN that the government hopes that all EAOs are represented at the upcoming conference, whether or not they are signatories of the NCA. However, the divergence from the NCA process was cast in doubt when U Khin Zaw Oo, Brigadier General (ret.), a member of the government delegation, stated that the NCA remains very important and should be the initial stage for groups to join the process. Additionally, it is yet to be seen how the EAOs excluded from the NCA peace process (who were not at this meeting) will be included. While the government plans to meet with these EAOs, many questions remain on what preconditions will be set for their inclusion.
While conversation focused on the future, DPN leaders still had many questions about the 21st Century Panglong Conference’s meaning and structure. U Hla Maung Shwe, the Secretary of the 2nd subcommittee and the main preparatory committee, stated that the 21st Century Panglong Conference is only in the spirit of the 1947 Panglong Conference; it is not modeled on the 1947 agreement itself. Some DPN members raised concerns about this statement, hoping the 1947 agreement serves as a more tangible model for sustainable peace, rather than just a namesake.
For DPN members, the conflict that continues to rage in Kachin, Shan, and Arakan states remains a top concern. The DPN delegation asked several incisive questions about if and how a ceasefire will be possible while the 21st Century Panglong Conference takes place. This seems to be one of the most pressing issue that will need to be resolved before moving forward.
While many questions remain unanswered, today marked a positive step towards a more inclusive peace process in Burma. The main peace negotiator for the government, Dr. Tin Myo Win, adopted a tone of reconciliation and expressed his wishes for continued open and frank dialogue with EAO non-signatories. The discussions in coming weeks will determine just how successfully the 21st Century Panglong Conference fulfills expectations