Mai Ja Yang calls for unity
Deputy leader of the Kachin Independence Army General N’Ban La (centre) yesterday stressed the need for unity and a common position on federalism as 17 ethnic armed groups gathered at the Mai Ja Yang summit in Kachin State.
CALLS for unity and the absence of some key players marked the opening day of an ethnic summit in Kachin State’s Mai Ja Yang.
The deputy leader of the Kachin Independence Army, General N’Ban La, told attendees yesterday that building a federal Union and unity among Myanmar’s many ethnic armed groups are important for the peace process.
Ethnic armed groups including both signatories and non-signatories to the so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement are meeting this week along with civil society groups and political parties to discuss an upcoming peace meeting being dubbed the 21stcentury Panglong Conference, which is slated for late August.
Despite the diverse nature of the gathered stakeholders and their varied interests, Gen N’Ban La said it was important to build “unity in diversity”.
“In this current situation and political environment, building unity among us – the ethnic people – is very important. That’s why, despite our diverse nature, we should explore a way forward that will unify us. The essence of this plenary meeting of ethnic armed organisations is an effort to build stronger unity among ethnic people,” said Gen N’Ban La.
But even as scores of representatives for ethnic armed groups gathered for the four-day meeting in Mai Ja Yang, a sleepy town on the border with China that is controlled by the KIA, rifts were evident.
The meeting does not have the Tatmadaw’s blessing, and four ethnic armed groups declined invitations, including the United Wa State Army – the country’s most powerful non-state armed force – and two groups that have engaged in active hostilities with the military in the last year.
Speaking on behalf of military Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, a senior Tatmadaw official told a press conference on July 20 that the Mai Ja Yang summit should be not held, while adding that the military would not prevent it from happening. At a meeting with NCA signatories about three weeks earlier, Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing was quoted as expressing concern that the Mai Ja Yang summit would serve as a gathering to build power among ethnic armed groups.
Khu Oo Reh, chair of the convening committee for the summit, played down that speculation.
“The objective of this plenary meeting is preparatory talks for the 21st-century Panglong Conference. Another reason why we are holding this summit is to find common ground among the ethnic armed organisations for building a federal democratic Union in the future,” he said yesterday.
Absentees included the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, which waged a fierce campaign against the Tatmadaw in the Kokang Special Region last year, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. In addition to sporadic fighting with the Tatmadaw over the past year, the TNLA has clashed with the Shan State Army-South. It and its political wing, the Restoration Council of Shan State, are in Mai Ja Yang this week, one reason for the TNLA’s absence.
“As we have been fighting, we cannot attend if they are invited to the meeting,” TNLA foreign relations officer Tar Pan La told The Myanmar Times.
Furthermore, conditions were not favourable for his group, he said.
“The government has already announced that we must surrender our arms if we want to join the peace process and the groups attending the summit have good relations with the government. So, we are concerned that all-inclusivity would be abandoned,” he said.
Another less prominent ethnic armed group, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang, was also a no-show at this week’s summit.
Meeting minutes One expected outcome of the Mai Ja Yang meeting is the drafting of a consensus paper on participating ethnic armed groups’ vision for the “principles of Panglong”, laying out basic doctrine for a constitution that guarantees the establishment of a federal democratic Union; covers policies regarding security and defence issues; and reviews the political dialogue framework.
“It is very important for us, the ethnic people, to have common principles for the implementation of a federal Union,” Gen N’Ban La said. “I hope we will find common ground on this issue through dialogue in the plenary meeting. I would also welcome suggestions on how we could practically turn those common principles into action and implementation.”
He said failure to honour the terms laid out in the 1947 Panglong Agreement – the inspiration for August’s conference of the same name – had led the country into decades of internal conflict as ethnic minority groups took up arms to claim the rights they had been promised.
“The main point of the treaty was building a new state by cooperation between the frontier areas and [then-] Burma proper. There were preconditions set for state-building. It was the building of a nation that grants equality among nationalities and autonomy or self-determination,” he added.
The original Panglong Agreement was signed by majority Bamar leader Bogyoke Aung San and ethnic Kachin, Shan and Chin leaders on the eve of independence from British colonial rule. The accord guaranteed “full autonomy” for then-Burma’s “frontier areas”. With the assassination of Bogyoke Aung San later that year and political turmoil culminating in a 1962 coup, however, the principles were ignored by successive military governments.
Vijay Nambiar, special adviser on Myanmar to the UN secretary general, is also in Mai Ja Yang to observe this week’s talks, and yesterday offered the world body’s continued support for the peace process.
“We, as a group, the international community as well as the ethnic armed organisations and the ethnic groups in general, as well as the government, look forward to building trust and confidence in the future,” he said.
“The United Nations will stand by the ethnic armed organisations and the ethnic groups here assembled today as well as the government of Myanmar in building such a strong, unified future for the country.”
As Myanmar’s biggest neighbour, China will continue to monitor Myanmar’s internal peace process and support the negotiations, said Sun Guoxiang, special envoy on Asian affairs for the Chinese foreign ministry, who is attending the summit as an observer as well.
“Despite the change in government, the relationship between our countries and our foreign policy toward Myanmar will not change,” he said.
He said China’s development agenda for Myanmar included the peace process, with his government having committed US$3 million in support for the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee, which was set up last year.
Representatives from the United Nationalities Alliance and the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation, two alliances of ethnic political parties, are also on hand this week.
The government has invited NCA signatories and non-signatories to review the framework for political dialogue in early August, and intends to convene the 21st-century Panglong Conference by the end of the month.
The UN secretary general’s special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar (centre), speaks at the Mai Ja Yang ethnic group summit yesterday.