Second 21st Century Panglong
Major decisions debated over the future of the Union
The second Union Peace Conference - 21st Century Panglong (UPC-21CP) was held by the government from May 24 until 29, one day more than scheduled. The first one, largely a trust building exercise, was convened in August-September in 2016.
The difference between the first UPC-21CP and the second one is that while the first one was just a political position paper forum where some 72 papers were read, without discussion or assessment, the second one sought to lay down the preliminary general principals on how the formation of a federal union should be achieved.
The first UPC-21CP was attended by most of the 21 Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), with the exclusion of Kokang, Ta’ang and Arakan armies, while the second one involved the said three under the banner of the Pangkham alliance. But the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) which was at the first conference chose to stay away due to the assumption that it was being slighted and its 9-point proposal to amend the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) ignored.
NCA and Pangkham alliance game plan
A new game plan initiated by the Pangkham alliance which involves the 7 EAOs that reject the government’s NCA has been in existence for sometimes. But latest developments now indicate the alliance might go along if the government accepts alterations to the NCA. Reportedly, it produced a new ceasefire proposal version concerning only military matters, unlike the present NCA which is a mixture of both politics and military issues. The Pangkham-led 7 EAOs military-political alliance includes the United Wa State Party/Army (UWSP/UWSA), United League of Arakan/Arakan Army (ULA/AA), Kachin Independence Organization/ Army (KIO/KIA), Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA), Myanmar National Truth and Justice Party/Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNTJP/MNDAA), Peace and Solidarity Committee/National Democratic Alliance Army (PSC/NDAA) and Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA).
Pangkham Alliance insists that the NCA-based peace process is not working as it is unable to stop the war in Kachin and Shan States and is a process aimed at replacing the Panglong Agreement of 1947, which the alliance considers to be their historical-political legacy vested with rights of self-determination, equality and democracy and also the sole legal bond, to form a new political
entity called the Union of Burma, between the ethnic nationalities and the Bamar state prior to independence from the British in 1948.
Thus, the Pangkham Alliance wants to end the war in the north of the country first, followed by political negotiation and eventual political settlement. But this has changed to the demand for alteration of the NCA. The UWSA representative delegation gave a booklet, “Amendment proposal of the nationwide ceasefire agreement timeline between the Wa State and Myanmar Government”, dated April 30, 2017, to the media. The booklet said that due to China’s pressure the UWSA has changed its stance to amend the NCA and requested the government and Tatmadaw accordingly.
In response to the stance of Pangkham alliance now officially named Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing made a remark on May 24. He said, “Ignoring this (NCA) and pursuing a second way will be an attempt to loathe the establishment of a Union based on peace, democracy and federalism. As such, we have to assume that the attempt is tantamount to grabbing power and splitting from the Union through armed struggle,” according to state media.
He further stressed, “Studying 72 papers submitted at the previous conference, we came to notice that the discussions, activities and basic concepts of some ethnic groups are far beyond the federal system, which is the right of autonomy. Such acts go against the desires and interest of the people who have high expectations of the democracy cause and peace process. As an institution responsible for protecting the interests of the State and the people, the Tatmadaw has to face any organisation committing destructive acts in line with its responsibility.”
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s said, “Almost everyone accepts that the resolution to our country’s long-running armed conflicts is a federal system that is acceptable to all. Our goal is, therefore, the “emergence of a democratic federal union based on democracy and federalism”. Whether or not we will achieve this goal rests in all of our hands. It is a responsibility that falls on all of our shoulders. I do not think that any of us would wish to avoid, reject or shrink away from this responsibility.”
Five sectors of discussion
Five major sectors of political, social, land and environment, economy and security were said to be discussed.
It was said that political and security sectors didn’t achieve desirable results, although the other three resulted in agreement, according to news reports.
Political sector discussion was said to be marred by the non-secession issue, which the Tatmadaw insisted on including in the preliminary agreement as a prohibition for the ethnic states to exercise secession. There was also an heated argument on one national army and the choice of name, whether it should be “Tatmadaw”, as it is now or “Federal Army” as referred to by the EAOs.
The conference was once again not inclusive as the 5 UNFC members and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) were not present. Besides, the 7 EAOs from Pangkham alliance were only there for the opening ceremony of the conference and did not participate in the discussions.
But the positive development is that the government faction has diversified the process by welcoming and meeting the Pangkham Alliance and opened up communication channels for further talks regarding the NCA amendment.
In a sense, this could be now viewed as an approach somewhat like what the UNFC has been proposing all along. Thus, it would now mean that the State Counselor’s Peace Council (PC) team would negotiate with the Pangkham alliance and also with the UNFC further for NCA alteration.
At the second UPC-21CP, political and security sector discussions have proven to be difficult and no agreement could be found between the representatives attending the conference.
In spite of all these, Suu Kyi’s move to welcome the Pangkham alliance is a positive approach and the way to go, which would be better if this could be extended to the UNFC, with necessary accommodation for NCA amendment. The eventual amendment of the NCA according to the UNFC’s nine-point proposal, which includes a genuine nationwide ceasefire announcement by the Tatmadaw, real tripartite dialogue – government, parliament, military; EAOs; and political parties - at all levels of the peace process and a sincere promise to build a real federal union, would definitely pave the way for eventual Pangkham Alliance involvement, reconciliation and national harmony that all have been longing for for decades.
Photo: Hong Sar for Mizzima